How to spot a flood-damaged car


A record number of vehicles have been affected by recent hurricanes. The National Automobile Dealers Association says that Hurricane Katrina alone may have damaged a many as 400,000 cars. And many of those flood-damaged vehicles may find their way to the used car market.


Flood damage may be difficult to spot, but it can ruin electronics, contaminate lubricants, and threaten mechanical systems, often without leaving outward signs. It can take months for incipient corrosion to find its way to the cars computer systems or air-bag controllers.


Here are some quick checks that used car shoppers can perform:

      Check the seat-mounting screws for evidence that they have been removed. Seats must be removed to thoroughly clean and dry the carpets.

      Inspect the lights. Lights are expensive to replace, and a waterline may still show on the lens or the reflector.

      Inspect difficult to clean places, such as panel gaps in the trunk and under the hood. Mud and debris may remain in these places.

      Look for mud or debris on the bottom edges of brackets or panels where it couldntt naturally settle from the air.

      Look at the heads of any unpainted, exposed screws under the dashboard. Any unpainted metal in flooded cars may show signs of rust.

      Check the rubber drain plugs under the car and on the bottoms of doors. If they have been removed, it might have been done to drain floodwater.

      If you need to dig deeper, remove a door panel to see whether there is a watermark on the inside of the panel or the separator(s).