flood damage
What is Salvage title?

Buying a Flood-Damaged Vehicle 

By Mike Richards Updated: 07/26/2022 Posted: 10/24/2015

Should you ever buy a flood-damaged car? And how do you identify one? Let’s talk about identification first.

How to Identify a Flood-Damaged Car

The first signs are the most obvious. The car smells of dampness and mold, and the seats are water-logged. If the car has been dried out, you may see discolored areas on the seats, door panels or seatbelts, and discoloration inside the instrument covers. None of these are good signs.

Next, you’ll want to look inside the engine compartment, where you could find sticks, mud, or other types of debris. Also, if you notice a smell of disinfectant, that could mean that someone is trying to mask odor problems that could be due to mold.

Usually, though, if you find a flood damaged car on a dealer lot, these things could have been cleaned up. The seats may have been replaced, along with the carpet. If the dealer has done his job well, you might not even suspect that the car has been in a flood.

So, how do you avoid cars that have been in floods? You might think that the car will come with a salvage title, but that’s not always the case. A car that has been flooded in one state could end up with a clean title in another state and then sold without the damage being disclosed. This is a process known as ‘title washing.”

How To Protect Yourself

You can use a service like Carfax to check the zip code where your car was previously registered. It will let you know if the car was registered in a flood zone. It’s not a perfect way of identifying a flood car, but it can help.

Keep in mind that it doesn’t take a lot of water to damage the transmission or the electronic components. Even if only a bit of water got in, any number of electronic components could be ruined. And then there’s mold – any time that a car fills with water, mold spores can develop and flourish. It’s a health hazard, and nearly impossible to fix.

Buying at Auction

If you’re considering buying a car at auction, realistically, you have no way of knowing if it’s been flood damaged, and you can’t inspect the car before you bid. This can be a huge problem if you’re buying via an online auction.

Rather than trying to navigate the complexities of an online auction yourself, and possibly ending up with a flood-damaged car, you can use a proxy bidder who will work on your behalf to ensure that you actually get a good, drivable car.

Your proxy bidder cares about your satisfaction and doesn’t want bad feedback. You’ll know exactly what you’re getting into, and you’ll know if the car has been flood-damaged. Then it’s up to you whether you want to take the chance on being able to restore it.

As a rule of thumb, you don’t want to buy a car that has been in water above the door line. So before you bid, make sure that you know what you’re bidding on. A flood damaged car isn’t always a bad deal, but you have to know what you’re getting into.

Explore our Vehicle Auctions, as well as finding more information about How These Auctions Work and Buying With Us.