It’s estimated that there could be as many as a million vehicles that have sustained flood damage as a result of recent hurricanes. Flood damaged vehicles are often transported well beyond their original region where consumers may be less aware. There have already been reports of flood damaged vehicles making their way into other markets and into the hands of unsuspecting customers.
Insurance companies often declare flooded-out vehicles as a total loss, at which point the car should be issued a salvage title. Those titles are usually plainly marked as such, but in some states this warning is shown on the title as an obscure coded letter or number. In some cases, damaged cars are re-titled in states that have lax title laws.
If the vehicle’s owner didn’t have comprehensive insurance coverage at the time of the flooding, the vehicle may never get a salvage title.
To minimize the risk of purchasing a flood-damaged vehicle, here’s a few tips.
- Carfax offers a free flood damage check, in addition to the vehicle history reports it sells. These checks show the "possibility of flood damage" based on flood area history and registered address at the time, whether the vehicle’s title shows flood history or not.
- Other vehicle history reports are available for a fee from Auto Check and Vin Audit.
- Inspect carpets. If they smell musty, be suspicious. If the carpet appears brand new on an older vehicle, be suspicious.
- Inspect the lights. Check for fogging inside the headlights.
- Water lines and debris can appear in hard to clean places like behind the engine.
- The heavy aroma of cleaners and disinfectants may be an attempt to cover-up a musty smell.
- It’s always a good idea to have a qualified mechanic inspect the vehicle.
Doing your research ahead of time is worth avoiding a damaged vehicle. Good luck!