Should You Ever Buy a Flood-damaged Car?

By: Denise Harrison  | 
Image Gallery: Car Safety Even if it wasn't submerged as much as this sedan, a car that's been in a flood may have significant damage. See more pictures of car safety.

A good dealer can restore flood-damaged cars so that they look almost new, but don't let the good looks fool you. Buying a flood-damaged car comes with a lot of risk. However, a wet past doesn't necessarily make a used car a bad buy, either. So, how do you decide whether to gamble on a car with a watery history? There are several important factors to consider.

First, how deeply was the car submerged? If the water level wasn't deep enough to wreak havoc with the electronics, the car may end up with rust and corrosion but isn't always doomed for major operational issues. If the submersion was deep, then even if there aren't electrical problems now, there could be danger down the road.


How long was the car under the water? The longer the vehicle remained submerged, the greater the damage.

What kind of water flooded the car? If it was salt water, the corrosion will occur much more aggressively than if it was fresh water.

Does the automobile's title carry a "Flood" or "Salvage" stamp? If so, then someone (an insurance company, a bank or an owner) at one time considered the car to be irreparable. Unless a major effort has been spent on repairs, you can expect problems.

If you're looking for short-term use of a car, a flood-damaged car may be a sensible solution. A good candidate for a flood-damaged car may be a recent college grad who needs a car just long enough to get to job interviews, and who plans to buy a new car after employment. Snowbirds, or retirees who live in the north and spend winters in warmer climates, may want a car they can leave at their southern home for the summers, and a flood-damaged car may be just the ticket. Salvage cars are also popular among car enthusiasts who enjoy buying damaged cars on the cheap and then rebuilding them with new parts.

Any car that's been subjected to water should be sold well below market value, and unless the dealership can prove extensive restoration, you should be offered a dream deal. After all, when buying a flood-damaged car, you're assuming a substantial financial risk that major repairs could be necessary. Make sure that you don't pay more for the car than you're willing to pay if the worst-case scenario occurs. Also know that when a car is flooded, typically, the manufacturer's warranty is voided.

When deciding whether or not the price is reasonable, be sure to factor in resale -- or, more likely, no resale. Most people agree that flood-damaged cars will have basically no market value for you to resell them later.


Flood-damaged Cars FAQs

Are flooded cars sold at dealerships?
If the car in question is not in working condition, insurance companies buy the car to settle claims, and auction it as "salvage." Corrupt car dealers are not above cleaning up and then selling such vehicles.
Is it safe to purchase flood-damaged cars?
A car that has undergone such damage is typically sold at a rate significantly lower than market value. Just be informed that such a vehicle can demand extensive repair costs.
Can flooded cars be repaired?
Yes and no. Rain water isn't as damaging as salt water, and so this can prove to be a major deciding factor in choosing whether to repair your car. That being said, only experienced mechanics should be trusted with the task. Additionally, cars flooded over a long period of time are not worth the trouble. If, however, you do want to go ahead with repairs, keep in mind it the car may have to be rebuilt entirely.
How can I identify a flood car?
There are a few signs to look for, including rust under the dashboard and hood, as well as on the doors and pedals. Sometimes, muddy residue can be found under the seats. Another telltale sign is a spray of droplets in the lights.

Lots More Information

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  • Edmunds, Inc. "How To Avoid Buying a Flood-Damaged Car." April 30, 2009. (May 30, 2011)
  • Fix, Lauren. "Hurricane sufferers victimized by illegal car sellingscam." Family Car Parts. (May 11, 2011)
  • GarageFly. "Flood Damaged Cars: They Stink." (May 20, 2011)
  • Insurance Information Institute. "Flood-Damaged Cars from Hurricane Katrina May Show up on a Used Car Lot Near You." March 2, 2006. (May 11, 2011)
  • Jones, Roland. "'Storm cars' could take consumers for a ride." MSNBC. Sept. 16, 2005. (May 11, 2011)
  • National Insurance Crime Bureau. "VINCheck." (May 30, 2011)
  • Progressive. "Spotting Flood Damage." (May 12, 2011)
  • Samarin, Vlad. "How to inspect a car body when buying a used car - illustrated guide." Samarins. (May 22, 1011)
  • West Tennessee Legal Services. "Beware of Flood Damaged Vehicles." (May 18, 2011)
  • What Car? "Flood damage: what you need to know - How do I tell if a car has been flooded?" Aug. 23, 2010. (May 30, 2011)