Buying a car with flood damage can be trouble

Michael James

Buying a flood-damaged car can potentially be catastrophic.

The nationwide flood damage this year has affected many industries, including the automotive market. Tens of thousands of cars have been submerged, leading to potentially significant damage.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (, unwitting consumers are at risk of buying a flood-damaged car if they don’t adhere to guidelines.

Buying a car with flood damage can potentially be catastrophic.
Buying a car with flood damage can potentially be catastrophic.

Unknowingly buying a vehicle with flood damage may put you and your family in physical and financial danger. A vehicle’s electronic systems are often destroyed from prolonged exposure to water rendering many of its safety features inoperable.

Experts from a leading pre-insurance auto inspection company note that while misrepresenting a vehicle with flood damage is illegal, it happens often.

“If a deal looks too good, be careful,” said James Owens, CEO and President of leading pre-insurance auto inspection company CARCO.  “Before buying a vehicle, you should physically inspect it and run a ‘CheckThatVIN’ report, which relies on the most comprehensive online database of vehicles, which was created by federal law.”

As such, have the vehicle inspected or inspect the vehicle yourself snd consider:

* Look for water marks behind the rugs in the cabin and trunk.
* Look for rust in the engine compartment.
* Check for musty odors in the cabin and trunk.
* Check the wheel wells for signs of submersion.
* Check that electrical wires are flexible and not brittle or cracking.
* Was the vehicle parked in a location that had recent flooding?

Run a NMVTIS CheckThatVIN report.

The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) was designed to protect prospective buyers and sellers of used cars and trucks from concealed vehicle histories.

Created by federal law, this system is the only publicly available system in the country that requires all insurance carriers, auto recyclers, junk and salvage yards, and states to report vehicle title history information. NMVTIS data is also required in the state of California to comply with AB1215.

Reports typically include title “Brand” information that may uncover a previously-unknown “Salvage” or “Flood” vehicle. This information may not normally be found in a standard vehicle history report.

CheckThatVIN is available at

“Customers shouldn’t have to be so wary when they buy a used car,” said William Pagan, Senior Vice President at CARCO.  “But, unfortunately, a lot of unscrupulous sellers will try to pawn off a flood-damaged car as perfectly fine.”

Rob Winthrop, business development director at CARCO Group, added that consumers should pay attention to cars labeled as “Insurer Total Loss.” “Often, a vehicle that was a loss due to flooding may be labeled as ‘Insurer Total Loss’ versus ‘Flood,’” he said.  “Running an inexpensive CheckThatVIN report prior to purchasing a used car offers valuable information and peace of mind.”

Article Last Updated: February 15, 2017.

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