Flood-Damaged Cars and Trucks Seep Into the Market

In the aftermath of Hurricane Lee and Irene in the East, flood-damaged vehicles likely will show up for sale. Flood-damaged cars will wind up on the used-car market, in auctions and on dealer lots, as desperate vehicle owners try to salvage whatever value they can. A car that's been in a flood, with the engine submerged for any length of time, will never be the same, says Carl Sullivan of AiM Mobile

In the aftermath of Hurricane Lee and Irene in the East, flood-damaged vehicles likely will show up for sale.

Flood-damaged cars will wind up on the used-car market, in auctions and on dealer lots, as desperate vehicle owners try to salvage whatever value they can.

“A car that's been in a flood, with the engine submerged for any length of time, will never be the same,” says Carl Sullivan of AiM Mobile Inspections.

“A car's engine, electronics, fuel system, airbags and brakes are all extremely susceptible to flood water,” he says.

“It's extremely important to find any water damage before you invest your money,” he adds.

AiM has instructed its 500 inspectors to pay particular attention to flood damage due to this year's severe weather throughout the nation.

Even before Hurricanes Irene and Lee hit, the National Climatic Data Center reported that 6.8 million acres of land had been flooded in the U.S. in 2011 due to a severe winter and above-average rains in the spring.

Some of the heaviest spring flooding occurred in Vermont, Kentucky, and all along the Mississippi River. Record flooding washed away roads, destroyed buildings and created havoc. It also causes problems in the used-car market.

Many states issue a flood or salvage title to a vehicle that has been submerged or flood-damaged, information which can be found on a vehicle history report.

However, some sellers may try to unload their car or truck before a flood or salvage title appears on a vehicle's history report.

To combat this possibility, Sullivan, a 16-year veteran car inspector, offers these warning signs to help identify flood damage in a vehicle:

  • A musty odor in the vehicle, which may be from moldy carpeting or padding. If possible, pull up the carpeting to see how far water may have risen in the vehicle, and also if any moisture remains.

  • Mud in the seat belt tracks or seat belt tensioners.

  • Water or condensation in the headlights or taillights. This could also be due to an accident, but water in these areas could also be a tip-off to flood-related problems.

  • Water in the spare tire well in a vehicle's trunk. “If we see water in the spare tire well, it leads us to look a little further,” Sullivan says.

  • A sagging headliner in the interior, particularly on a late-model vehicle.

  • Look under the seats. “I found two fish under a back seat once,” Sullivan says of a car inspection in Florida. “That was a pretty sure sign the car had been flooded.”

  • Corrosion in the vehicle's undercarriage, such as on brake lines or around the fuel tank. When corrosion appears near the top of the springs or shock towers are corroded, these are signs of flood-related damage.