Are you buying a “flood car”? Warning signs and how to avoid it

In Inspection, Maintenance, Safety by Steves Auto Repair and Tire

If you’re in the market for a new vehicle beware of “flood cars,” especially following the devastating hurricanes in Texas, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

“‘Flood cars’ are one of the things we saw after 2008, was that the Midwest had their big floods out there through Missouri and Iowa…and Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana,” said Steve’s Auto Repair & Tire Owner ST Billingsley.

Flood cars are vehicles that have been salvaged from disaster areas, which are cleaned up, auctioned, and resold to often unsuspecting consumers across the United States. And in some cases, these cars have clean CarFaxes that don’t even have information about the flood water damage in the vehicle, making it difficult for buyers to make an informed decision.

“There are places that do a really good job of cleaning them up, even to where you can’t even smell where water’s been in it,” said Billingsley.

And buying one of these flood cars can be a costly mistake.

“They have the car, it looks good, it’s what they wanted – and then they’re frustrated because they’re going to the mechanic all the time because of these weird issues,” said Billingsley.

Buyers of these cars will run into issues like their car battery going dead for no apparent reason, the car horn blaring or the doors locking sporadically, rust, and other electrical problems – sometimes intermittently.

According to Billingsley, this is a result of water getting into the wire harness and shorting out terminals and fuse boxes in the car.

“Especially with the way these cars are computer controlled – all of the electronics – there are multiple fuse boxes in all of these vehicles. Some are low, some are high up in the car. When that water sits in there, corrosion starts to build up,” said Billingsley.

While it may be difficult, there are ways to tell if the car you’re interested in may be a flood car.

“When you have the car up in the air, and having somebody looking for items like this…if you just bent down to look, you wouldn’t necessarily see any dirt or any water lines,” said Billingsley.

Trained technicians can spot residual mud and dirt, as well as waterlines underneath the dash, if they have the vehicle up on the rack. There are also voltage tests and related components that can be tested to determine if the car is working properly.

Want to avoid buying a costly flood car? Taking a car you’re interested in to a shop like Steve’s Auto for a pre-purchase inspection is an important step. Our qualified technicians will fully inspect the vehicle from top to bottom, noting any issues or potential issues, and make sure you’ve got as much information as possible as you decide whether or not to continue with the purchasing process.