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How to avoid buying a water-damaged car Advertiser Disclosure Advertiser Disclosure We are an independent, advertising-supported comparison service. Our mission is to help you make smarter financial decisions by offering interactive tools and financial calculators as well as publishing unique and impartial content. We also allow you to conduct your own research and compare information for free to help you make financial decisions with confidence. Bankrate has partnerships with issuers, including but not limited to, American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Discover. How We Make Money The offers that appear on this site are from companies that compensate us. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this website, for example such things as the order in which they may be listed within the categories of listing in the event that they are not permitted by law. Our loans, mortgages,, and other products for home loans. However, this compensation will not influence the content we publish or the reviews that you read on this site. We do not cover the entire universe of businesses or financial deals that might be open to you. Luis Diaz devesa/Getty Images

5 min read Published June 22, 2022

Written by Mia Taylor Written by Contributing Writer Mia Taylor is a contributor to Bankrate and an award-winning journalist who has two decades of experience and worked as a staff reporter or contributor for some of the nation’s leading newspapers and websites including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Diego Union-Tribune, TheStreet, MSN and The article was edited by Rhys Subitch Edited by Auto loans editor Rhys has been editing and writing for Bankrate since late 2021. They are passionate about helping readers gain confidence to manage their finances through providing clear, well-researched information that break down complex issues into digestible chunks. The Bankrate promise

