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By Nicholas Wilson
Updated on Apr 27, 2022
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins, VP of Content.
Some of the clearest signs of a flooded car are mold and mildew smells, excessive rust, and water damage recorded on the title.
When you are on the market for a used car, there are countless signs that reveal something is wrong with the car that the seller is not advertising. One of the major issues is water damage.
Being able to detect water damage in a used car before buying it will ensure that you are getting your money’s worth and that you won’t be stuck dealing with the water damage in the future. Here's a guide by car insurance broker app Jerry on how to tell if a car has water or flood damage.
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How to tell if a car is flood damaged
Step 1: Check the title. Ask to see the title of the car before you move forward with a sale.
The title on the vehicle should indicate that there has been water damage if it is especially significant. If the car was a total loss because it was driven into a lake or severely damaged in a flood, the title should indicate this fact.
If there is severe water damage recorded on the title, you should either walk away from the sale if this is something that worries you or have a qualified mechanic inspect the car to determine if it is in good shape.
If the seller is unwilling or hesitant or otherwise standoffish in relation to your questions about the title, you should be extremely wary about moving forward.
Generally, if there is nothing to hide, the seller will be forthcoming with the title, and while a seller who is dodgy about the title does not necessarily mean you should walk away, you should definitely be on your guard.
Step 2: Check the repair and damage history on the vehicle. Do a check on the vehicle’s history by looking up the vehicle identification number or the license plates online.
Often, the damage and repair history on a vehicle is stored in an online database, which you can access via Carfax or a similar company.
This should hopefully provide you with information about water damage.
Step 3: Perform a smell test. Water damage often brings with it mold and mildew which are detectable by their odors, so sniff around in the car to check for the distinct smell of mildew.
A slight musty smell may not be guaranteed indication of water damage, but if you already had worries, unusual smells could be the final nail in the coffin. As with anything, use your common sense to determine what could be causing a smell.
Step 4: Check for rust. When water contacts metal, it causes rust, so the presence of rust in odd places means that water damage is probable.
Anywhere the car has extensive rust is a strong indication of water damage inside the vehicle. You can check under the carpet of the vehicle if possible or in the trunk as well.
Obviously, if you notice rust on the outside of the vehicle, especially if the car is old, this should not set off any alarms. In areas where salt is used in the winter or in cases where the car is particularly old, exterior rust does not indicate serious water damage.
The rust on the outside may be a reason not to purchase the car, but it does not necessarily mean water damage has occurred.
Step 5: Check for water damage on fabrics. Water that was present inside the vehicle will leave marks on the interior fabrics.
Look for distinct and continuous lines across several types of fabrics. This indicates the height of the water line, so you’ll know you are dealing with a vehicle that has had extensive water damage.
Step 6: Use your common sense. While you should take advantage of the above steps, your intuitions are going to be reliable.
If the seller is not being direct with you in conjunction with the above signs, you should probably be careful. If, on the other hand, you notice a little rust in one part of the car but the title is clean and there are no other issues, you are probably safe to proceed.
Ultimately, use your best judgment in light of all the data to make an informed decision before buying a car that might be flood damaged.