A car damaged by a flood comes with a variety of problems, including bad odors, rust, extraneous noises, engine smoke, and electronic damage. If you are buying a used car, a vehicle history report will show any reported flood damage. Floods, whether caused by hurricanes, severe storms, or other reasons, are the most common natural disaster in the United States, according to the census, the government. These floods occur across the country and affect millions of people by displacing families from their homes and destroying billions of dollars in property, including our cars, trucks, crossovers and SUVs.
And with scientists saying that extreme weather events are increasing, we could be dealing with floods and vehicles damaged by floods more than a few years ago. To make matters worse, damaged goods continue to wreak havoc on the public beyond the time and place of the event through various methods of fraud and deception. One of the most common examples of this ill will is a vehicle damaged by floods that appears for sale as a clean car used by the most unscrupulous people. Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) history services have greatly helped reduce the likelihood that buyers will purchase flood cars without their knowledge, but evil never rests and scammers will always find new ways to scam.
Whether you're lying in a title, falsifying signatures, or giving up documentation altogether, scammers will deceive. Here at The Drive, we know how difficult and expensive it is to buy a car, especially a used car. And no one deserves to be deceived during one of the most important purchases of their lives. We've put together some tips and tools that will help prevent you from being deceived.
Check if the car originated in a coastal or flood-prone region, look for significant information gaps, watch for major repairs, and analyze inconsistencies. If you can't be sure of everything that happened to the vehicle, you might want to move on to the next one. While doing so, an excellent resource for learning about a vehicle's history is the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICBD) Database. A free VIN verification tool on the website aims to “help determine if a vehicle has been reported stolen, but not recovered, or if participating NICB member insurance companies have reported it as a salvage vehicle.
However, keep in mind that this database is only as good as vehicles that have been involved with insurance, so not all flood cars are there. Part of the slippery plan to sell spoiled flood cars is to disperse flood cars away from where they were damaged, so disaster is out of the mind of the prospective buyer. These cars most often move to nearby states, but they could really end up anywhere. Keep this in mind when searching for used cars, especially if a major flood occurred recently.
These tips offer tips for finding out if a used car has been flooded previously, but none of them are guarantors. Some of these points of interest may have been caused by something else, so it's a case-by-case situation. Rust won't be the only thing that will grow inside your car after a long time in the drink. If carpets, mats, cloth seats, or other types of absorbent materials are submerged in flood water before being rescued, there are likely to be all kinds of organisms growing inside the fabric and foam.
If enough time has passed and salespeople aren't good at hiding the damage, you might see mold growing inside your vehicle. The flood water collects all the unpleasant things that are normally attached to its streets and patios, and makes it swirl all together like a natural disaster, the juice of the jungle. That drool gets into the car and all surfaces, combining with all the things that normally stick to carpets, seats and interior crevices. If mold doesn't smell the gasket with its moldy mist, there's something else that could stink.
This is one of the best tips for detecting water damage because it is a hidden place that not everyone would clean or know how to check. And if the person flipping the car was lazy to cover water damage, this could be one of the last places they improve, because they assume the buyer would cover it. But you're smarter than that, and you know that under the carpet is where everything accumulates, so you might find rust, but you could also find dirt and debris that shouldn't be inside a vehicle. This may not work for newer used cars, but in some cases, things that look too good, are too clean, can be a bad thing.
That's not always true, but if you notice that certain parts have been completely replaced with something completely new, especially parts that aren't part of normal maintenance, you might want to start asking questions. It can be normal wear and tear, it can be an accident, or it can be a part damaged by water that needs to be replaced. Everyone knows that electronics don't mix well with water, especially when the two meet for long periods of time. When water overflows and makes its way into electrical cables and connectors, they can break, rust, or lose their connections.
Dirt and random particles can also penetrate the connectors and cause problems. Even if you can't physically find the damaged electrical connections, the car may still show symptoms of the damage caused. This is likely to show up in the form of things that don't work properly, things that work intermittently, or OBD codes appear. Lighting housings are very good at letting liquids in and keeping them inside, so they often fill with water when a vehicle floods.
The water inside the lights doesn't always drain completely, unlike the rest of the car, and that often means you can still find a little moisture inside the lights when you inspect them. And if it has drained, the lights could fog up or show condensation long after the water is supposedly gone. Salt dries things out and leaves a white film where it used to be, so if your car was full of salt water, you might notice signs of salt showing physically. Inside the engine compartment, under the spare wheel in the trunk and anywhere the car is assembled, garbage can accumulate outside that does not belong.
Things like sticks, leaves, dirt, sand, and other goodies from the street can get into a vehicle and hide in areas where the seller might not have cleaned thoroughly. Don't tell your parents, but there is such a thing as too much smell of cleanliness. If the car smells like pine sun with a touch of bleach and air fresheners, it clearly means that someone has been doing a great job inside it. It is possible that the seller simply had to remove some extreme stains and did the required cleaning of a dirty car, but it is also possible that the car had accumulated contaminated ocean water that includes all specifications of dirt, grime and oil on the roads.
Filth like that needs more cleaning. Certain parts of a car, such as doors, have drain plugs designed to release water, should it enter that part of the vehicle. They may have been removed or replaced during the restore process, so check them for signs that they have been tampered with. If the people who restored the vehicle after it flooded were good at their job, then they would remove the seats completely to completely clean the interior.
Check the screws for signs that they have been removed, including peeling and dents or marks around the screws. Flooded vehicles made national news after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma a few years ago. This report details in more detail what to look for and how these cars are sold to unsuspecting customers. If water rises into the engine compartment and then into the vehicle cabin, the most important parts of the vehicle are submerged in water, salt water, most of the time.
Engines and electronics are not designed to withstand these conditions, and the car will corrode and fail. It's a costly proposition to remedy and therefore the insurance company will often add up a car damaged by the flood. Depending on how bad the mold is, cleaning can be a tremendous job, but hard work and the right products can go a long way. Learn more in our post, How to Completely Remove Mold from Your Car Interior.
Technology, Performance and Design in Your Inbox. Articles may contain affiliate links that allow us to share the proceeds from any purchase made. A car damaged by a flood is simply a car exposed to water damage that, in most cases, is the result of flooding. Getting water into your car's engine through the air intake would cause internal damage to the engine; this is called a “hydraulic lock”.
Hydroblocking is likely to occur when you try to drive in high water or when you try to move your car after noticing water rising around it. These lines can be on carpets, seats, panels, doors, or any other part of the vehicle where water may have caused damage. Water damage to a vehicle from natural disasters is generally covered by comprehensive insurance, an optional option. In the case of your car, it could be that its interior has water spots, the engine is hydrolocked, or the entire car has been submerged in water.