Cars don’t play well with standing water. That’s why insurance companies are usually more than willing to total a car victimized by flood. Unfortunately, floods are all too common in this country. From heavy spring rains in Midwestern states to floodwaters from summer hurricanes, untold numbers of cars are totaled every year. How would you know if you were looking at one?
A flood damaged car exhibits some telltale signs. You just have to know what to look for. Below are X such signs. Identifying just one doesn’t guarantee flood damage. But noticing two or more is definitely cause for suspicion.
When cars are totaled by insurance companies, they can be bought by scrappers looking to restore them or part them out. In such cases, a salvage title is almost always issued. A salvage title doesn’t guarantee a car has been involved in a flood, but it does indicate the car was totaled.
Note that some states mandate that salvage titles indicate flood damage. In such a case, that’s all you would need. The title would tell the whole story. Where flood damage isn’t indicated on a salvage title, beware of the vehicle nonetheless.
Flooded cars tend to exhibit unusual odors. Those odors generally fall into one of two categories:
The smell test is pretty reliable. But there are still more signs to look for.
You expect to see some amount of corrosion on a car’s body and underside. You don’t expect to see it in the interior. So look under the seats. If you notice the springs and seat frames are corroded, there’s a good chance they were exposed to water for a prolonged amount of time.
Just like floodwaters in a house, floodwaters in a car can leave water marks behind. If you notice a consistent line running all the way around the interior of the car, that tells you it sat in water. Water lines are very difficult to get out without leaving cleaning lines in their wake.
Floodwaters almost always carry dirt and debris with them. They deposit that dirt and debris in unusual places. As you’re inspecting the car, look for dirt and debris where you wouldn’t expect to find it. Check under the seats, under the dash, in cup holders, etc. On the exterior, you shouldn’t find mud and dirt in the engine compartment or the trunk.
If you know your way around the car, take a good look around the alternator, steering column and wiring harness. Mud can easily work its way into tiny crevices but still be very difficult to get out. Any signs of mud in these areas indicate flood damage.
If you suspect flood damage but don’t have enough evidence to verify it, you can always ask to take the car to a professional. A trained mechanic with experience in flood damaged vehicles should be able to tell you in short order. Either way, the point is to be able to make an informed decision. You don’t want to assume anything.