car flood

When hurricane Harvey struck Texas and hurricane Irma hit Florida this year, hundreds of thousands of vehicles were damaged by flood water. In fact, according to the firm Cox Automotive, hurricanes Harvey and Irma may have flooded between half a million and one million cars.

Vehicles declared a total loss will be given a “salvage” title. These vehicles will be sold to dismantlers who will sell the undamaged parts. Other vehicles declared a total loss will end up in the hands of scammers.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau, an industry fraud prevention group, issued the following statement: “Unfortunately, some of the flooded vehicles may be purchased at bargain prices, cleaned up, and then taken out of state where the vehicle identification number is switched and the car is retitled with no indication that it has been damaged.” The vehicles are then sold to unsuspecting buyers.

According to the article “Watch out for flood of water-damaged used vehicles” on, the National Insurance Crime Bureau recommends that used car buyers take the following steps to avoid getting scammed with a water-damaged car:

“Select a reputable car dealer and use a VIN checker to ensure the car does not have a salvage title. You can use dealer reviews at’s site to find a dealer and also can browse’s used-car inventory. You can find links to reputable VIN history and title checkers at the federal National Motor Vehicle Title Information System site.

Flood-check tips:

  • Inspect (and smell) the vehicle for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpet, floormats, headliner and dashboard.
  • Inspect the upholstery and door panel materials for fading.
  • Check for rust around screws in the center console area and areas water doesn’t usually reach.
  • Check for mud or grit in the spare tire compartment and in small crevices under the hood. Also, look for rust and corrosion under the hood.
  • Inspect the seat belt retractor for moisture, mildew or grime.
  • Check to make sure the speakers work; door-mounted speakers will often be damaged in a flood.
  • Pay close attention to the wheels; aluminum alloys may be coated in a white powder and show signs of pitting, or small dimples in the material.
  • Have a mechanic inspect the vehicle prior to purchasing it.
  • Trust your instincts. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

—By Karen Centowski

To see a video about flood damaged cars, go to Millions of Cars and Trucks Were Soaked in Flood Waters After the Storm at

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