How to Avoid Buying Flooded Vehicles

August 8, 2023

Team ACV




How to Avoid Buying Flooded Vehicles

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A row of used cars driving through flood waters

Large storms and heavy rains can cause flooding, damaging a large number of vehicles. For example, a single storm known as Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Texas, in 2017. It caused over 50 inches of rainfall which resulted in more than half a million vehicles being destroyed¹. Some homes are located on floodplains, areas that are more prone to flooding, which could lead to cars flooding after heavy rainfall. No matter the source, water can significantly impact a car’s performance and components in the short and long term. Unsurprisingly, flooded vehicles also lose value and can even be designated as totaled due to the extent of the damage.

The problem comes when sellers try to alter a vehicle or leave out crucial information about its history in order to hide the flood, and it enters the used car market as a transport or trade-in. As vehicles get transported out of flooded regions, they can appear on the used car market with cleaner histories and undamaged parts². The good news is that there are ways to protect yourself and keep flood-damaged vehicles out of your dealership’s inventory.

6 Steps to Weeding Out Flood Damaged Vehicles

1. Check and Verify the VIN Number

Every vehicle has a unique identifier known as the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). You can run the car’s VIN through a third-party service to check its history for flooding, previous accidents, and titles with special designations such as a salvage or flood title. This information can also be helpful in detecting insurance fraud and recovering vehicles that were stolen from a flood zone. Be wary of signs that the VIN has been altered in any way. It should be located on the vehicle itself, such as on the door jamb or the corner of the dashboard³.

2. Inspect the Vehicle for Rust

Rusting is detrimental to metal components, causing erosion and the eventual mechanical failure of moving parts. Water damage of any kind causes parts to rust. When inspecting a vehicle, look around any metal surfaces for signs of corrosion. Rusted areas will look reddish-brown and contrast with the metal’s finished look. Inspect the underside of the vehicle, especially since this area has a lot of exposed metal and components⁴.  

3. Inspect the Interior Thoroughly

Even if a car’s exterior and undercarriage check out, the interior can send up plenty of red flags. Flooding can leave visible mildew or mold, both of which have noticeable smells. This type of damage might be disguised with scented cleaning products or interior updates, such as new carpets, that don’t match the age and condition of the exterior. Any bubbles in the paint and surface materials can also indicate water damage. The trunk is often overlooked during assessments, so be sure to check that area for flood damage as well³.

4. Check the Electronics and Wiring

Electronics are negatively affected by water, so any problems with their functionality can clue you in on bigger issues that might not be immediately visible. Make sure that the radio, dashboard lights, and temperature control systems are all working correctly. Check to make sure the front and rear windshield wipers respond to the “on” signal and have their full range of motion. Try turning on all the front lights and check that the brake lights work. Lights that are foggy or have a lot of moisture and condensation could signify water damage elsewhere. 

5. Check the Title

Not all flooded vehicles on the market are being sold with misinformation. You may find some with salvage titles. These vehicles require repairs and inspections before they can be registered again. Once the requirements are met, the vehicle receives a rebuilt title. Buying a vehicle with a salvage title comes with the understanding that it comes with damage, and you’ll be on the hook for repairs before it can be used³.

6. Get an Inspection Report

Inspections before purchasing a vehicle are a common tool for buyers. And if you’re buying online, you need a reliable expert to identify any potential problems. An experienced inspector will know to look for—from contaminated engine oil to rust and mud in hard-to-clean areas—and be able to assess the extent of the damage⁴ more accurately. Look for detailed reports on the vehicle’s condition so you know what to expect before committing to a purchase.

ACV Makes Flooded Vehicles Easier to Spot

ACV Auctions has made their mark on the used car market with transparent reporting that tells you all about a vehicle’s history and condition before you commit to a bid. All vehicle condition reports include a section called “Title & History,” where we indicate any potential Flood Damage. We also provide views of every vehicle’s undercarriage with our Virtual Lift™ technology, which gives dealers views of the underside of the vehicle so you can check for rust and other potential issues. Register today for access to their extensive auction platform and start planning your inventory acquisitions. 


  1. Huffman, J. (21 February 2018) Hurricane Harvey Destroyed More Vehicles Than Any Single Event in America. This is the Aftermath. Car and Driver. Retrieved on July 30, 2023, from
  2. BBB Tip: 10 tips to avoid buying flood damaged cars. Better Business Bureau. Retrieved on July 30, 2023, from
  3. Walton, E. (16 October 2021) How To Tell If a Car Has Flood Damage. Autolist. Retrieved on July 30, 2023, from
  4. Free Flood Check & How to Avoid Flooded Cars. Carfax. Retrieved on July 30, 2023, from