What is Salvage title? Buyer Tips

Can I Buy a Flooded Car and Then Fix it to Obtain a Title in Florida?

By Mike Richards Updated: 05/22/2019 Posted: 04/03/2017

Hurricanes, rainstorms, and water everywhere mean that flooding is one of the most common disasters Florida cars face. When a car is flooded, the insurance company will declare it a total loss, because the cost of repairing flood damage almost always exceeds the value of the car. Florida law generally requires this practice even when the car could be repaired without a total loss to the insurer.

When a car has been flooded in Florida, it will only be sold as a flood title. This label follows the car for the rest of its life, and can have far-reaching ramifications for would-be sellers. Here’s what you need to know before you buy and fix a flooded title car in Florida.

The Perils of Flooded Cars

Flooded cars aren’t just an annoyance. They pose serious risks to their buyers. There’s the obvious cosmetic damage. Damage to the interior of the car can also destroy its integrity such that seat belts are no longer safe, seats are loosened and can dislodge during an accident, and even doors and other heavy parts of the car may come off. This poses substantial risks to drivers, and Florida takes these risks seriously.

Flooded cars may also have serious internal damage, including to the engine, fuel pumps, and other key parts. Prior to the existence of Florida’s flood title laws, sellers sometimes attempted to obscure a car’s flood history. That put buyers in danger, and made Florida roads less safe.

Florida’s Flooded Car Database

To ensure that all cars with a flood history are made clear, Florida maintains a flooded car database. This database can be accessed with a vehicles vehicle identification number (VIN). That means anyone purchasing a car in Florida can search to see if it has a flooding history. No matter how much repair work you perform on a car, the vehicle’s flooding history will follow it from one owner and seller to the next.

It’s not possible to buy and sell a car in Florida that has been flooded and obscure this fact—and even if it were, you should not try to do so.

The Perils of Title Washing

Some Florida car sellers engage in an unscrupulous and illegal practice called title washing. Title washing occurs when you purchase the car in Florida, take it out of state, then apply for a new title without revealing the flood history.

In some cases, you may be able to register the car as simply a used car, thereby obscuring the fact that it was once a flooded vehicle. That doesn’t mean you should try to do this.

This process is illegal, and can land you in serious trouble. If you are caught, you could serve jail time for fraud or a similar crime. And if someone is injured as a result of your title washing scheme, you could be sued and have to pay any and all damages. Title washing might be tempting when you’re desperate to sell a car, but it is never worth the potential legal and human toll.

Rebuilt Titles

Florida does offer an alternative to title washing that is both legal and might help increase the sales value of a previously flooded vehicle. A rebuilt title is a title for a car that has been significantly rebuilt to compensate for flooding damage or some other total loss. You’ll have to apply for a rebuilt title, and must show what work you have done. The rebuilt title serves as verification that you have put substantial work into the car, but it offers no guarantees.

Cars with rebuilt titles tend to sell for less than similarly situated used cars. The buyer will still be able to search the flood database and see the car’s flood history, potentially further driving down the value of the car.

A Realistic Approach to Buying and Selling Flooded Title Cars

Does all of this mean you should never buy a flooded or salvage car in Florida? Not necessarily. These vehicles can sell for significantly less than market value. That means, if you know what you’re doing, you can earn a tidy profit. To get the most out of the sale:

  • Know your target audience. Race car drivers, dealers, and other car refurbishers are prime sales targets.
  • Consider a collectible or vintage car that can’t be purchased any other way, since it will be valuable even as a flooded title.
  • Know the value of the car before you buy it, and only invest in cars that you can fully restore for less than the sales price.
  • Form a relationship with a mechanic and body expert you trust, so that you can restore cars as cheaply and efficiently as possible.
  • Understand that you may occasionally have to take a loss on a flood car.
  • Only buy salvage cars and used vehicles from trusted dealers.
  • Never get caught up in the adrenaline rush of a bidding war. Some people who purchase flood vehicles at auctions get so fixated on winning that they end up spending significantly more than any car they could buy is worth.
  • Participate in the used and salvage car community, either online or in person. The seasoned dealers in this community can help you make wise decisions that save you numerous financial headaches.