How to Spot a Vehicle with Flood Damage

Mar 21, 2018

Coming off of the deadly and destructive 2017 hurricane season, experts agree that a wave of flood damaged vehicles has likely made its way into the used vehicle marketplace. Automotive data firm Black Book estimates as many as 650,000 vehicles were damaged by flooding in Texas and Florida alone.

The best way to avoid these vehicles is to purchase from a reputable dealership or broker that has years of reliable service. If you choose to buy from a private party, here are some things to look out for.

  • Seats – Upholstery that’s been in water may have blotchy water stains. If the fabric looks new and the vehicle is 10 years old, ask questions. Look under the seats with a mirror to see if there is rust on the springs.
  • Trunk – Check for a visible water line where water may have been sitting stagnant. If the car was in a flood, there may be grass, dirt or sand in the trunk or under the spare tire.
  • Undercarriage – Check under the car and in the wheel well for rust.
  • Doors – Where the door meets the frame, look closely. Rust in those corners may indicate flood damage.
  • Electrical – Turn on the AC and heater, test the windshield wipers, and plug something into the car outlets. If there’s flood damage, there’s a good chance they won’t work correctly. Turn on the radio. If the music has static, is distorted or there is no audio at all, you may have flood problems.
  • Interior – If you smell mold or mildew, water may have soaked into the fabric. Be suspicious of strong air fresheners, which might be used to mask odors. Check the glovebox for grass and dirt.
  • Dashboard – Moisture behind the dash or wires that are brittle are good indicators the car’s been flooded.
  • Engine – Start the car and listen for strange noises. Check the air filter for water stains. Oil that is a brown, milky color is an indication of water damage. Check for debris such as grass, dirt or sand, all signs the engine was under water.
  • Lights – Make sure all lights turn on and look for signs of moisture in the headlights.

Other Tips

  • Obtain the vehicle’s Carfax report. While it may not indicate the vehicle was in a flood, if it was registered in a state that recently had a flood, it may be a good idea to find another vehicle.
  • Check the title to see if it’s listed as “Flood” or “Salvage.”
  • Get it in writing that there’s no flood damage.
  • If the price is marked ridiculously low for no apparent reason, there might be something seriously wrong with the car.
  • Take the car to a mechanic you trust for an inspection.
  • The National Insurance Crime Bureau has free tools for consumers at