Beware of Flood Damaged Cars

car drives through flood area

You can count on one thing after a devastating hurricane: the used-car market is going to be filled with flood damaged cars.

If you’re looking for a used vehicle within a few hundred miles of a storm like Harvey, you’ll want to be particularly careful to look over what you’re purchasing. However, it’s not just shoppers in the affected area of the storm who should increase their vigilance. Savvy sellers (one might call them scammers), will take great care to move damaged vehicles to states that were not affected by the storm. There, you can expect them to re-title the car before attempting to sell them to buyers who aren’t aware of what they’re purchasing. You can bet that storm-damaged flood vehicles will find their way all over the country.

There are a lot of ways that flood damage can ruin a vehicle, from damaging the electronic wiring to seizing up the mechanical systems of the vehicle, and the damage may not show itself for a long time. Corrosion and rust can stay hidden, too, worknig to eat away at the sheet metal and vehicle components from the inside out, causing tons of damage before showing any visible signs of it.

Not all cars coming out of the affected areas will be water-damaged, but many that are may not show it – cosmetic improvements to these cars are far easier to make than mechanical repairs.

Here are some signs that the car you’re looking at may be flood damaged:


Use your senses to sniff out water damage on the vehicle you’re looking at. Water damage to a vehicle is going to look the same as anywhere else: it’ll smell strange and there will be watermarks. If you pick up a damp scent, be suspicious of where it came from! Other suspicious smells will be strong cleaning agents and car fresheners: these could be used to mask the mold.


Keep an eye out for tell-tale rings that would be left behind on the interior fabrics of the car, including seat belts, ceiling fabric, upholstery, and rugs. Recently updated fabric or non-matching fabrics/upholstery can be a tell-tale sign of potential flood damage, as well. It’s important to take a look under all the rugs, seats, and spare tire in the trunk, too. Floods carry a lot of mud, silt, and other debris, and that stuff can and will get caught up in the nooks and crannies of the vehicle. Any rust damage inside the vehicle is a good reason to dig deeper into the history of the vehicle.

Mechanical and Electrical Components:

A car with extensive flood damage may have issues with the electrical components, so be sure to check out the windows, seats, blinkers, air conditioning, and radio. If they’re not functioning properly, there may be an issue. Those issues with the vehicle may not manifest until you test drive it and find out that the engine just doesn’t run very smoothly.

What can you do?

It’s always a wise choice to pay a little more to have a trustworthy mechanic look over the used car you’re purchasing to let you know if you’re getting into a great deal or a lemon. And it’s a good idea to consider purchasing a vehicle history report, as well. This will let you know whether the car has been in any accidents aside from the flooding that could impact the value and safety of the vehicle. Carfax has a dedicated flood damage site ( that can be helpful in checking into flood-damaged cars, too.

Buying a used car can be a big investment, and a little work up front can keep you from being taken advantage of. Flood damaged cars are never worth the trouble they bring, so a little legwork up front can save you from big headaches down the line!

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