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How to Avoid Buying a Flood-Damaged Car

A sedan drives through welling flood waters.

Buying a flood-damaged car or truck can be a risky proposition, even if you know the full story behind what happened to the vehicle. Water, sewage and salt can all do significant damage to an automobile, in ways that are often hidden or can take a long period of time to present. It can also be very difficult to fully repair these types of problems, as corrosion, mildew and rot from flood exposure become more embedded in a vehicle’s wiring system, interior and sheet metal.

Here’s how to avoid buying a car or truck that might have flood damage, regardless of how clean its history report might look.

1. Don’t Trust Incredible Deals

When shopping for a used vehicle, always keep in mind the old saying that anything too good to be true usually is. Flood-damaged cars are often priced significantly below market value, which draws in buyers to take a risk on their history in the pursuit of a deal. Don’t get sucked in by the prospect of an underpriced automobile — make sure to ask the same questions you would when making any other major purchase, and ask for the same proof of history.

2. Know Where the Car Was


If you live in a flood-prone area, then be suspicious of a crop of inexpensive used vehicles flooding the market. Within a month or two of flood cleanup, insurance companies dump these damaged vehicles at auctions.

Sellers have gotten better at dispersing flood-damaged cars across the country, however, which means a shipment of such vehicles could arrive in your area even if you live nowhere near the coast.

In both scenarios, always get an independent vehicle history report linked to the VIN before purchasing a used vehicle. Even if the report doesn’t include a salvage title related to flooding, you’ll be able to link it to potential floods in its region of origin.

3. Use All of Your Senses

If you’re concerned that you might be dealing with a previously flooded car, an independent inspection from your local NAPA AutoCare is the best way to calm your anxiety. Even in the dealer lot or seller’s driveway, however, there are certain things you can do to uncover problems, with just a flashlight and your five senses:

  • Pay attention to a musty smell in the cabin, which can indicate mildew or moisture still locked into upholstery and carpets.
  • Check in the trunk for any water in the spare tire well. Water always seeks the lowest point.
  • Look for rust on door hinges, trunk hinges, and under the hood — areas where water rarely penetrates, but where a flood would cause problems.
  • Make sure all electrical features function as designed.
  • Look for unusual dirt buildup in areas that are normally clean — again, door hinges, under the hood, etc.

If you keep a close eye on these warning signs, don’t let the thrill of a deal blind you and always, always make sure to get a vehicle history report, you’ll be able to protect yourself from purchasing a flood-damaged car.

Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on flood-damaged cars, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Benjamin Hunting View All

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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