Problems With Flooded Cars

by Kim Scott
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Image by, courtesy of Mel Silvers

When purchasing a used car, buyers may run into flood damage. With hundreds of thousands of vehicles damaged in recent hurricanes and floods, it has become a significant issue. Buyers should be aware of the problems that flood damage can cause and how to spot these vehicles.


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Possibly the most obvious problem from flood damage is that mold will grow anywhere water has lingered, especially if the car sat for days in the hot sun. Mold will grow in the fabric of the car, such as the seat, carpet and headliner, but these can be replaced. Mold can also grow in the air conditioning system causing respiratory problems in passengers.


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Rust, like mold, grows wherever water has sat for long. It can affect the body and frame of the car, the engine components, the screws and bolts, the gas tank, muffler and more. Once rust has appeared on a vehicle it is difficult to eliminate it. Rust can weaken the structure of the car. If it has gotten inside the engine's cylinders it will destroy the engine at worst or burn excessive oil at best.


Water in the engine is an all around recipe for disaster if not dealt with properly before starting the vehicle. Not only can it cause rust, but the water itself will cause damage. If cylinders are full of water, it will not be compressed like air and everything connected to the cylinders will bend or break. Water mixed with the transmission fluid or oil will reduce the lubrication, also resulting in damage.

Computer and Electronics

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This is the part of a car that sustains the worst damage. It can take months to appear, and it is very expensive to repair. The computer is the brain of the car. Damage can cause malfunctions in seat controls, electric windows, door locks, starter, headlights, horn, etc. But computer and electronic damage can also be deadly when it affects the anti-lock brake system or the airbags.

Is it a Flooded Car?

Unfortunately it is relatively simple for car dealers to launder a car title. They simply purchase a flood-damaged vehicle and clean it up so it's difficult to see the damage. If it has a salvage title, it can be re-titled in a state that will issue a clean title. When this happens the only way to know if the car has been flood salvaged is with some detective work.

Some of the tell-tale signs that a car has been flooded include mud in the trunk, water marks or drops inside instrument panels, wet or "dried-out" owner's manual and warped interior panels. Give the interior of the car a good sniff; question any smells such as mold, bleach or Lysol.

Get it inspected by a professional and run a VIN check. CARFAX and NICB both have a free VIN check system that will alert you to any reported flood damage on a vehicle.

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