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Beware a Flood of Flooded Cars



Beware a Flood of Flooded Cars

Cars swamped in stormwater could return to market far away from the hurricane zone
By Consumer Reports
Updated September 30, 2022

Thousands of cars are damaged or destroyed by floods every year, but don’t assume all those vehicles end up in a junkyard.

Some are repaired and resold in other parts of the country without the buyer being aware of the car’s waterlogged history. In fact, Carfax says were 378,000 flooded cars were back on the roads in 2021, and Hurricane Ian is certain to see many more damaged cars added to the high-demand used-car market.

The key takeaway is that you need to be vigilant when buying a used car, even if you don’t live near a traditional storm area. That’s because flood-damaged cars are often transported well beyond their original region after major storms to locations where consumers may be less aware of the warning signs to look for.

Water can ruin electronics, lubricants, and mechanical systems. It may take months or years, but corrosion can find its way to the car’s vital electronics, including airbag controllers. Consumers need to carefully inspect any used car before buying one (or pay a mechanic to do it).

Consumer Reports’ chief mechanic, John Ibbotson, says to avoid vehicles with signs of deep-water exposure “even if a vehicle looks acceptable and may be working when you inspect it.” That’s because the long-term effects of water damage can haunt buyers for the life of the car.

Too often, when an insurance company declares a flood-damaged car a total loss, that information isn’t communicated to potential buyers. Once a flood car is totaled, it’s supposed to get a new title, called a salvage title. Those titles are usually plainly marked (known as being “branded”) with the word “salvage” or “flood.” In some states, this warning is shown on the title as an obscure letter or number code.

Totaled cars are typically sold at a salvage auction to junkyards and vehicle rebuilders. Reselling them to consumers may be legal if the flood damage is disclosed on the title. Those “salvage title” cars can’t be registered until necessary repairs are made and the vehicle is reinspected by officials. Then the vehicle is given a “rebuilt” title, which allows it to be registered for consumer use.

But as Consumer Reports found years ago in an investigation of rebuilt wrecks, some flood-damaged vehicles reappear with a clean title. Be especially wary of any used car being offered with a “lost” title or with only a bill of sale.


Have a subscription to Consumer Reports for years now.

Highly recommend.

Smokin Joe:
When you go car shopping, do so on a rainy day.
It's more likely any mud or mold smell will come out with the humidity up.

Getting the carfax report on a used car is always a wise investment.


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