Car Buying

Buying a Car: Why Checking for Flood Damage Is so Important

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author photo by Doug DeMuro December 2015

It's important to do your due diligence before buying a car, which includes checking for mechanical problems, accident history and assessing the vehicle's overall condition. We also recommend checking for flood damage, which can have a serious effect on your vehicle's long-term reliability. Why is checking for flood damage so important? Here's our opinion.

Flood Damage Issues

When a car is damaged in a flood, fixing it isn't as simple as just letting it dry off for a few days in the sun. Instead, a car takes on water damage like a phone or a computer, in the sense that it may never function correctly again, largely due to the enormous amount of complex components running inside it. The difference, of course, is that your car has many more components than your typical phone or computer.

So, what issues could flood damage cause? An obvious one is problems with electronics. Modern cars have an enormous amount of electronics in everything from the engine and transmission to power seats and infotainment systems. Water can damage these components entirely, rendering them unusable in the future.

Then, there are the problems caused when water gets inside a vehicle's engine or fuel system. Although a small amount of water may not be too detrimental to a car's engine, any more than that could result in severe engine damage to major components, like the cylinders. If water enters the transmission fluid reservoir, it could take out the car's transmission, too.

There's also the obvious problem with flood-damaged cars: Mold or mildew can form in areas where water sat for days or potentially weeks before the car was cleaned. While it's easy to clean up the seats, for instance, unnoticed water in tiny areas under the carpets or the trunk lining could cause serious mold, leading to bad smells and health hazards.

Hiding Flood Damage

It'll probably be easy to spot a car that's been damaged in a flood, right?

Not always. A car that has been cleaned up by a professional detailer or a shady seller is unlikely to show any obvious signs of flood damage unless you seriously make your way under the car or remove parts of the interior and examine them for mold or other obvious signs of water damage. If a flood-damaged car has a determined seller, it can be easier to hide the damage than you might expect.

That's why our advice in this situation is twofold. First, before buying just about any car, be sure to have it checked by a mechanic, as a competent one should be able to assess whether the car has suffered flood damage in the past. Second, get a vehicle history report from Carfax or AutoCheck. Although these two services aren't perfect, they're very good, and they often show whether or not a car you're considering has been in a flood.

Our Take

If you're thinking about buying a car that's been flooded, don't. Problems you'd never expect can crop up months and years down the line, and you could be chasing electrical gremlins forever. If you're thinking about buying a car and you aren't sure if it's been flooded, get a mechanical inspection and run a vehicle history report before purchasing it. Such an inspection could save you big money in the long run.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Buying a Car: Why Checking for Flood Damage Is so Important - Autotrader