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Auto buyers beware of potential vehicles that were in flood waters

17 September 2017

Insurers typically declare them a total loss and turn them over to auction houses or salvage yards. But that doesn't always happen.

That disaster led the bureau to also create the free VINCheck database, which lets vehicle shoppers check a vehicle identification number to see if the auto or truck was deemed "salvage" by an insurance company because of flood or accident or if it was reported stolen.

Rust often gives away signs of water damage.

The company offers a step by step guide here. NICB began with the hard hit Florida Keys and has flown most of the badly damaged areas, including Miami, Southwest Florida and the Tampa Bay area. "I'd be surprised if it were less than that", said Matt Jones, senior advice editor for, discussing the potential total of submerged cars being pulled out of flooded parts of the two hurricane-affected areas. "As soon as those things get corroded it doesn't stop there, it goes right on down the line". "Corrosion is uncommon in new vehicles and those that are owned and operated in warmer climate areas", the AAA said in a statement to the press. That's especially true if the flooding was caused by salt water.

Floodwater damages the interior mechanical parts such as the engine, transmission and drive train of vehicles as well as their electric computer systems, making them dangerously unreliable and a safety hazard on the road.

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"So certainly over the next few weeks, months and even years", he says, "it's going to behoove consumers to be on the lookout for flooded cars because they can and will make their way back onto the market".

"That smell will come back, no matter how good you are at cleaning it out", says Anderson. The trunk compartment is not ventilated and it is nearly impossible to cover up that musty smell. You should also look for any signs of moisture in the headlights and tail lights. "They'll sit for long periods of times after being sent somewhere else and you won't know it until you run into a major concern", said Newman. It might be even more visible in the trunk.

We are stretching you dollar with what you need to look out for so you don't end up with a flood auto. Just as a warning, most mechanics will warn you to avoid flooded cars like the plague.

New research from Carfax suggests that drivers may be behind the wheel of more than 325,000 previously flooded vehicles. But if you do, that vehicle, by law, must carry a "salvage" title. You can use services like Carfax to run the VIN number to see where a auto was previously registered. "They could end up anywhere and evidence shows that they do", said Basso. This means if they flooded, the previous owner may have dried them out and repaired them on their own, which means insurance companies and reputable vehicle dealers may have never seen them or logged any damage info in the VIN report found via services like Carfax.

Auto buyers beware of potential vehicles that were in flood waters