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The damage can’t always be seen, so here’s how to make sure you’re in the clear

Quick Notes

-Flood-damaged cars are often rebuilt and resold.

-More floods and wet weather have increased the amount of flood-damaged cars being resold.

-Flood-damaged cars can be a good risk for a small number of people such as snowbirds. Careful inspection and risk analysis must be made.

Flood-damaged cars

Cars damaged in floods are sold at a discounted rate once the insurance claims have been processed and paid out. The cars are written off by the insurance company but then are sold at auction. The owner cleans the title and repairs the car to be sold to unsuspecting buyers.

The initial buyer is able to hide flood-related damage by selling the car to someone from a state where the disaster did not occur. The unsuspecting new buyer won’t necessarily know of the timing of floods in other regions. There has been a significant increase in flooding in the United States which has caused a rise in the number of flood-damaged vehicles being sold to unwitting buyers.

Once a car has been written off by the insurance company, the title is amended to that of salvage or junk title. This is an indication to a future buyer that the car has been written off as a total loss by the insurance company. The first way to avoid buying a flood-damaged car is to avoid salvage and junk titles. If this is not possible or desired, take special care to check flooding dates against the vehicle registration history and Carfax.

Risks of buying a flood-damaged car

Flood-damaged cars aren’t always a bad buy. They can be repaired to near-new condition, but there are risks associated with them. Especially the risk of electrical problems further down the road.


The higher the water and the longer the car was submerged, the greater the damage and risk. Flood-damage-related corrosion could also be much more severe if the car has been flooded by saltwater as opposed to freshwater. A flooded car may have significant issues with rust, mold and mildew, along with electrical issues. The flood damage and insurance salvage will generally void the manufacturer’s warranty, so getting a manufacturer’s assistance with repairs is improbable.

If deciding to buy a flood-damaged car, the sale price should be well below the market retail value. These types of cars may appeal to students, car enthusiasts, or snowbirds who need a second or third car to leave at their second home. Know that if purchasing a flood-damaged car, it will have virtually no resale value after your purchase.

Signs of a flood-damaged car

It smells bad – A flood-damaged car will often have mold issues, so it will have a bad smell–like must or mold. There are a lot of nooks and crannies in cars that would be inaccessible to cleaning where water can sit long after the remainder of the car has dried out. A moldy or mildewy smell, or the strong smell of deodorizer, can be a sign that the car has had flood damage.

There are water stains on the carpet – If the car suffers flood damage, there will be a water line inside the car equal to the level of water submersion. The stains will be worse the longer the car was submerged. A deep clean is unlikely to remove this type of water staining. Even if there is no carpet staining, a water line in the trunk or under the hood may also be a sign that the car had been sitting in standing water.

The first way to avoid buying a flood-damaged car is to avoid salvage and junk titles.

The upholstery looks new but the car is not – If a car has new upholstery relative to the age of the car, it may be a sign that the previous interior was water-damaged. Dealerships will salvage anything they can from a car in order to maximize their profits. If the interior had to be replaced, that is the sign of possible significant water damage.

There is water inside the headlights or other lights – Water or fogging inside areas where there otherwise would not be could be a sign of water damage. This condensation and water pooling will occur in headlights, brake lights, turn signals and fog lights.

Undercarriage rust – Rust or material flaking on the undercarriage is a sign of flood damage. Newer cars should not be experiencing undercarriage rusting and flaking. Rust and flaking on the undercarriage of a car may be a sign that the car may have been sitting in water.

Unusual dampness and dirt accumulation – Submersion in water will cause a buildup of dirt and remaining dampness where the water was sitting. Continued damp spots may be a sign that there is still water draining from some inside compartment. Dampness and dirt accumulations are obvious signs that a car may have flood damage.

Tips to avoid a flood-damaged car

Flood-damaged cars aren’t always a bad buy. They can be repaired to near-new condition, but there are risks associated with them.

Check vehicle history – Always check the vehicle history. Pay special attention if it is branded as salvage or junk, or comes from an area known to have flooding issues.

Reconcile the vehicle history with flood weather and disaster dates – Check dates of reports and/or damage against weather and flooding reports for the same area during the surrounding time period.

Inspect the car thoroughly – Check the car thoroughly for the signs of water damage.

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