Next comes the flood of water-damaged cars

Harvey. Irma. Perhaps Jose, and maybe even Katina. Hurricanes are wreaking havoc on American cities. Wind and water, water, everywhere.

Have you wondered what will happen to those vehicles you see on TV, the ones with water up to the doors, the windows, the roofs?

Bet on it: They’ll show up for sale on a used-car lot near you.

Estimates are that 500,000 vehicles were effectively destroyed throughout the Texas region when Hurricane Harvey hit, and as many or more were affected by Irma in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas.

The owners of those cars will be out looking for replacement vehicles,  and that will likely impact nationwide availability of new and used vehicles alike. Look for prices to rise as a result.

Our concern should be for the resale of water-damaged cars camouflaged as ordinary used cars. Transporters such as DIY Transports know that there will be a call to disperse the damaged cars to dealers throughout the country, well beyond their original region, where consumers may be less aware of what warning signs to look for.

Keep this in mind:

  • Water can ruin electronics, lubricants, and mechanical systems. The car may look decent on the outside, but could be rusting from the inside, putting you and your passengers in danger and keeping you at risk for major costly repairs.
  • It can take months or years for corrosion to find its way to the car’s vital electronics, including airbag controllers.
  • The most obvious signs of flood damage are the same as anywhere: smell and watermarks. If you pick up a damp, mildewy scent, be suspicious of where the car has been.


Consumers need to carefully inspect (or pay a mechanic to do it) any used car before buying one.

Consumer Reports advises to avoid vehicles with signs of deep water exposure, even if a vehicle looks acceptable, and may be working when you inspect it, because the long-term effects of water damage can haunt buyers for the life of the car.

Insurance companies often declare flood-damaged cars as total losses, but that information isn’t alwasy communicated to potential buyers. When a car is declared totaled, it’s supposed to get a new title, called a salvage title, which should be plainly marked as such. In some states, this warning is shown on the title as an obscure coded letter or number.

Totaled cars are usually sold at a salvage auction to junkyards and vehicle rebuilders, and reselling them may be legal if the flood damage is disclosed on the title. Those “salvage title” cars cannot be registered until repairs are made and the vehicle is re-inspected. The vehicles is then given a “rebuilt” title, which allows it to be registered for consumer use.

But be aware: some flood-damaged vehicles reappear with clean titles. Be especially leery of any used car being offered with a “lost” title. Read More Here.

Finally, you should consider purchasing a vehicle history report. This step helps you know where the car has been and whether it was in any accidents — separate from flooding — that could impact its value and safety.