If you live in an area thatâ€™s recently experienced a flood or is prone to flooding, itâ€™s especially important to inspect any used cars for flood damage. Flood damage can cause severe problems that are often unfixable and may not appear immediately. Here are some things you can do to check for possible flood damage on any used car youâ€™re thinking about purchasing.
Check the Title
If a car has been totaled in a flood, it should get a new title that will say â€œsalvageâ€ or â€œflood.â€ Salvaged vehicles are often sold at auctions, and they can be resold as long as flood damage is disclosed to the buyer. Some states have less obvious ways of designating salvage on a carâ€™s title, so check with your stateâ€™s motor vehicle department for how to tell. This isnâ€™t fool-proof, however, because many cars resurface with clean titles. If youâ€™re told that a title has been lost, be very skeptical. They could be hiding flood damage, or the car may have even been stolen.
Check the Vehicleâ€™s History
Cars are tracked by their vehicle identification numbers (VINs), and you can obtain a vehicle history report that can tell you about previous damage, repairs, and title information. This is not fool-proof by any means either, as not all information about a car has necessarily been recorded. Get a report from a service like CarFax or Auto Check, and check the National Motor Vehicle Title Information Systemâ€™s database. You can also run a VIN check with the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Because titles and vehicle history reports arenâ€™t guaranteed to be correct or complete, itâ€™s important to look for physical signs of flood damage in any used vehicle you consider purchasing. Here are some of the physical signs to look for:
Carpets should not be wet, damp, moldy, or muddy. To look for a sign that the carpets have been dried, check the seat-mounting screws and see if thereâ€™s evidence that theyâ€™ve been removed (loose screws, mismatched screws, missing screws, etc.).
Lights may not have been replaced after a flood, and you may be able to spot water lines on the lens or reflectors.
Mud and other debris may still be found in the car in certain places, especially those that are hard-to-clean. Look for obvious evidence of mud, and also look closely for mud in places it wouldnâ€™t normally be, like under the hood, between trunk panels, and at the bottom edges of body panels.
Rust often appears on cars that were damaged in floods years ago, however it can also just be a sign of old age. Check for unpainted screws or metal pieces, such as the screws under the dashboard, and see if they show any rust.
Plugs for drainage exist under the car and doors; theyâ€™re rubber. Check them for any signs that they may have been recently removed.
Doors will likely have water marks on the inside, so remove a door panel and look for it, especially if youâ€™re still unsure about potential flood damage.
Cooper Gentry is a vehicle guru and mechanical engineer who works withÂ Nissan Automotive. He loves to blog and often finds himself writing about the various ways to ensure you are purchasing a quality car.