Flood Cars and How to Avoid Them

When a hurricane impacts America, the damage is sometimes extensive. Lives are turned upside, property damage assessed, and a long rebuilding process begins. Flood cars are one part of the equation, vehicles are damaged beyond repair.

Even so, tens of thousands of flood-damaged cars will head to the used car market, transacted at auction, and offered for sale on dealer lots often far from where the storms occurred. Consumers must be vigilant when buying any used car by looking for signs of damage and verifying the car’s condition by using such helpful resources as a vehicle history report.

flood cars
Cars are considered flooded once water enters the cabin or engine compartment.

All About Flood Cars

Here’s what you need to know about flood cars:

1. Insurance claims don’t always stop flood cars from being resold.

Following a flood, insurance companies are busy fielding claims from consumers for flood-damaged vehicles. Insurers assess the damage, then compensate the insured for their loss.

Typically, flood-damaged cars are sent to an auto recycler for dismantling, but not always. In many cases you’ll find salvage titles issued, making such vehicles eligible for resale. As long as you are aware of the vehicle’s history, you can make an informed decision about whether to purchase one or not.

But salvage titles can easily be obscured through a process known as “title washing.” Here, an unscrupulous individual takes the title to another state and has the title registered there. Usually, they’ll find a state with lenient standards, one that doesn’t brand vehicle titles with such operative words as junk, rebuilt, or salvage, allowing the owner to effectively “wash” the warning label from the title. Thus, a loophole is exploited and the owner will market the vehicle with vital information missing.

2. You can spot flood-damaged cars yourself.

Beyond obtaining a vehicle history report to verify a car’s condition, you can spot a flood car by carefully inspecting a vehicle before you buy it. Fortunately, there are always signs evident that a car has been damaged even if it has been carefully cleaned and rebuilt.

Use your senses to look for problems. If you detect a heavy aroma of detergents or other cleaning agents inside the car, under the hood or in the trunk, the aroma could mask an odor or mold problem.

See AlsoExplaining Salvage Title & Total Loss

Lift the carpet to look for signs of moisture. If the padding or carpet is new it may have replaced what was damaged. Open the glove box and look under the seats for mud or silt. Rust may form on metal surfaces, including on pedals, inside the door frames, or underneath the hood. Brittle wires, foggy or moisture-laden exterior lights, and a sagging headliner in a late model car are other clear signs of trouble.

Next, start the car and verify whether the instrument panel lights illuminate. Interior and exterior lights, air conditioning, the heater, windshield wipers, audio, and navigation system, and turn signals should work. If the seller allows you to take the car to a mechanic for an independent inspection, then do so. If not, then move on.

Between your personal inspection, the mechanic’s assessment, and the vehicle history report, you can avoid buying a flood-damaged car.

3. Always consider the consequences.

For some consumers, buying a flood-damaged car is fine, as they may think they’ve found a deal for a car that has been thoroughly refurbished. Unfortunately, even a refurbished car is prone to problems, given flood waters can easily invade hidden cavities within the car.

Flood cars are prone to corrosion, especially a vehicle submerged in salt water for an extended time. Engine computers, sensors, and other electronics are vulnerable to corrosion, and are very expensive to repair.

In many situations, problems won’t surface until months after you purchase a vehicle, leading to costly repairs later or forcing you to junk the vehicle. Further, even if you buy a known salvage title car, some insurance companies will not insure such vehicles or will limit coverage to liability insurance only.

Avoid Flood Cars

Purchasing a hurricane-damaged or other flood car is also a safety risk as an engine could suddenly seize while driving, a steering mechanism could fail, or the brake system might become compromised. Each possible problem has the potential to put you, your passengers, and other motorists in danger.

As a potential buyer, always ensure the seller discloses full information about the car. After all, you’re paying thousands of dollars for what you rightfully would expect to provide nothing less than reliable transportation.


Clark.comStaff. (2022, July 14). 3 Ways To Get a Free VIN Check Before Buying a Used Car. Clark.com.

Stroisch, C. (2019, September 26). Warning: Damaged Vehicles from Recent Storms May Appear for Resale. National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Schlichter, S. (2021, April 13). How to Insure a Car With a Salvage or Rebuilt Title. NerdWallet.

ConsumerReports. (2021, September 16). Beware a Flood of Flooded Cars. Consumer Reports.

See AlsoNothing is As it Seems: The FTC and Car Ads

Photo Attribution

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

Image by Andrew from Pixabay

Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

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