How to Avoid Flood Damaged Cars

Discover the indications of flood damage to avoid purchasing one of the thousands of flood damaged cars on the road.

"We were interested in an ‘08 Smart Fortwo Cabrio. The ad and the dealer’s website failed to mention there had been flood damage, so I am really glad that we decided to get a CARFAX Report. The report showed that it had been flooded, and that before the flood damage it had been totalled. Thanks CARFAX!” – Ryan H

Buying a flood damaged car can be a costly mistake. Unscrupulous sellers can make a car which has been totaled through flood damage look good as new with a fresh coat of paint and new upholstery.

For the average buyer, it can be difficult to tell whether a car is flood damaged at first glance. You can protect yourself against these cars by being aware of the tell-tale signs of water damage.

Every year, tens of thousands of cars are flood damaged, and more than half of those end up back on the road. Unsurprisingly, this problem is magnified in regions which are vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms.

But as scammers will often move cars between states to hide flood titles, anyone buying a used car needs to be aware of the signs of flood damage.

What Are the Risks of Flood Damaged Cars?

Flooding can seriously damage a car. Electrical and computer systems are particularly vulnerable, and this can affect the lights, windshield wipers and locks. It can also cause airbags and anti-lock braking systems to malfunction.

This can lead to serious safety issues, particularly if you are involved in a crash.

If you unwittingly buy a car which has been previously flooded you may lose out financially too, owing to large, unexpected repair bills and a low resale value.

The Extent of Flood Damaged Cars

The Extent of Flooded Cars in each State

1 Texas 30,010 6 Illinois 9,305
2 New Jersey 28,644 7 New York 9,190
3 Pennsylvania 13,159 8 Florida 8,801
4 Kentucky 9,692 9 Mississippi 7,342
5 Louisiana 9,349 10 Virginia 7,321

The scale of vehicle flooding caused by major storms and hurricanes:

  • Hurricane Ivan (2001) – Submerged over 100,000 cars in the Southeast
  • Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Wilma (2005) – Between them they flooded more than 600,000 cars on the Gulf Coast and many are still being listed for sale across the country
  • Hurricane Ike (2008) – Flooded over 100,000 cars in Texas and Louisiana

How to Protect Yourself against Flood Damaged Cars

Buy from a reputable dealer who offers a full CARFAX report. Our used car listings let you easily and quickly find vehicles near you which are free of flood damage and protected by the CARFAX buy-back guarantee.

Flood damaged cars can be hard to detect at first glance, but thoroughly checking your vehicle before purchase can reduce your risk of unknowingly buying a flood damaged car.

CARFAX also offer a free flood check tool, which checks if your car has any flood damage. All you have to do is enter your VIN number!

Tell-tale Signs of Flooding

  • A musty odor in the interior, which can sometimes be covered with a strong air-freshener
  • Upholstery or carpeting which doesn’t match, is loose, new or stained
  • Damp carpets
  • Rust around doors, inside the hood and trunk latches, pedals or under the dashboard
  • Mud or silt in the glove compartment or under seats
  • Brittle wires under the dashboard
  • Fog or moisture beads in the interior or exterior lights or instrument panel

Important Checks

  • Turn on ignition and check all instrument panel lights illuminate
  • Test lights (interior and exterior), air conditioning, windshield wipers, radio, heater, turn signals and heater repeatedly
  • View the full CARFAX vehicle history report to check for reported flood damage or signs of salvage title fraud
  • Get the car checked thoroughly by a reliable mechanic

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* Arkansas Colorado Maryland
Mississippi Montana New Mexico
Salvage Certificate with Flood Brand Illinois Indiana Massachusetts

* These title documents will not necessarily be marked flood damaged.