How Do I Spot Flood Damage When Buying A Used Car?

While used car buyers should always be wary of accidentally buying a car with flood damage, they need to be on heightened alert in the United States. The devastation wreaked by this year’s hyper-active hurricane season has left millions of vehicles with flood damage.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) defines a flooded vehicle as one that has been completely or partially submerged in water to the extent that its body, engine, transmission or other mechanical component parts have been damaged.

Now, you may be thinking that flood damage in a car will be apparent, but it often isn’t. Many car resellers are quite adept at hiding the cosmetic damage, and flood damage to the engine or electronics can be difficult to spot. created a handy checklist to keep in mind when shopping for a used car that will help you spot flood damage before you buy.

  • Check the vehicle’s history online
  • Be alert for unusual odors
  • Inspect the undercarriage for rust and flaking metal
  • Look for discolored carpeting
  • Check the outside for exterior water buildup
  • Look for dirt buildup in unusual areas

The NICB also released their definitive list of things to keep in mind to prevent flood vehicle fraud. We recommend taking this list with you when looking at a used car that you suspect of having flood damage.

  • Select a reputable car dealer.
  • Inspect the vehicle for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpets, floor mats, headliner cloth and behind the dashboard.
  • Check for recently shampooed carpet.
  • Inspect the interior upholstery and door panels for fading.
  • Check for rust on screws in the console or areas where water normally doesn’t reach.
  • Check for mud or grit in the spare tire compartment, alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses, around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.
  • Check inside the seatbelt retractors by pulling the seatbelt all the way out and inspect for moisture, mildew or grime.
  • Check door speakers as they will often be damaged due to flooding.
  • Have a certified mechanic inspect the vehicle prior to purchasing it.
  • Ask about the vehicle’s history. Ask whether it was in any accidents or floods.
  • Inspect the title and ownership papers for any potential or questionable salvage fraud.
  • Conduct a title search of the vehicle.
  • Look under the hood for signs of oxidation. Pull back rubber boots around electrical and mechanical connections for these indicators: Ferrous materials will show signs of rust, Copper will show a green patina.
  • Aluminum and alloys will have a white powder and pitting.
  • Trust your instincts: If you don’t like the answers or the deal sounds too good to be true, walk away!

Car buyers should always take care to be wary of flood damage when buying a new vehicle, but the recent influx of flood-damaged cars makes it extra important for those looking to buy this year. Remember to do your research and follow the steps we’ve outlined above before you buy.