Flooded today, for sale soon: Here’s how to spot a waterlogged vehicle

CARFAX estimates that about 400,000 vehicles on the road nationwide have a waterlogged history.
Published: Sep. 29, 2022 at 8:56 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — In the coming weeks, cars that were flooded during Hurricane Ian will begin to flood the market, even thousands of miles away in Arizona. “Conmen move these cars unfortunately to other parts of the country where maybe flood-damaged vehicles isn’t top of mind for used car shoppers,” said Carfax’s Emilie Voss.

According to Carfax, an estimated 400,000 vehicles on the road nationwide have some sort of flood damage or waterlogged history. Arizona ranks 28th in the nation, with an estimated 4,200 flooded vehicles currently on the road, according to the company. And that’s before Hurricane Ian.

“Sometimes they do end up with a flood branded title, but sometimes that’s not the case, and those are the cars that are even more concerning,” Voss said. “These cars are literally rotting from the inside out.”

Dave Martin, the owner of Martin’s Auto Repair in Phoenix, says costly issues can add up quickly if a vehicle has been in a flood. “The biggest concern I have with a flood car is that there’s so much electronics in a car today. They get water in them and then a year, two, or three down the road, corrosion starts to build inside that module and then the module doesn’t work or you start having electrical problems,” he told On Your Side. “Unfortunately, you just keep on chasing it. You fix that module and then you fix that connection, and then there’s another connection on the next module and it’s just an ongoing problem.”

So before you buy, Martin recommends checking the title to ensure it is not a salvaged vehicle. You should also have it inspected by an independent mechanic. “When we raise the cars up, rust is a big thing you can notice under the car,” he said. Drivers can also spot some red flags on their own. “Look inside the glove box. Make sure there’s no debris or dirt in there,” Martin said. “If you can, pick up the carpet, look underneath the carpet, and then use your nose. If you smell something that’s musty, you probably need to ask more questions.”

Voss echoed the importance of inspecting a vehicle before buying it. “Especially in this current market, the supply is so low, so when you do find that perfect vehicle that you’ve been looking for at a price that meets your needs, sometimes we’re so tempted to move really quick and buy it, but it is more important than ever,” she said. “You’re already paying top dollar, so you want to make sure you’re getting the car you think you’re getting.” Carfax also offers a free tool to check a vehicle’s VIN for a flood-branded title.