Is it safe to buy a vehicle that was flooded? Generally, the answer is no. Anytime a car has sat in water past its tires, there's potential for hidden damage down the line. But we've got some tips to keep you safe and dry.
Signs of Flood Damage
When it comes to buying a used vehicle you can never quite be certain how it was cared for or if there are any skeletons in its trunk, so to speak. Flood damage isn't always easy to spot on a used car. And flood damage like frame rust, mold, mildew, water inside the fluid systems or engine aren't always things you can spot on your own.
However, no matter how clean a vehicle gets after a flood, there are some obvious signs of damage you can look for:
- Missing or damaged drain plugs. All vehicles have drain plugs in the frame. New cars come sealed up tightly, and each opening in the frame is typically covered with a plug. If you see that you don't have these, it may mean your vehicle was submerged and water had to be let out.
- Check for mud and debris in hidden places such as under seats, in between wires, around bolts and screws, in the trunk, under floor mats, and under the edge of the dash. This can be a tell-tale sign of a car that was hit with floodwater.
- Water in your oil/fluids. Always check the dipsticks under the hood to ensure the quality of the fluids. Automobile fluids should be viscous, and translucent in color. They should never be too thin, liquidy, or cloudy. Also check dipsticks for rust, as this is not a good sign.
- Corrosion on wires, connectors, and spark plugs. Any signs of corrosion in these places could mean a flood was in the past on this car.
Since a car that's been in a flood is considered a flood car, or a salvage vehicle, this means it has a branded title, in most states. Cars with branded titles aren't normally for sale on standard dealer lots, as they only sell vehicles with clean titles. Many lenders are wary to approve car loans for vehicles with branded titles, as well.
But you might need to be careful if you're purchasing from a private party. This doesn't mean you can't encounter a flood car unwittingly, though. In some cases, vehicles that have been through a flood might undergo what's known as title washing.
This is where a car with a branded title is taken to a state that has different designations for titles such as salvage, or junk. If an unscrupulous person files for a new title in a state without a flood designation, the title is "washed" and a buyer wouldn't be able to tell the car was in a flood by looking at the title. To protect yourself from situations such as this, request a vehicle history report to try to get the car’s full story.
Stay Safe With a Pre-Purchase Inspection
Since it can be difficult to tell if a car has been in a flood, a pre-purchase inspection can be key to buying a used car that may last. While we don't recommend buying a flood vehicle, if you do buy one that turns out to have been flooded, you may not have any recourse – used cars are sold as-is. This is why a pre-purchase inspection is important.
Having a certified mechanic take a look at the vehicle before you sign on the dotted line can save you a bundle down the road, and help ensure you get a car that meets your needs.
Ready to Find a Used Car?
If you're ready to find a used vehicle but aren't sure where to start due to a poor credit situation, we want to help. At The Car Connection, we work with a coast-to-coast network of special finance dealerships that have lenders ready to help borrowers with unique credit challenges. We want to connect you with a local dealer, so simply fill out our fast, free, auto loan request form and we'll get right to work taking the hassle out of finding your next car loan.