Water damaged vehicles can flood your car buying experience

Water damaged vehicles can flood your car buying experience

By Bill Lamoreaux / ADOT Communications
January 23, 2024
A flooded street with submerged cars.

In the market for a car or truck? A used vehicle is a great option to save money, as long you know what to look for during the buying experience. Thanks to the internet, the perfect vehicle for you can be found anywhere in the country. However, with that wider search comes more possibilities for hidden or unreported issues like rust, and water damage. 

Cars damaged by floodwaters along the East Coast, heavy rain storms in California or severe weather anywhere else can sometimes be sold by unscrupulous individuals.

When looking for a new-to-you vehicle, it is important to know its history. Pay close attention to a vehicle’s condition and title status, especially in private sales. If a vehicle is flood-damaged, the title should say “salvage” or “flood damage.” But occasionally people fraudulently remove flood history from vehicle titles, making it more difficult to title or insure the vehicle after the sale is completed.

Potential buyers should remain vigilant when looking at used vehicles, closely inspect the vehicle, don’t sign anything until the vehicle has been checked over bumper to bumper and be prepared to walk away if things don’t smell right – quite literally in some cases.

 ADOT recommends buyers follow these guidelines:

  • Check out all of the vehicle’s nooks and crannies. Look under the carpet and floor mats and examine the trunk for dirt, silt and mold. Check under the dashboard and other hard-to-reach places as well. Scammers usually don’t clean all of those places. Finally, take a good whiff in those areas. Water damage leaves a distinctive smell.
  • Check the electrical and mechanical components. Water wreaks havoc on electrical systems, so check to see if any of those systems aren’t working quite right. Also check the engine for signs of rust or even random new parts. If possible, ask an auto mechanic you trust to check the suspension for water damage. Any of those things could be a sign that you’re in danger of buying a flood-damaged vehicle.
  • Use the vehicle identification number (VIN) to obtain the vehicle history through an online service that may charge a fee. This check can uncover a vehicle’s status as “salvage” or “nonrepairable,” as well as maintenance problems, collisions, insurance claims and titles issued in other states.
  • Visit the MVD website for more information about buying or selling a vehicle. 

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