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Used Car Buying Tips: Detecting and Avoiding Flood Damaged Cars


In His Own Words...
"My parents got burned last year by purchasing a used car they did not know was flooded. The car looked immaculate and had no signs of flood until the electrical system and transmission failed. This was a horrible experience and cost my parents a lot of money. Who says lightning doesn't strike twice? I was looking for another car for my parents and late model used car that looked brand new. The seller told me the car was perfect and was never hit, flooded or salvaged. I decided to sign up for CARFAX to help protect my parents. Oh my goodness, the car came up as a flood/salvage title. Thank God for CARFAX. They saved my parents from throwing an additional $13,000 down the drain. I only wish I knew about CARFAX before my parents purchased the first one. Thank You CARFAX!"
Rich C., Virginia

Flood Damaged Cars

Protect Yourself From Flood Damaged Vehicles

Considering purchasing a used car? Protect yourself from buying a flood damaged vehicle by doing a little research and by having the vehicle thoroughly checked by a mechanic. Rain, thunderstorms, swelling rivers and seasonal hurricanes hitting the coastlines all contribute to flooding disasters that can mean serious water damage to vehicles in those areas.

Every year, tens of thousands of cars are damaged by floodwaters and more than half end up back on the road. Water damage from Hurricane Floyd in 1999 ruined approximately 75,000 vehicles, Tropical Storm Allison damaged another 95,000 in 2001 and Hurricane Ivan in 2004 left more than 100,000 vehicles waterlogged. But the storms no one will ever forget, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Wilma, left more than 600,000 submerged in floodwater. Most recently, Hurricane Ike claimed approximately 100,000 cars in Texas and Louisiana. Hurricanes and tropical storms, however, are only part of the problem.

Flooding can occur throughout the year and in any part of the country; in 2008 massive flooding in the Midwest swept from Iowa and Missouri all the way to Ohio. Auto industry analysts caution consumers that the risk of buying a water-damaged car is not limited to these flood-ravaged areas. Damaged cars are often repaired cosmetically and moved to adjacent states or other areas of the country where many are sold to unsuspecting consumers. These floodwaters can cause damage to a vehicle's computer and electrical systems, as well as potentially causing anti-lock braking and airbag systems to malfunction.

To help you avoid cars with water damage, CARFAX offers these tips:

  • Check the trunk, glove compartment, the dashboard and below the seats for signs of water damage such as silt, mud or rust.
  • Examine upholstery and carpeting closely; if it doesn't match the interior or fits loosely, it may have been replaced. Discolored, faded or stained materials could indicate water damage.
  • Turn the ignition key and make sure that accessory and warning lights and gauges come on and work properly. Make sure the airbag and ABS lights come on.
  • Test lights (interior and exterior), windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work.
  • Flex some of the wires beneath the dashboard. Wet wires will become brittle upon drying and may crack.
  • Take a deep breath and smell for musty odors from mildew.
  • Go to a trusted mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection. Always get vehicles checked BEFORE handing over any money.
  • Ask to see a vehicle history report. CARFAX Vehicle History Reports can reveal many hidden problems from a vehicle's past, including flood titles, and will indicate if a vehicle has been titled/registered in at-risk areas during flood and hurricane seasons. If the seller does not offer a report, use the 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) available on the dashboard to check the car's history at
Flood Damaged Car

Facts: Flood Damage from Hurricanes and Tropical Storms

  • Hurricane Floyd (1999) damaged 75,000 vehicles and than half were put back out on the road.
  • Tropical Storm Allison (2001) - More than 95,000 vehicles flooded by the most extensive tropical storm in U.S. history.
  • Hurricane Ivan (2004) - Left more than 100,000 cars submerged in floodwaters throughout the Southeast.
  • Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Wilma (2005) – claimed more than 600,000 cars across the Gulf Coast.  Many of these cars still are showing up for sale around the country.
  • Hurricane Ike (2008) – more than 100,000 cars in Texas and Louisiana, from Galveston and Houston over to Baton Rouge, were left underwater.

Title Brand/Designations by State

Most states treat flood vehicle events with either a Flood or Salvage brand or a combination of the both.

Flood Title Brand

  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
Salvage Title Brand on Flood Damaged Vehicles (Will not necessarily be marked as "flood damaged")

  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • Utah
Salvage Certificate with Flood Brand

  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Massachusetts