How to avoid buying a water-damaged car Advertiser Disclosure Advertiser Disclosure We are an independent, advertising-supported comparison service. Our goal is to help you make better financial decisions by providing you with interactive tools and financial calculators, publishing original and objective content. This allows you to conduct your own research and compare information for free – so that you can make sound financial decisions. Bankrate has agreements with issuers including, but not limited to American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Discover. How We Make money The products that are advertised on this site are from companies that pay us. This compensation can affect the way and where products appear on this site, including, for example, the order in which they may be listed within the categories of listing in the event that they are not permitted by law. Our loans, mortgages,, and other home lending products. But this compensation does have no impact on the information we publish, or the reviews that you see on this site. We do not cover the vast array of companies or financial offers that may be accessible to you. Luis Diaz Devesa/Getty Images
5 min read Published June 22, 2022
Written by Mia Taylor Written by Contributing Writer Mia Taylor is a contributor to Bankrate and an award-winning journalist who has two decades of experience and worked as a staff reporter or contributor for some of the nation’s leading newspapers and websites including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Diego Union-Tribune, TheStreet, MSN and Credit.com. Written by Rhys Subitch Edited by Auto loans editor Rhys has been writing and editing for Bankrate since late 2021. They are dedicated to helping readers gain the confidence to manage their finances by providing concise, well-researched and researched information that breaks down complicated topics into manageable bites. The Bankrate promises
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Therefore, this compensation may affect the way, location and in what order products appear in listing categories, unless prohibited by law for our mortgage, home equity, and other home lending products. Other factors, like our own rules for our website and whether a product is available in your region or within your own personal credit score may also influence the way and place products are listed on this site. Although we try to offer the most diverse selection of products, Bankrate does not include information about each financial or credit item or service. Car buyers throughout the nation are susceptible to the effects of destructive floods by unknowingly purchasing water-damaged cars. Used and new vehicles that have been damaged by significant flood events like Hurricane Ida from 2021 could be brought to market following a storm. Carfax data shows that as high as 212,000 vehicles could be damaged due to the hurricane Ida. When flood-impacted cars are resold to buyers who are not aware of the damage, they often have expensive mechanical and electrical problems which surface several months later. Even if you don’t live in a region where flooding is common it is possible to purchase a car that has water damage. Carfax research also shows that water-damaged vehicles appear everywhere, which means that buyers from coast to coastline are in danger of buying damaged by flooding. How to tell if the car is damaged by water? Damaged cars from water can be difficult to spot. They usually look good and can even run smoothly for a short time. But eventually you could be faced with problems because flooded cars begin to decay from the inside. Here are some signs that a car may have water damage: Musty odor: The interior of water-damaged automobiles will typically smell musty. Unscrupulous sellers may try to cover up the smell using powerful air fresheners, but it isn’t easy to completely rid a car of a musty smell. One method to determine how a car smells is to be in the car and shut the windows. Carpets that are damp or wet Damage from water can accumulate in areas you cannot immediately be able to see, like under carpeting. Take a look at the carpets in the car and then pat them to try and locate any potential moisture buildup. Also, check the trunk taking off the spare tire to look for water beneath it. Carpeting that is stained or unmatched carpeting: Yet another sign for water-related damage could be a car with stained or loose carpeting and upholstery. Look for blotchy, brown stains, which are signs of water damage. When you conduct inspections, check the floor carpeting to the carpeting on the doors and the roof. All of them should appear like they are of the same in age and color. Rust: A vehicle that has water damage might have rust around the doors, inside the hood, and even under the dashboard. Screws, hinges for doors or trunk latches as well as door handles could show signs of rusting. Brittle wires: Check under the dashboard if you suspect that your vehicle may be suffering from water damage. Brittle wires could be a sign that your vehicle was impacted by any water-related event or other type. Fog or moisture beads: If your vehicle’s interior lights and instrument panel, as well as exterior lights appear dim or have water beads within them, consider it an indication that the vehicle may have water damage. Silt or mud buildup: In floods, specifically water may carry dirt and mud inside a vehicle. When the flood is over but the dirt remains. The most common areas to look for silt and mud include the glove compartment, trunk underneath the dashboard and beneath the seats. 