Beware of flood cars when buying a used auto

Since we’re talking cars today (see Clark Howard’s post about sweet deals on new cars)… here’s a hot topic for those of you in the market for a used car.

Several news outlets and consumers publications have been reporting on the flood cars flooding the market after superstorm Sandy.

A recent New York Times story detailed the auctioning of flooded cars for prices like $2,600, $5,300, $3,000.

While all of them have titles that brand them flood cars, not all would be dismantled for parts or melted down for materials. Some, unfortunately, would end up being resold to unsuspecting buyers out-of-state.

Yikes! Who wants to get stuck with a flood car? While the damage may not be immediately apparent, these cars are obviously not safe. Corrosion, erratic electrical systems, mold and more can all become issues for cars that have been subjected to flood damage, according to a recent Consumer Reports story.

Here are just a few of the tips the consumer publication gives to help used car buyers avoid flood damaged cars:

  1. Inspect the carpets to see if they are wet, damp, or muddy.
  2. Give the car a sniff test. If you smell mold or mildew or too much air freshener, you may have an issue.
  3. Inspect the lights. Headlights and taillights are expensive to replace, and a visible water line may still show on the lens or the reflector.
  4. Check gaps between panels in the trunk and under the hood. Check under the carpet. Look for silt or debris left by floodwater.
  5. Check the history. The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, at, provides reports on cars with branded titles from approved commercial data companies. The cost for a history report varies, but most of them are $2 to $13. Insurers, salvage pools, and junkyards are required by law to report to this database regularly.
  6. Have the car inspected. Before buying any car, have it thoroughly checked out by a qualified mechanic. If you buy one online from someone in another area, services such as Inspect My Ride and Carchex can arrange to have it looked over and will e-mail you an inspection report, often with photographs.

I can’t imagine why someone would knowingly sell a damaged car. It’s just wrong. But apparently, it happens.

What do you think of flood cars hitting the used car market? Has anyone ever had this experience? What did you do?

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– Nedra Rhone, for the Atlanta Bargain Hunter blog

2 comments Add your comment

wise willie

January 17th, 2013
3:04 pm

Stay away from the corner lot independents. You’ll not have any problems at established new car dealers who stand to lose too much by selling flood cars. Their franchises are way to valuable to risk.

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