BBB Warns Flood-Damaged Cars May Be Hitting the Market

September 06, 2017

The Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin is warning those in the car-buying market to be wary of flood-damaged vehicles due to the recent flooding in Texas from Hurricane Harvey.

After a vehicle has incurred flood damage, the insurance company may declare it a total loss. When a car is declared a total loss, it should be sent to the junkyard. However, that isn't always the case.

Many of these cars are often sold at auction as 'salvage' vehicles, or they may end up for sale in used car lots, classified ads, or online on Craigslist.

“Vehicles that have suffered water damage could hit local markets soon, and the problems aren’t always immediate or easy to spot, especially after a thorough cleaning and some new carpeting and floor mats,” says Jim Temmer, President and CEO of the BBB Serving Wisconsin. “Cars exposed to flood waters can have hidden problems including mold and mildew, computer malfunctions, rusty wiring, and safety items such as airbags that don’t inflate.”

Before hitting the car market, keep in mind the BBB’s 10 tips to help spot flood-damaged vehicles.

  1. Ask to see the title of a used car and check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged area and if the title is stamped 'salvage.'
  2. Check all gauges on the dashboard to make sure they are accurate, and look for signs of water.
  3. Test the equipment including lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, sound system, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work.
  4. Flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend of crack, since wet wires become brittle upon drying and can crack or fail at any time.
  5. Check the interior of the trunk and glove compartment, and beneath the seats and dashboard for signs of mud, rust or water damage.
  6. Look for discolored, faded or stained upholstery and carpeting. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color.
  7. Check for a well-defined line, or 'watermark,' and for musty odors resulting from mildew.
  8. Check the car’s dealer's BBB Business Profile to see if they have a history of complaints.
  9. Ask the dealer directly if the car has been damaged by floodwater.
  10. Get a vehicle history report based on its VIN number.