Hurricanes Leave Behind Flood Damaged Cars: Make Sure You Don’t Buy One

Flood Damaged Cars Agirlsguidetocars

Cars are hurricane victims, too.

The whole country has been shocked by the recent hurricanes that have ravaged Texas, Florida and the Caribbean. Some people evacuated while others remained and weathered the storms as best they could.

Homes, property and personal cars will be replaced or repaired. What’s going to happen to the thousands of cars at dealerships that were damaged during the storms? Most dealerships will use their insurance benefits to replace their inventory and send the damaged cars to salvage yards.

The sad reality is that most of those cars will not remain at the salvage yards. They will be cleaned up, doctored up with fresh coats of paint and air fresheners and sent far, far away from storm damaged areas to be sold to unsuspecting buyers. If that new car deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

How to Avoid Getting Stuck With a Flood Damaged Car

Always start your search for a used car at a reputable dealer. They will not risk their dealership’s reputation by selling flood damaged cars. A knowledgeable car buyer is the best car buyer. Here are a few tips and resources to help you spot a flood damaged car before you purchase:

Use Your Senses…Literally!

If your first thought when you get in a used car is “This car smells fabulous!” watch out. Your sense of smell will be your best friend when it comes to a flood damaged car. Beware of cars with strong scents of Lysol or deodorizers. When cars sit in water for a long time, mildew and mold develops creating that musty, mildewy smell (especially in the carpet and the upholstery). When the car is being prepared for sale, the mildew/musty smell is camouflaged with heavy deodorizers or even Lysol.

Flood Damaged Cars

Don’t let these flooded cars end up in your driveway. Photo: Yahoo

Don’t Trust a Super Low-priced Car

If a used car’s price is just too fabulous to be true, there’s probably something seriously hidden. If a car with great mileage and all the features and options you want is significantly priced lower than market value…beware! Run the other way.

Buying a used car? Here are some additional tips. 

Inspect Every Inch of the Car

Take the time to inspect as much of the car as you can. If you feel uncomfortable doing it yourself, ask to take the car to a trusted mechanic, which usually requires you to show your driver’s license, proof of insurance on your own car and your signature on a loan agreement. A mechanic knows what to look for, where to look and can put the car up on a lift to inspect its nether regions. Pay special attention to the following:

  • The trunk and spare tire storage area. Open the trunk and look at the area under the spare tire (or where it would normally be stored). Water tends to pool here and form rust. This area is often overlooked when the car is being cleaned/restored.
  • Look for rust in door hinges, hood springs and trunk latches. Rust is a definite giveaway that a later model car has been sitting in water. If possible, also look for rust on the undercarriage.
  • Pay attention to the exterior paint, rubber seals and chrome trim. A fresh coat of paint is one of the biggest attempts to cover up damage.  If you see bubbles, it’s a sign that rust is underneath that beautiful paint job.
Flood Damaged Cars Agirlsguidetocars

Hundreds of Thousands of Cars are Flood Damaged in the Wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma Photo: Getty Images

Utilize Your Online Resources

When flood damaged cars are bought from salvage yards, the dealers/buyers try to hide the originating title state by registering it in several states. Ask to look at the title and look for the originating state to see if the car was in a state ravaged by a hurricane. You can also use these online resources:

  • CARFAX is more than just a maintenance and accident report! CARFAX is our go to resource for service and accident history on used cars. But they also have a free flood title check service. It is mandatory in most states that car titles be marked/branded salvage or flood. You can check the cars title history on CARFAX through their free CARFAX flood check.
  • NICB (National Insurance Crime Bureau) has a database of vehicles damaged by hurricanes. It’s called VINCheck and the NICB  created it after Hurricane Katrina. An estimated 500,000 vehicles were damaged by Hurricane Katrina and a good majority of them made their way north to unsuspecting buyers. This free database allows you to search by VIN number to learn if the car was in a flood caused by a hurricane. To check a VIN number, visit

Read more of our tips for detecting a flood damaged car. 

Hurricane Flood Damaged Cars

Hurricane Harvey flooding in Texas Photo: Jill Carlson on Creative Commons

How can we stop this? Report the bad guys.

It’s going to take a very long time for everyone to recover after hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Unfortunately, there will be those who want to take advantage of the situation and try to re-sale these damaged cars.

If you suspect a dealer is trying to sell flood damaged cars as normal used cars, please report them to local law enforcement authorities, the NICB (, or your local auto insurance company.

And don’t ever let anyone pressure you into buying a car. If the deal doesn’t look or feel right, just walk away.

Kirstin is a DC native currently living in Maryland. She loves all things travel including fab travel deals, gadgets... More about Kirstin Fuller