Warning: How To Avoid Buying a Flood-Damaged Car


A natural disaster, such as a hurricane or flood, can affect you even if you were hundreds of miles away when the incident happened. There are trickle-down effects.

Some are obvious, such as supply chain disruptions. One of the less obvious: buying a vehicle that has suffered flood damage.

In this article, I’m going to go over ways you can avoid buying a flood-damaged car.

Can You Tell Whether a Car Has Been Involved in a Flood?

If you’re not careful, buying a flood-stricken vehicle can send your wallet over the deep end.

Unfortunately for the consumer, there is no airtight way to stop flooded cars from hitting the market later on. And sometimes those vehicles end up on car lots hundreds of miles away from where the flood happened.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), a nonprofit organization that fights insurance fraud, says on its website, “Dishonest dealers and other individuals can buy flooded vehicles, dry and clean them and sell them to unsuspecting buyers as used vehicles. Many of these vehicles come on the market after natural disasters.”

4 Ways To Avoid Purchasing a Flood-Damaged Car

If you’re in the market for a car, it’s important that you look for the signs of flood damage in a vehicle. Let’s go over some ways you can protect yourself.

1. Buy Only From Reputable Dealers

One of the best ways 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 like Yelp and Trustpilot can give you a sense of whether a business is trustworthy or not.

Here are five things to know about Trustpilot.

2. 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

3. Look Up the Vehicle’s HIstory

Do a thorough search of the vehicle’s history. A good place to start is by checking the VIN number, which you can do for free with these online tools.


VehicleHistory.com is a site I’ve used to check the history of a car I was interested in. The site shows a vehicle’s history in detail, including whether the car was involved in any accidents or whether it’s been sold at auction.


The NICB has a free VINCheck database of cars with flood damage and other information. This database will show salvage vehicles that have been reported by NICB member insurance companies.

Carfax’s Flood Check Tool

Carfax offers a free Flood Check Tool that allows you to see whether the vehicle comes up in its database as having been damaged by a flood.

To use the tool, you’ll need to enter the car’s VIN and email address. According to Consumer Reports, Carfax 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!)

Screenshot via Carfax.com

4. Have a Mechanic Examine the Car

As with any used vehicle, you’ll always want to have it checked out by a mechanic. 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,” money expert Clark Howard 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 auto 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

If you happen to find out about a dealer selling storm-damaged cars, according to the Federal Trade Commission, you can save the next customer a potential headache and some money by contacting the following:

  • Local law enforcement
  • The NICB at (800) TEL-NICB (835-6422) Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. CST.

Does your car need servicing? Here’s how to find a trustworthy mechanic.

More Car Resources From Clark.com:

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