• Karolena Serratos

How to Spot a Flood Damaged Car

Flooding seems to be an inevitable fact of life in Houston so it is very important to be prepared. But sometimes even the best preparation is not enough to avoid disaster. If you find yourself in the position of purchasing a used car, educate yourself on how to spot a flood car. In addition to my own experience and research, I have included some tips from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles on How to Spot a Flood Damaged Car.


Floods and hurricanes in recent years have damaged a considerable number of vehicles and inundated the used car market with flood-damaged vehicles. The submersion of any vehicle in water will result in severe damage, especially in cases where water entered the passenger compartment. Modern vehicles with electronics are particularly at risk because damaged computer chips can result in damage to the engine. While cleaning a vehicle improves the appearance, mold and residues may remain. Since these "cleaned" vehicles look good to the untrained eye, they are finding their way back into the stream of commerce.


It is not illegal to sell a vehicle that has been damaged by a flood. Many states do not have flood-damaged brands on their titles. Some states brand the title as "rebuilt". Even looking at the title is not always helpful either. Unscrupulous sellers may "wash" the title of a flood-damaged or rebuilt vehicle by re-titling the vehicle through several states to remove the flood brand. So how do you know if the vehicle you are looking to purchase has been damaged by a flood?

There is no sure method to test for flood damage. However, using the following checklist will at least reduce your chances of buying a water-logged vehicle.

  • Have a reputable mechanic inspect the vehicle.

  • Be extremely careful when buying a car with a "rebuilt" brand on the title; some consumer advocates say avoid them all together.

  • Look under carpets to see if the floor is wet, damp or muddy.

  • Check for musty or recently shampooed carpet.

  • Check under the floorboard carpet for water residue or stain marks from evaporated water not related to air-conditioning pan leaks.

  • Check the seating-mounting screws to see if there is any evidence of rust or that they were removed to dry the carpets.

  • Check for rust on screws in the console or other areas where the water would normally not reach unless submerged.

  • Look for rust on the inside of the car and under interior carpeting and visually inspect all interior upholstery and door panels for any evidence of fading.

  • Examine the interior and the engine compartment for evidence of water and grit from suspected submersion.

  • Check under the dashboard for dried mud and residue and for any evidence of mold or a musty odor from the upholstery, carpet or trunk.

  • Check the rubber drain plugs under the car and on the bottom of the doors. If it looks like they were removed recently, it could be a sign that the vehicle was drained of water.

  • Inspect the undercarriage for evidence of rust and flaking metal that you would not expect on a properly maintained vehicle of its age.

  • Check for mud or grit in the alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses and around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.

  • Complete a detailed inspection of the electrical wiring system: be on the lookout for rusted components, water residue or suspicious corrosion.

  • Inspect the lights: a water line may show on the lens or the reflector.

  • Look for mud and debris in difficult-to-clean places such as the gaps between panels in the trunk, under the hood, and on the bottom edges of brackets or panels where it couldn't naturally settle.

  • Check the vehicle's title history, it may state whether it has sustained flood damage.

  • Be wary of vehicles that have been titled several times over a short period.

  • Look for an insurance company's name on the title history.

  • Check to see if the vehicle has been titled or registered in a flood-affected area.