Every year, hundreds of thousands of cars are destroyed by floods, especially in areas prone to hurricanes. Even partially submerged cars can be unsafe to drive and costly—if not impossible—to repair.
Flood-damaged vehicles are typically given a salvage or flood title (depending on the state) and recycled for parts or crushed for scrap, but some end up on the used car market—and could end up in your driveway.
It’s important to be aware of a practice known as title washing, in which a car receives a new title that essentially erases its damage history. Sellers can make a floor-damaged car look nice, but hidden problems can eventually catch up to the buyer.
Follow these steps to avoid a flood-damaged car:
- Choose a reputable car dealer.
- Smell for mold or mildew.
- Check upholstery and door panels for water stains, mud, or new or mismatched fabric/carpeting.
- Search the trunk and under carpets for dirt, sand and mildew.
- Scrutinize the seatbelts for mildew, water spots and dirt.
- Test electrical components, including window and seat controllers, turn signals, radio and A/C.
- Look for rust inside the hood and around doors, hinges and screws.
- Check for fog or moisture inside headlights, taillights and turn-signal lights.
- Get a free report on the vehicle. Visit the National Insurance Crime Bureau website for a free VINCheck. Just type in the Vehicle Identification Number to find out whether the car you’re interested in buying was ever reported as a salvage or flood vehicle by insurance companies that belong to the NICB. Be aware that VIN fraud, where VIN numbers are switched or altered, can occur.
- Purchase a CARFAX report for even more detailed information about the car, including major accidents, number of previous owners, mileage rollbacks and manufacturer recalls.
- Have a mechanic do a thorough inspection.
For more information, talk to a AAA Insurance agent or visit your local branch office.