Will Flooded Cars Flood the Used Car Market?


Pictures of flooded cars after Hurricane Sandy bring back memories of what happened after Katrina.

flooded cars
Beware of Used Cars after Floods (Bloomberg)

Water is not friendly to cars. While many of them will dry out and seem to be just fine, you never know what’s happening deep inside the wires and electrical panels. Corrosion can literally eat away at the wires inside the insulation.

After Hurricane Katrina, flood damaged cars started showing up all over the country. Some of them had salvage titles. That’s a branded title given to a car after the insurance company has totaled it. It simply warns the next buyer that the car had enough damage that the insurance company didn’t think it was worth repairing (that usually happens when the damage equals at least 75% of the car’s value). Unfortunately, some less than scrupulous dealers have figured out how to move cars from state to state and end up with a clean title.

Your better line of defense to avoid flood damaged cars is Carfax. Check the VIN and you can find out if the car was ever the subject of an insurance claim. It’s good to use for any car you’re considering buying. You can either pay $39.99 for an individual Carfax report or $54.99 to get unlimited reports for a 30 day period. The report will list states the car was registered. If it’s last home was New York and suddenly it’s being sold in Arizona, you might want to ask why.

flooded cars
How Much Damage? (Cars.com)

Unfortunately, not all damaged cars have insurance claims. Someone might try to dry out the car and quickly ship it to a new location before the water damage starts to show. The only way to avoid those cars is to check the carefully. Discolored carpet, or fabric that has recently been replaced might be warning sights. Brittle or flaky electrical wires might be another clue. Muddy residue inside the tail lights means water may have leaked through.

You always want to have a mechanic check out any car you’re buying. Not only can they spot potential mechanical troubles, but they should also be able to figure out if the car had been flooded.

Not every car that survives a flood is a disaster. But there is enough risk that they’re definitely worth avoiding.


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