How to Tell If a Car Was Previously Damaged in a Flood

How to Tell If a Car Was Previously Damaged in a Flood
Photo: michelmond, Shutterstock

Flooding can do some major damage to a car, even if it’s not immediately visible (once it has been cleaned). Unfortunately, this means that some vehicles that are irreparably harmed may be shipped off and sold in other parts of the country — specifically, places less prone to flooding where buyers may not be aware of this issue.

A vehicle’s mechanical systems, electronics, and/or lubricants may have taken a hit during a flood, but may appear to be in good, working condition. Consumer Reports has put together a guide to help people spot flood-damaged cars before buying them. Here’s what to look for.

Signs of flood damage on a car

So what, specifically, should you look for? Here are some of the most common signs, courtesy of Consumer Reports:

  • Inspect the carpets to see whether they show signs of having been waterlogged, such as smelling musty or having caked-on mud. Brand-new carpets in an older vehicle may be another red flag.
  • Check the seat-mounting screws to see whether there’s any evidence that they were removed. To dry the carpets effectively, the seats must be removed and possibly even replaced.
  • Inspect the lights. A visible waterline may still show on the lens or reflector.
  • Inspect the difficult-to-clean places, such as gaps between panels in the trunk and under the hood, for mud and debris.
  • Look on the bottom edges of brackets or panels, where grime wouldn’t settle usually.
  • Look at the heads of any unpainted, exposed screws under the dashboard. Bare metal will show signs of rust in flooded cars.
  • Check to see whether the rubber drain plugs under the car and on the bottom of doors look as if they have been removed recently. That may have been done to drain floodwater.

Lastly, some buyers are aware of and concerned about purchasing a car with flood damage. So if you’re selling a vehicle and happen to live in an area that recently dealt with flooding, the team at Consumer Reports recommends taking your car to a mechanic for a checkup, and requesting documentation of its (non-flooded) condition.

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