4 tips to avoid buying a flooded car If you think that a vehicle may have flood or water damage it is important to do your homework and find out whether your intuition is right. There are many tools that can assist you in getting to the bottom of this important question, as well as signs to be alert for. 1. Run a vehicle history report A vehicle history report can reveal issues with a car before you buy. A clear indication of a damaged car can be seen in the way it is branded as an example. Departments of motor vehicle require permanent title marks on vehicles that were badly damaged by floods. If the vehicle was declared to be totally damaged, it is expected to receive an entirely new title that is labeled “salvage” as well as “flood.” Depending on the state, however this information could be indicated with a numeric code. Carfax and Experian offer flood check tools that permit users to conduct an independent check on the past of a car. The platforms require only your VIN of the vehicle in question. When looking through a car’s history take a look for vehicles that are from areas that have been affected by flooding. There is a National Insurance Crime Bureau also provides VIN checks online that permit users to discover if the car is salvaged. You should examine a car’s history report to determine if the car was sold multiple times in the course of a brief period. Be wary of a history that involves buyers from multiple states. It could be a sign of what’s known as car “title washing,”” where unscrupulous sellers retitle the car several times to conceal the car’s history. 2. Examine for signs of water damage. Cars that have been even partially submerged in water often have obvious signs, however they can be subtle, especially if the car has been cleaned up for selling. Be aware of stinky or sour smells that emanate out of the control panel for the temperature. Take note of any stains you see on the interior of the vehicle, engine compartment and trunk. Mud, dirt, or sand in odd spots and seat belts that make a loud noise when extended or pulled back are all signs of water damage. It is also essential to test drive a vehicle, especially one you think might be prone to flooding or water damage. Some things to be aware of while you’re driving include malfunctioning electrical systems as well as infotainment systems, which will be triggered if they’ve been impacted by water. Also, observe for smoke during your test drive. 3. Be cautious about cars that are priced below market value There’s a reason for the old saying that things are too good to be true. This includes cars being priced well below their worth, and this can be a red flag that something is not right. Look up the median selling price for the car you are considering buying on independent vehicle pricing sites such as Edmunds or Autotrader. A new or used car sold at a price that is lower than the market value is a strong indication that the seller is eager to dispose of it. Buyers must be cautious when a car is listed for a significant discount. As well as asking questions about why the car is being offered at a lower price than it ought to be an offer, it could be an excellent idea to have the car evaluated by a professional who will detect any issues. 4. Get a professional inspection It’s always a good idea to hire a certified mechanic or automotive technician to thoroughly look over a car before you purchase it, but it’s even more critical to perform this procedure to safeguard yourself from a possibly water-damaged car. An expert can to ease your mind, particularly when the vehicle you’re contemplating buying has one or more of the warning signs listed in this article. Make sure the inspection does not just include obvious indicators of water damage but also a thorough test of the electronic equipment, since problems with these systems can take months to surface. A pre-purchase inspection generally be paid by the buyer, it will be money well spent if it prevents you from getting the car that’s a lemon. You can expect to spend anywhere from $100-$200 for an inspection. What should you do if you bought a vehicle that is damaged by water you’ve purchased a car with water damage, all might not be lost. Repairs can be made to the car with a skilled mechanic. But , keep in mind that these are not do-it-yourself fixes. It will require an expert with a vast knowledge of cars. It is also important to keep in mind that repairing a flood-damaged vehicle will not be inexpensive, and you’ll have to figure out if it’s worth the investment. Especially since flood-damaged cars generally don’t have a potential for resales. The bottom line is that flood-damaged vehicles are used throughout the country. If you are concerned that your car may have been impacted by flooding or another type of water event there are a variety of steps you can consider, including completing a car history report, examining for obvious signs of water damage and having the car inspected by a qualified professional. Be aware that even if you do not reside in an area affected through flooding you could unknowingly end up with a water damaged vehicle. Find out more
Written by Contributing Writer Mia Taylor is a contributor to Bankrate and an award-winning journalist who has two decades of experience and worked as a staff reporter or contributor for some of the nation’s leading newspapers and websites including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Diego Union-Tribune, TheStreet, MSN and Credit.com. The article was edited by Rhys Subitch Edited by Auto loans editor Rhys has been writing and editing for Bankrate since the end of 2021. They are passionate about helping readers feel confident to control their finances with clear, well-researched information that breaks down otherwise complex topics into manageable bites.
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