3 Tips for Spotting Flood Damage in Used Cars InfographicIn a perfect world, every used car salesman and private seller would be transparent about the history and condition of a car they are trying to sell. The savvy buyer recognizes there are wolves in sheep’s clothing, however, and approaches a new purchase with their eyes wide open. Here are some tips for spotting flood damage the seller might try to hide.

Spotting The Lie: Checking a Used Car for Flood Damage

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Why Flood Water Is Dangerous To Vehicles And Their Drivers

Floods are one of this nation’s most common natural disasters. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about a quick dip in crystal clear pools. Floods caused by rising sea levels are filled with corrosive salt. Rising water from the ocean or rainfall picks up dirt, grease, debris, and sometimes sewage.

When flood water rises over the sides of a vehicle, it carries all these nasties into the carpet, seat foam, nooks, and crannies. Car parts never meant to come in contact with standing water will rust. Mold grows in softer materials. And both moving parts and electrical systems may be damaged.

Why You Still Need To Look For Flood Damage If You Live In a Dry Climate

You might be thinking, I don’t live anywhere near any active flooding. Why would I need to know how to spot flood damage? The answer is simple. There are crooked sellers out there.

After a flood, the original owners of the vehicles will submit a claim to their insurance company if they have one. If the damage is bad enough to make the vehicle too expensive to restore to proper working order, the owner gets a payout, and the car gets a branded title. The payout is rarely enough to replace their ride after depreciation.

Selling the vehicle is an obvious solution to make up the difference. An honest seller will make it clear to the buyer what damage was incurred and what they’ve done to restore the vehicle to its former glory. An unprincipled seller will give it a spit shine and ship it to an area where people don’t think to look for flood damage. The unsuspecting buyer may test drive the vehicle, then find a few months later that their new car is a lemon.

Investigating A Potential Purchase

Now that you’re forewarned of the risks, here are some tips on how to spot the lie and protect your investment.

Become A Cyber Sleuth

There are several ways to go about researching a vehicle’s past. The first step is to do a little cyber search. A quick, targeted search can save the savvy buyer a great deal of legwork. Insurance companies report stolen, and salvage title claims to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. The NICB offers a free online tool to locate reported vehicle histories in their database using the Vehicle Identification Number or VIN number. You can access the tool HERE. You can also try a service like Carfax Here.

This will weed out the amateur crooks, but others approach fraud with more skill. Further investigation in the form of a physical inspection is recommended. You can hire a mechanic to do the inspection or do it yourself. Both options have pros and cons to consider.

Hire A Mechanic: The most direct approach is to take the vehicle to a mechanic for an in-depth examination. They have the equipment and knowledge base to discover what the seller may have tried to hide. The cost depends on the mechanic, whether it’s a case of beer for your talented brother/sister-in-law or the standard fee at a repair shop.

DIY Inspection: If the cost is prohibitive or you don’t have access to a mechanic at the time of purchase, the second option is a DIY inspection. If you’re not a gearhead, don’t worry. We’ve included a handy checklist to guide your investigation.

  • Look for obvious water lines where metal, paint, or interior have had prolonged exposure to water.
  • Check the headlights for water or fogging inside the housing.
  • Check under the vehicle for rust. This may also be a sign of use on roads that have been salted during winter months. Either way, the extent of the damage is worth noting.
  • Check places the seller might not have thought to clean, like under the spare tire or in the hard-to-reach places under the hood. Look for mud and debris that can’t be explained any other way.
  • Brand-new car parts that aren’t included in regular car maintenance may indicate previous damage.
  • Check seat bolts for rust, tool marks, or stripping. If the seats have been removed, it may have been to reupholster water damaged seats. It may also indicate they dried or replaced carpeting.
  • Check under the dash where outside water would not normally cause rust.
  • Check electrical systems and wiring. Verify the wipers, lights, radio, blinkers, etc., all function as expected.
  • Smell the carpet and seats. Check if it smells musty with mold or has even more unpleasant odors from nasty floodwater. The opposite may also indicate a problem. A quick detail is expected. Heavy cleaner smells, on the other hand, may indicate the seller was trying to remove mold and nasties from the material.
  • Be cautious if the seller cannot provide a clean title and wants to complete the deal with only a bill of sale.

The Takeaway:

No one needs to fall prey to unethical selling practices. With these tips, you can purchase your new baby with confidence, knowing you can recognize the signs of flood damage before you commit yourself.

Looking for a used car? Consider a rebuilt title car. Just because a car was flooded, caught in a hailstorm, or involved in a crash doesn’t mean it can’t be restored to its former glory. At TJ Chapman, we do just that, restoring branded title cars to like-new condition and selling them for great deals. All of our cars pass a 150-point inspection by a third party and are protected by a Peace of Mind Warranty that we back ourselves.

If you’re not located near our Salt Lake City rebuilt title car dealership, no problem. We ship more of these cars out of state than most any dealership nationwide. We know exactly how to get your new ride from our lot to your driveway with minimal hassle for you. Call us at 801-456-9710 for more information.


When floodwater enters a vehicle, it carries pollutants into various parts, causing corrosion and mold growth. Unseen flood damage may be masked by dishonest sellers who target unsuspecting buyers. Researching a vehicle’s history online can save time, as insurance companies share information with the NICB. For a thorough evaluation, a physical inspection is vital, offering the choice of hiring a mechanic or doing it yourself.

Spotting The Lie: Checking a Used Car for Flood Damage


Spotting The Lie: Checking a Used Car for Flood Damage