car mostly underwater

In late 2017, Texas and Florida experienced devastating hurricanes and flooding. Many homes and businesses were affected by these natural disasters, and got us thinking: “What happens to vehicles that have been flooded?” and “How do you know whether one has been?”

Unfortunately, natural disasters give criminals an opportunity to sell flooded vehicles to unsuspecting customers. We sat down with Harold Singh, Material Damage Claims Quality Control manager, to talk about what to keep an eye out for if you’re in the market for a used vehicle.

Question: What’s the easiest way to find out if a vehicle has flood damage?

Answer: There is no easy way. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), there are some dishonest auto dealers who purchase vehicles (new and used) from flooded areas, clean them up and try to resell them with the flood damage illegally hidden. You can check to see a vehicles history on the NICB’s VINCheck web site. It’s free and you can search to see if the vehicle has been involved in a claim related to flood damage.

CARFAX also offers a free flood damage check that you can do online.

Question: Are there any visible signs you should keep an eye out for when inspecting the vehicle?

Answer: Yes, there are some telltale signs, or at least signals that there might have been flood damage.

  1. Sniff for a moldy, mildew smell.  This is very hard to get rid of. Be weary of strong air freshners.  They may be covering up the scent of mildew.
  2. Pat the carpet and inside of the trunk to feel for moisture where it settles.
  3. Look for signs of corrosion on metals both inside and out. If you see rust on screws, door hinges, hood springs, trunk latches or brackets under the dashboard, for example, you know those metals had significant contact with water.

Question: What other ways can you make sure that a vehicle isn’t damaged by water or flooding?

Answer: Make sure you’re purchasing the vehicle from a reputable car dealer. You can also request that a certified mechanic inspect the vehicle and specifically look for water damage. Flood-damaged vehicles can show up from anywhere in the country. Some signs are not visible, such as corroded airbag connections. It’s important to do your homework before making a purchase.

There are many online resources to help you get the facts and reports before you purchase a vehicle. A little extra work up front could save you time and money in the long run. If you have any doubts about safety of a car, it’s probably best to walk away.

As always, make sure to check in with your ERIE Agent when you purchase a new (or new to you) vehicle.