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Therefore, this compensation may affect the way, location and in what order products appear in listing categories, except where the law prohibits it regarding our mortgages, home equity, and other home lending products. Other elements, like our own proprietary website rules and whether the product is available within your region or within your own personal credit score could also affect how and where products appear on this site. We strive to provide an array of offers, Bankrate does not include specific information on every financial or credit product or service. Auto buyers across the country may be impacted by catastrophic floods, if they do not know to purchase water-damaged cars. New and used vehicles damaged by significant flood events such as the Hurricane Ida from 2021 could get their way onto the market following an event. Carfax reports that as many as 212,000 vehicles might be damaged due to the storm Ida. When flood-damaged vehicles are sold to buyers who are not aware of the damage, they often have costly electrical and mechanical issues that are discovered months later. Even if you’re not in a place where flooding is common it is possible to buy a vehicle that has water damage. Carfax research has also revealed that vehicles that have been damaged by water are present in every state, meaning that buyers from coast to coastline are at risk of purchasing an affected car due to flooding. What can you tell when an automobile is damaged by water? Damaged cars from water can be difficult to spot. They usually look good and can even run smoothly for a while. Eventually, however you could encounter issues as cars that have been flooded rot from the inside out. Here are a few indications that a car might be damaged by water A musty smell: The interior of water-damaged vehicles will usually smell musty. Unscrupulous sellers may try to mask the smell with powerful air fresheners, but it’s very difficult to truly rid a car of a musty smell. One way to test the car’s smell is to lie inside and close the windows. Carpets that are damp or moist: Water damage can collect in areas that you can’t be able to see, like under carpeting. Check the carpets all over the car and pat them to try and locate any possible moisture buildup. Check the trunk as well and remove the spare tire to look for water beneath it. Upholstery that is stained or not matching and carpeting: Another sign that water has damaged your vehicle is to see a vehicle with stained or loose carpeting and upholstery. Check for brown, blotchy stains, which are signs that water has damaged the car. When you conduct inspections, check the carpeting on the floor with upholstery on the doors as well as the roof. They should all look like they’re of the same quality and age. Rust: A vehicle with water damage may be rusty around the doors, in the hood or even under the dashboard. Screws, door hinges or trunk latches as well as door handles may also be showing signs of rust. Brittle wires: Check under the dashboard in case you think a car may have water damage. Brittle wires could be a sign that your vehicle is a victim of an event that caused water of any kind. Fog or moisture beads: If your vehicle’s interior light, instrument panel or exterior lights appear to be hazy or contain water beads in them, consider it an indication that the vehicle could be suffering from water damage. Silt or mud buildup When there is a flood, water can transport mud and dirt into vehicles. Once the flood is gone but the dirt remains. Some areas to look for silt and mud are the trunk, glove compartment underneath the dashboard and below seats. 4 tips to avoid buying the car that has been flooded. If you are concerned that your vehicle might have water or flood damage it is important to do research and determine whether your intuition is right. There are many tools to help you get to the bottom of this crucial problem, along with warning signs to look out for. 1. Run a vehicle history report A vehicle history report can uncover issues with your car prior to you buy. The most obvious sign of a water-damaged car will be one branded as such. Departments of motor vehicles require permanent title marks on vehicles that were badly damaged by floods. If the vehicle was declared totaled, it is required to get the new title completely that is labeled “salvage” as well as “flood.” The title will be determined by the condition this information could be made clear by a numerical code. Carfax and Experian offer flood check tools that permit users to conduct a free check on the past of a car. The platforms require only your VIN of the vehicle that is being investigated. If you are looking over a car’s past be sure to look for cars that come from areas damaged by floods. It is also important to check the National Insurance Crime Bureau also provides free online VIN checks that allow customers to determine if a car has been declared salvaged. You will want to examine a car’s history report to determine if the car has changed hands multiple times in an extremely short time. Be cautious of a history that involves buyers in multiple states. This could be a sign of what’s known as car “title washing,”” when unscrupulous sellers alter the title of a car repeatedly to hide its history. 2. Examine for signs of water damage. Cars that have been even partially submerged by water usually have evident signs, but they may be subtle particularly if the car has been cleaned up for selling. Pay attention to stinky or sour smells, including those coming from the climate control system. Take note of any stains you see on the car’s interior or engine compartment, as well as on the trunk. Dirt, sand or mud in odd places and seat belts that make a loud noise when they are removed or pulled are indicators of water damage. It is also essential to test drive a vehicle that you suspect may have water or flood damage. Hints to watch out for when you test drive are malfunctioning electrical systems as well as infotainment systems. These systems will react if they’ve been affected by water. Also, observe for smoke during your test drive. 3. Be wary of cars that are priced lower than market value. There’s a reason behind the adage about things being too great to be true. This includes cars being priced well below their market value, which is often an indication that something isn’t right. Check the typical selling price for the vehicle you are considering buying through independent price sites for vehicles like Edmunds and Autotrader. A car that is new or used sold at a price that is lower than the market value is an sign that the seller is looking to get rid of it. Buyers should tread cautiously when a car is advertised at a substantial discount. In addition to asking questions about why the car is being offered for much less than it should be an offer, it could be recommended to get the car evaluated by a professional who will detect any issues. 4. Take a professional inspection best to engage a certified mechanic automotive technician to go through and thoroughly examine a vehicle prior to you purchase it, but it’s even more critical to take this step to safeguard yourself from a possibly water-damaged car. A professional can help ease your mind, especially if the car you are looking at has any of the warning signs mentioned below. Make sure the inspection does not just include obvious indicators of water damage but also a thorough inspection of the electronic equipment, since problems that are related to these systems may take months to surface. While a pre-purchase inspection will generally be paid for by the buyer, it’s money well spent if it prevents you from getting an automobile that’s a lemon. You can expect to spend anywhere from $100-$200 to have an inspection. What should you do if you bought a water-damaged car If you’ve purchased a vehicle with water damage, it might remain intact. It is possible to repair the vehicle with an experienced mechanic. But remember, these aren’t DIY fixes. They will require a professional who has extensive understanding of automobiles. Also, keep in mind that fixing damaged vehicles after flooding will not cost a lot, so you’ll need to decide if the car is worth the expense. Particularly since damaged cars from floods usually don’t have any resale value. The bottom line is that flood-damaged vehicles are in use in every state across this nation. If you are concerned that your car could have been affected by flooding or some other sort of water related event, there are a variety of steps you can take including running a vehicle history report, examining for obvious evidence of water damage, and having the vehicle checked by a professional. Be aware that even if you do not reside in an area impacted by flooding, you could unknowingly end up with a water damaged vehicle. Find out more


Written by Contributing Writer Mia Taylor is a contributor to Bankrate and an award-winning journalist who has two decades of experience and worked as a staff reporter or contributor for some of the nation’s leading newspapers and websites including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Diego Union-Tribune, TheStreet, MSN and Written by Rhys Subitch Edited by Auto loans editor Rhys has been editing and writing for Bankrate since the end of 2021. They are passionate about helping readers gain the confidence to manage their finances by providing clear, well-researched information that breaks down otherwise complex subjects into bite-sized pieces.

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