Spotting a Flood Damaged Car

How to spot a flood damaged car.

Flood damaged cars.

Most expert agree, a vehicle that has been in a flood is one to avoid buying.  With massive hurricanes like Harvey in Texas, Irma in Florida, Maria in Puerto Rico, and now Nate heading for the gulf coast, we have a lot of flood damaged cars.  Estimates are totaling over half a million cars have been damaged. Even if you don’t live in these states these vehicles make their way to most regions and eventually are sold to unsuspecting buyers.

When cars are “totaled” by an insurance company they are supposed to get a new title, but sometimes this isn’t communicated to buyers.  The new title is called a salvage title and should be marked “salvage’ or “flood.” These cars cannot be registered for consumer use until necessary repairs are made and the vehicle is re-inspected by officials. Unfortunately rebuilt wrecks get sold with clean titles by unscrupulous sellers, so carefully review any used car you are going to purchase.

Even if the car is rebuilt the long-term effects of water can haunt buyers for the life the car. Water can ruin electronics, lubricants, and mechanical systems. It can take months or years for corrosion to find its way to the car’s vital electronics, including airbag controllers. Consumers need to carefully inspect any used car before buying it (or pay their mechanic to do it—Oxford Automotive can carefully review any used car before your purchase it). Also keep in mind that parts from the scrapped cars could well end up in yours, as in a situation where a body shop cuts corners in a collision repair by using parts from a scrapped car instead of new parts. A fender or hood that spent time immersed in fresh water might not be a problem, but a transmission that took a salt water bath could well turn up with bearing or seal failure.

Here are a few of options to start screening a car:

Carfax offers a free flood damage check:, in addition to the vehicle history report they sell. Based on the flood area history from registered addresses on the car the check shows the “possibility of flood damage.”

For a free check, The National Insurance Crime Bureau offers a VINCheck, but it doesn’t use as many data sources as some of the paid providers do. You can find it here:

Another free option, is to contact your insurance agent and ask if there are any insurance claims that have been paid on the vehicle (VIN number will be needed). There is a national insurance database that insurance companies have access to. Your insurance agent should be able to tell you the date of the accident/incident and how much was paid out in damages. Some insurance companies are more helpful than others when it comes to sharing this information. Another caveat is of course if the owner had a vehicle repaired at their own cost, the insurance company won’t have information about the amount paid, or possibly won’t know of the repairs at all.

We recommend a detailed inspection by a mechanic as the best protection because although history reports are a valued aid for screening, there are no guarantees with vehicle history reports that the car will be problem-free.

Here are a few tips to spot a Flood Damaged Car:

• Caked-on mud and a musty odor from the carpets. New carpets in an older vehicle may be another red flag.

• A visible water line on the lens or reflector of the headlights.

• Mud or debris trapped in difficult-to-clean places, such as gaps between panels in the trunk and under the hood.

• Rusty exposed screws under the dashboard. Unpainted metal in flood cars will show signs of rust. Especially check to see if screws have been removed or replaced around the carpet or seats

• Rubber drain plugs under the car and on the bottom of doors that have been removed. That may have been done to drain floodwater

• Search the engine compartment, often hard to clean spaces, like behind the engine will show signs of water lines or debris.

If you are going to be selling your car, and your car isn’t flood damaged but you are from an area affected by flooding, keep in mind that buyers might suspect it was damaged. You may consider having a mechanic inspect your car before you put it up for sale so that you can provide a clean bill of health to the potential buyer.

Now that you have found a reliable car to purchase, remember to stop into Oxford Automotive for your regular oil changes and to have our technicians do a review to check for any maintenance needs. Our Auto Vitals Digital Inspection, which is our paperless process, that tracts your car from drop off to completion will text or email you the vehicle condition report that provides information about what is in good condition, what needs immediate attention, and manufacturer recommended maintenance. Our report includes photos and details. Staying on top of your regular maintenance, along with keeping your car clean, will keep you safe on the road and will best protect your investment for when you are ready to sell it.

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