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Beware of Flood Damaged Cars

Hurricane Season always brings in a surge of flood damaged cars.
Be sure to check a reliable Automotive history source prior to buying any car.

Rather than deal with insurance and the hassles of fixing these issues that come with water damage, shady sellers will attempt to trick unsuspecting buyers into a sale.

Hurricane Season

In the Northern Atlantic Ocean, a distinct hurricane season occurs from June 1 to November 30, sharply peaking from late August through September; the season’s climatological peak of activity occurs around September 10 each season.  The constant barrage from tropical storms, hurricanes, typhoons, and other storms results in a large number of flood damaged vehicles.  Storm surge and heavy rainfall can cause extreme flooding in some cases which can leave vehicles submerged in dirty water for days or even weeks at a time.

Flood Damage

Flood damage can ruin vehicles in many different ways.  Corrosion and rust will almost certainly be an issue, eating away at the metal on the body as well as the interior components within the car.  If water makes its way into the engine and  the car is started, major engine damage can occur.  Electrical components are another common issue as the water can cause shorts in the system and corrosion on the wiring and connectors.

The scary part of flood damage is that often times, the damage will not reveal itself for months or even years after the damage took place.  Rust and corrosion take time to compromise the integrity of the metal and components that they eat away at.  Mold, Fungus and bacteria can be covered up by a savvy salesperson long enough to sell the car only to reappear a few days or weeks later causing horrendous smells and health issues.

Think about all of the car dealerships and rental car lots in the affected areas of the latest Hurricane.  While the more reputable shops will have insurance to cover the loss of these flood-damaged vehicles, there will inevitably be scammers moving these damaged vehicles to other unaffected states for retitling and attempting to deal them to unsuspecting buyers.

How to Avoid Flood Damaged Cars

Precautions should always be taken when buying a used car to ensure there is nothing on-record that will compromise the integrity or value of the vehicle.  Make sure to use an official Vehicle History source and, if you have any concerns that it could be from an area with flooding history, you may consider a second history report to corroborate the authenticity.

Aggressive inspections of used vehicles should also be performed especially if you have concerns about potential flood damage.  These inspections are usually pretty cheap at a local reputable shop.  They should be able to easily detect signs of flooding even if the evidence has been covered up.

Depending on the seller, you may have some legal recourse if you fall victim to a scam like this.  Licensed Dealers are lawfully required to disclose known issues with the consumer and generally do well since they have a business to uphold.  Private Sellers are a different story.  It can be much harder to attribute damage to a specific owner and the law gets a bit grey.  Ultimately, responsibility falls on the buyer to ensure they are not being duped.

Telltale Signs of Flood Damage

You likely won’t be able to get a good look into all of the nooks and crannies of a car on the lot.  However, there are a few places you can check quickly and easily that are hard to conceal signs of flood damage:

  • The engine bay is typically a good place to start – Check for mud and debris in some of the nooks and crannies of the engine.  Also check screw, nut, and bolt heads for signs of rust or mud.  Check the Car Battery and cables for signs of excess corrosion.
  • The interior is next – Check under the carpets for mud or rust.  Give them a sniff test to ensure they don’t have a mildew smell.  You can also check up under the dashboard for signs of rust or debris.
  • In the trunk – Pull out the spare tire and check underneath for signs of mud/debris/rust.
  • Lastly the exterior – Peek behind some of the wheel-well panels and see if you can detect any evidence of mud or debris that would be outside the normal amount of dust.

If you have a suspicion that a vehicle is flood-damaged, your best bet is to walk away.  There will always be other opportunities.  If the deal seems too good to be true it usually is.

Protecting your Vehicle

If you live in a flooding area, here are a few things you can do to protect your existing vehicle:

  • Make sure to have a duplicate copy of your insurance and registration in a safe (dry) place.
  • Keep phone numbers for your lender and insurance provider handy.  They should be at the top of your list for calls to make regarding your car’s damage.
  • Record your vehicle VIN Number somewhere accessible.
  • Take photos or video of your car in its current state.  This makes things much easier when dealing with the insurance company after the fact.

Hopefully this helps you and your family avoid becoming owners of flood damaged cars!


CARFAX offers free flood checking for new users if you agree to their terms and conditions.  They also provide a checklist, some helpful infographics, and great advice on how to better detect flood damage.

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