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Don’t Buy a Vehicle Before Checking for Flood Damage

CARFAX Helps Spot Water Damage

Considering purchasing a used car? Protect yourself from the tens of thousands of flood-damaged vehicles that flood the market every year. About half of all flood-damaged vehicles end up on the road again.

All sorts of natural disasters are responsible for these vehicles, but the majority of them come from areas that suffer from seasonal hurricanes, tropical storms and rising rivers that result in flooding. The damage from Hurricane Katrina and her sisters Rita and Wilma together left a staggering 600,000 vehicles covered in water. Even your average, predicable hurricane season will leave thousands of vehicles submerged and a total loss.

Dishonest salesmen buy these flood damaged cars, give them a face-lift, often drive them to a different state and sell them to unsuspecting buyers at a reduced price. The buyer walks away thinking they just got the deal of the century. However, no matter how good it looks, or no matter how good of a buy it seems, a flood-damaged vehicle quickly turns into a money pit before eventually dying an early death.

Larry Gamache, director of communication for CARFAX, cautions all buyers to beware – not just those living in flood prone areas. “Flood-damaged cars end up going to places where consumers don’t suspect it,” he says. “But as the con men get smarter, we get smarter on how we deter it.”

But it can get tricky when not all states have laws requiring salvage titles for flood-damaged vehicles. Most states let the insurance company make that decision, so a flooded car could get a clean title in one of those states, and end up back on the market.

One Victims Story:

“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 [found a] 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

How to Spot a Flood Car:

  • If the price is too good to be true, it usually is. If the vehicle is truly in such a great shape, why are they selling? Ask the seller why, and if they give you a weak answer, be wary.
  • Find out where the vehicle is from. Though, not all water-damaged vehicles come from common hurricane and flood areas, if it is from somewhere known to have been recently hit by a flood, it can be a huge indicator.
  • Check for residual silt, mud and rust in the trunk, glove compartment, the dashboard and below the seats for signs of water damage,  if there is evidence to be found these are common places to find it
  • Examine upholstery and carpet closely; if it doesn’t seem to match the interior or if it fits loosely, it may have been replaced. Discolored, faded or stained materials could indicate water damage. Other signs of water damage are discoloring, staining or fading of the interior.
  • Take a test drive. Make sure that all electronics, warning lights, gauges, airbag lights and ABS lights come on, even try the emergency lights and radio.
  • Check the oil. If water has gotten into the oil, the color and thickness will be different. Instead of being dark like coffee, the oil will be more like the color of chocolate milk. The oil will also be thinner and may be sticky to the touch.
  • Flex some of the wires beneath the dashboard, wet wires are brittle once dry and may crack.
  • Take a deep breath and smell for musty odors from mildew. Another clue may be too much air freshener; it may be masking another smell.
  • 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 a flood title, and may indicate if a vehicle has been titled/registered in at-risk areas during flood and hurricane seasons. If the seller does not offer you a report, use the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) available on the dashboard to check the car’s history at

If you suspect someone is guilty of committing fraud by knowingly selling a flood-damaged vehicle as a regular used vehicle in good condition, contact your auto insurance company, local law enforcement, or the National Insurance Crime Bureau at 1-800-835-6422 or 1-800-TEL-NICB.

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