Warning: How To Avoid Buying a Flood-Damaged Car

Written by |

When you’re considering buying a used car, one of the things money expert Clark Howard wants you to be aware of is the vehicle’s history.

Knowing the origin of a car in the marketplace is especially crucial right now in light of the recent hurricane that hit parts of the Southeast because “The flood cars are a-coming,” Clark says.

Clark: After the Flood Come the Flood Cars

“It will be a while until they start showing up in the used car fleets for sale. And a lot of times the titles are what are known as ‘washed,'” Clark says. That’s when information on a car title is removed illegally.

In this article, I’ll list some steps, including tips from Clark, on how to avoid buying a flood-damaged car.

Flood-Damaged Cars for Sale: 4 Steps To Avoid Them

Use Carfax’s Flood Check

Clark likes Carfax’s free Flood Check Tool, a database of flooded cars, but it points out that it’s not comprehensive. “It will only show up on Carfax if it was a reported insurance claim,” Clark says. “Some older vehicles weren’t even insured for collision and comprehensive, and therefore they would not show up as an insured claim.”

To use the tool, you’ll need to enter your email address and the car’s VIN. According to Consumer Reports, the tool may show a “possibility of flood damage” as well.

When I entered my information, Carfax’s tool indicated that it had no record of flood damage to my vehicle. (Whew!)

Carfax Flood Check
Screenshot via carfax.com

Some other free online tools that show vehicle histories are VehicleHistory.com, a site I’ve used to check the background of a car I was interested in, and VINCheck, a database from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), a nonprofit organization that fights insurance fraud.

Read our in-depth guide on how to get a free VIN report.

Buy Only From Reputable Dealers

Another great way to avoid buying a flood-damaged vehicle is to do business only with reputable dealers. How can you tell if a dealer has a good reputation? There are several ways:

  • Word of mouth: Ask people you trust to refer you to dealers they consider reliable.
  • Better Business Bureau: Go to BBB.org and read up on the particular dealer’s accreditation, ratings, customer complaints and more.
  • Online reviews: Online review sites such as Yelp and Trustpilot can give you a sense of whether a business is trustworthy or not.

Read our guide on what to know about Trustpilot.

Look for Signs of Flood Damage

According to the NICB, some signs that a car has been in a flood include:

  • A musty smell in the vehicle’s interior
  • Water stains and mildew along the vehicle’s interior trimmings
  • Fading on the interior upholstery and elsewhere
  • Flaking metal
  • Mud in the car’s crevices including the spare tire compartment
  • Carpet that has been recently shampooed

Have a Mechanic Examine the Car

As with any used vehicle, you’ll always want to have it checked out by a mechanic before you buy it. This is especially true if you suspect there could be flood damage.

“Have the car inspected by a certified diagnostic mechanic of your choosing as a condition of purchase,” Clark says. “You can leave a deposit if you wish, but specify in writing that the money must be returned to you if the car doesn’t check out. You can eliminate nine out of 10 used car buying disasters this way.”

A good mechanic should be able to find evidence of flooding by checking the condition of the car’s wiring, gauges, engine and other parts.

Clark recommends that you find an ASE-certified (Automotive Service Excellence) mechanic. Visit ASE.com to find shops with ASE-certified mechanics near you.

Final Thoughts

Clark says that when you don’t do your due diligence researching a car’s history, it can be difficult to know for sure if it’s flood-free.

“The only way you really know is you run the flood report from Carfax as a first step, but if it’s an older used vehicle, that won’t be enough,” Clark says. ‘You absolutely need the mechanic to check it out to make sure it’s OK.”

Does your car need checking out? Read our in-depth guide on how to find a trustworthy mechanic.

Welcome bonuses can be a great way to boost the value of a credit card. Best Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses for 2023 - If you're in the market for a new credit card in 2023, you may be hoping to cash in on the hundreds of dollars in sign-up bonuses offered to new customers. Welcome bonuses and offers are a marketing tool that…
The best cell phone plans include Tello, Mint Mobile, Visible, T-Mobile, Consumer Cellular and more Best Cell Phone Plans in 2023: The Cheapest Plan for Every Need - Team Clark ranks the best cell phone plans and deals! See our favorites for unlimited data, families and cheap plans starting at $10/month.