Don’t get soaked buying a flood-damaged vehicle

inundated cars

Flooded cars

With all of the torrential rains and flooding throughout much of the country this year, thousands of cars and trucks have been inundated with water, mud and other damaging debris.

Some of them will be cleaned up to reappear on the used-car lots of unscrupulous dealers, so buyers need to know how to spot and avoid buying them.

Help is available from numerous professionals, including representatives of, an on-line resource for all things automotive, and Progressive Insurance, who have issued pointers for used-car shoppers to make sure the vehicles were not submerged.

“Once owners of damaged cars settle up with their insurance companies, vehicles are sometimes refurbished and resold, usually to an unsuspecting buyer in a state unaffected by the disaster,” says Ron Montoya, consumer advice associate. “Electrical and mechanical problems can then surface long after the seller is gone, leaving the new owner with an unreliable car and no recourse against the seller.”

The best way to avoid a damaged vehicle, Edmunds says, is to get a vehicle history report from a company such as Carfax or Experian’s Auto Check.

If the vehicle has a salvage title, the insurance company has declared it a total loss. If it has a flood title, that means it has been sitting in water deep enough to fill the engine compartment.

If a history is not available, there are other ways the prospective customer can check to see if a vehicle has water damage.

Here, according to Edmunds, are some things that a buyer should check for:

  • Is there a musty odor or signs of mildew in the vehicle?
  • Are the carpet and/or upholstery discolored?
  • Is there fogging inside the headlights?
  • Are rust and flaky metal on the surface of the undercarriage?
  • Is there a buildup of dirt or rust in areas where water may have seeped into unusual parts of the vehicle?

Progressive adds these tips:

  • Reduce your chance of being scammed by buying from a reputable dealer.
  • Ask the dealer if the vehicle has been flood-damaged and if the answer is “No” get that in writing.
  • Check the instrument panel to see if all gauges are working properly.
  • Have a trusted professional mechanic check out the car.
  • Look inside the trunk or engine compartment to see if you can spot a water line that would indicate how deeply submerged the vehicle was.

Used-car buying is often a crap shoot, but with a little extra time and effort careful shoppers should be able to find a vehicle that won’t put them under water with repair bills..