How to Check a Used Car for Flood Damage Before Purchase

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Hurricane Ida recently tore through Louisiana, and remnants of the storm also caused severe flooding in the northeast. As a result, many cars in these areas were damaged by floodwaters.
Unfortunately, despite laws against it, those cars that were damaged by floodwaters could still make it into the used car market.
In fact, the issue might even be worse this year. That’s because there’s a low inventory of new cars due to the microchip shortage, and the used car market is still going strong—so car buyers need to be careful.
A car and two trucks driving through floodwaters on a street
Despite laws against it, cars that were damaged by floodwaters can still make it into the used car market.

Flood damage and the used car market

Consumer Reports points out that flood-damaged used cars are often sold in a separate part of the country from where the damage occurred, so a buyer may not be aware of the car’s history.
In fact, when a car insurance company declares a car a total loss after that flood, often that information is not shared with prospective buyers.
If a flood car is totaled, it’s supposed to get a new title, which is usually marked with "salvage" or "flood." Reselling the car might be legal if the flood damage is disclosed on the title, according to Consumer Reports.
Flooding in a car is a problem because it can damage electronics, mechanical systems and more. But it also can take years for some of the damage to show, such as corrosion in the car’s important electronics like the airbag controllers.

Checking a used car for flood damage

According to Fox News, there are a few ways to check for flood damage in a car before you decide to buy it.
First check for obvious signs of water damage carefully—this includes smells. Also look under the carpet and inside the panels for mud and water damage. Test all the electrical equipment to make sure it’s working properly.
A flood-damaged car may also have premature rust in the engine bay and underneath the vehicle, so make sure to check for that.
You can also do a background check with a service like CarFax, which will tell you if the car came from an area that was affected by a flood. You can also ask the seller for a history report—if they won’t provide one, it might be a red flag.
Of course, you should always test drive a car before purchase, and that may reveal any obvious issues.

Make sure you have comprehensive car insurance

When you do buy a car, it’s a good idea to make sure you have a good comprehensive car insurance plan in place before a flood occurs.
This type of insurance typically covers things like damage due to vandalism, natural disaster, contact with animals or other that don’t involve a collision with another vehicle.
Some states require comprehensive insurance, but others do not. Even if it’s not required in your state, it’s worth considering.
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