Avoid Buying a Flood Damaged Car: A Guide

When buying a used vehicle, the last thing a buyer wants is to inadvertently purchase a vehicle with flood damage. Flood damage can often cause irreversible damage to vital aspects of a car.

Not to mention, it can create excessive wear and tear on a vehicle's exterior and interior amenities and create an upsetting purchasing experience for unsuspecting buyers. Car shoppers can take several steps to ensure they are not buying a flood-damaged car, including checking the vehicle’s history and inspecting the car for tell-tale signs of water damage.

Keep reading to learn how to protect your purchase and look for the warning signs of flood damage today.

Why Should You Avoid Buying a Flood-Damaged Car?

Flood-damaged vehicles can cause life-threatening safety issues for the driver and passengers. When a car is exposed to floodwaters, the engine, electrical system, lubrication, and crucial safety features can become damaged.

If a used car has been exposed to flooding, the brakes, airbags, door panels, and steering wheel will likely not maintain their function, posing a threat to passengers and other drivers on the road. Metal corrosion, caused by salt water, can also eat away at vital wires and harm the vehicle’s mechanical system.

How Can You Tell if a Car Has Water Damage?

There are several signs of flood damage to look for when inspecting a used motor vehicle you may want to purchase. Sellers may try to mask the smell of standing water, musty mildew, and soggy upholstery with air fresheners, making it crucial to thoroughly examine the car’s internal and external features.

Look for Mud, Mold, and Rust

When looking over a vehicle for signs of flood damage, it is important to check for any atypical odors. Prospective buyers can turn on the air conditioning to help determine if there is a strong smell of mold.

It is also a good idea to check the car for rust on the doors, under the hood, near the windshield, and underneath the vehicle. If a car has been exposed to flooding, the underside of the car will reveal if rust has settled in from standing water.

To check for sand, water damage, and debris in the vehicle's engine, carefully examine the engine bay and evaluate the alternator, battery, cylinders, wire plugs, and radiator. It is important to look for standing water, rust, mud, sand, or the smell of mildew under the hood of the car. Rusty screws and damaged spare tires can also be a red flag to look for as an indication of water damage.

Taking the car on a test drive can help you to eliminate the risk of purchasing a flood-damaged car and can help ensure that the engine, electronics, and mechanical functioning of the vehicle are functioning properly. When taking the used car for a test drive, look for red flags such as smoke from the engine, unusual sounds, and difficulty operating the brakes or steering wheel.

It is also recommended to check the car’s turn signals, lights, windshield wipers, radio, and any other electronic features during a test drive to ensure they have not been damaged.

Do Your Research

In addition to checking the vehicle for visible signs of flood damage, it is also a good idea to research the vehicle online and check the car’s history. The National Insurance Crime Bureau provides car shoppers with an online registry, VINCheck, where they can purchase a vehicle history report.

A vehicle history report will include important details such as the vehicle title, any missing parts, tire information, added features to the car, a vehicle description, and a list of damages that have occurred. In addition, the report will likely include photos and videos of cars or SUVs, showing any reported damages, missing parts, and a vehicle’s overall condition.

To receive important background information on a car, such as if it has been reported as flood damaged, flood-damaged fixed, or if it has a salvage title, prospective buyers can enter the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to receive a report.

However, if the car’s former owner did not file an insurance claim or report damage to the vehicle, it will not appear on the vehicle history report. If a vehicle has suffered severe damage, the car insurance company may declare it a total loss, meaning the cost to repair it is greater than the car's value.

To combat this, fraudulent sellers may title wash their vehicle or move a flooded, damaged, or salvage car to a new area to receive a clean title. A Carfax report found that more than 800,000 vehicles in the U.S. have been title washed after Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Ian, and recent hurricanes in Florida.

Residual Moisture

Tell-tale signs of moisture exposure, including water droplets on the inside of the windows and the windshield, can also be a likely sign of potential flood damage. Inspecting the car for mud, water stains, and discoloration on the vehicle's upholstery can help determine if it is flood-damaged.

It is also a good idea to keep an eye out for any remnants of sand or dirt on the car's floor, seat belts, and in the glove compartment.

Buyers can determine if the engine has suffered flood damage by checking the car’s dipstick for water droplets. After cleaning the oil off from the dipstick, if drops of moisture remain, water is in the car’s engine.

Can You Repair Flood Damage in a Car?

In cases of minor flood damage that can be quickly cleared out, it may be possible to repair the new car or used vehicle. However, if a vehicle can not be repaired after flooding, it will likely be declared a total loss by the auto insurance company. The owner’s insurance policy may no longer cover it.

If a vehicle owner has comprehensive insurance, their vehicle's comprehensive coverage may pay for vehicle repairs or provide funds for a new vehicle, subtracted from the cost of their deductible. If a flood-damaged vehicle has been repaired by insurance, it will be declared as flood-damaged fixed, whereas if the damage is irreparable, it will be declared as a total loss and placed in a salvage lot.

The Bottom Line

Inspecting a vehicle for flood damage is an essential step in the purchasing process that will ensure your new vehicle’s safety and longevity. Whether you are transporting a recently-purchased vehicle, selling to a buyer, or relocating to your new home, working with a vehicle transportation provider, such as Carvaygo, will ensure that your car makes it from point A to B with attentive, trustworthy, and dependable service.

Are you interested in car-hauling services? Contact us today.

Warning: How To Avoid Buying a Flood-Damaged Car | Clark
What Are Common Problems with Flooded Cars? | Progressive
Title Washing - What Is It and Why Should I Care? | Autolist

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