Cars with a Salvage Title: Flood and Water Damaged Cars

September 8th, 2016 by
water damaged cars

Water can cause irreparable damage to vital components of a vehicle. If you are looking to buy a used car, learn how to avoid buying a water damaged car


Every year, many thousands of cars wind up with water and flood damage from hurricanes, floods, cyclones, tropical storms, and so on. Remember Hurricane Katrina back in 2005? It alone damaged more than 600,000 vehicles. More recently, Superstorm Sandy soaked at least 250,000 vehicles. What happens to all those cars?

About half of those cars will end up being dismantled for parts and scrapped. But the other half make their way into the used car market, and can cause major headaches to the people who can’t resist their cheap price tags. Here’s why you should avoid flood-damaged vehicles:

  • If saltwater was involved, salt can end up in the car’s electrical system and there’s no telling what kind of problems that will cause down the road. This is cause for concern because computers control just about everything in cars nowadays, from the entertainment system to your gas pedal to all the power windows, locks, and so on.
  • However well the car may have been dried out, chances are good that before it was dry mold started to grow in different parts of the car, including deep inside the upholstery and heating/cooling system. Mold carries all kinds of health risks you’d be better off avoiding.
  • Any residual water remaining in the car will cause it to start rusting from the inside out.

CARFAX has a free flood-damage check here. Just type in the VIN and see if the vehicle ever received a branded title for flood or water damage.

But the problem is that titles can also be “washed.” Unethical people can move a car from one state to another, and in the process of registering the car in the different state, the branding of the title might not carry over. Voila! Suddenly the car has a “clean” title even though it was flood-damaged. That means it’s good to know how to spot a flood-damaged car on your own, even if the title is clean. Here’s what to look for:

  • Carpeting or upholstery that seems discolored, is mismatched, or is loose-fitting (if hastily replaced)
  • Electrical malfunctioning – dashboard lights that don’t work, other interior lights, radio, heating/AC, power outlets, wipers, and so on.
  • Airbag and ABS systems that won’t function properly (make sure the dashboard indicators show them as functional – if the dashboard indicators are working!).
  • See if any of the wires you can access under the dashboard are brittle.
  • Even if you can’t see it, mildew will leave the vehicle with a musty smell.
  • Check under the seats and down in the trunk for any silt, mud, or rust. Also check the trunk for any visible water lines.
  • See if any of the seat bolts are rusty, or if there is rust inside the door track.
  • Condensation inside speedometer glass or other gauges.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid winding up with a flood-damaged car is to shop for used cars at reputable dealerships that would never put such vehicles on their lots to begin with. Additionally, taking a car you are interested in to a mechanic of your choice is always a good idea, especially if it has been previously registered or driven in a high risk area. That is why you should always check a vehicle history report for a used car you are planning to purchase.

At Auto City, we do not sell vehicles with salvage or branded titles or cars with signs of water or flood damage. To learn more on the topic of salvaged and branded titles cars, read these two articles: