7 Tips To Avoid Buying A Used Car With Flood Damage

Flickr/Kevin Dooley

If you’re in the market for a used car, there are a few obvious things to check out: How new are the tires? Has the car undergone regular maintenance? What about the brakes?

But you should also be on the lookout for something else, which might be less obvious: flood damage.

Unfortunately, cars are not immune to damage caused by hurricanes and other major storms, especially along the Gulf Coast. Though they’re water-damaged, many of these cars make it to the regular used-car market, often thousands of miles away.

They’re supposed to be given a new salvage title, which signals to a prospective buyer that the car has been totaled, however, some of these flood-ravaged cars are camouflaged with “clean” titles.

Consumer Reports has a few tips so that you don’t accidentally end up with a water-logged car.

1. Do Your Research

Check the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, which aims to crack down on “title washing.”

2. Check The History

Carfax offers a free flood damage check, which can show you the possibility of flood damage for a car based on the location of past flooding.

Flickr/Sir Adavis

3. Inspect The Carpets 

Because these tools aren’t foolproof, inspect the car’s carpets for a musty smell or caked-on mud. New carpets in an older car may also be a warning sign.


4. Inspect The Lights 

Check the headlights and taillights, which are expensive to replace. You may still be able to see a water line on the lens or the reflector.

Flickr/Hsing Wei

5. Inspect The Hard-To-Clean Places 

Look in hard-to-clean places, such as gaps between panels in the trunk or under the hood. Though someone may have tried their hardest to scrub away mud and debris, they may have missed some.


6. Look At The Heads 

Inspect any unpainted or exposed screws for rust.

Flickr/Jeff Kramer

7. Check The Rubber Drain Plugs 

See if seat-mounting screws or the rubber drain plugs under the car have been removed recently. To dry carpets, the seats must be removed, so that may be a giveaway. Similarly, the rubber drain plugs may have been removed to drain floodwater.

Flickr/Luke Jones

About the Author

Sarah Kuta

Sarah Kuta is an award-winning writer and editor based in Colorado. She writes regularly about how to find deals, save money and find side gigs. Reach her at More.

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