Unscrupulous salvage yards and auto dealers often try to conceal the fact that a vehicle has been damaged and sell it for much more than it is worth. These vehicles may turn up in all 50 states. They could have a title or ownership documents from any state, not just from the affected areas, and they may not be listed as damaged by any state or online service.
While there is no sure way to detect vehicle flood damage, the National Automobile Dealers Association offers 10 inspection tips that may be used to detect significant water damage. At a minimum, a prospective buyer should:
Check a vehicle's title history using the National Insurance Crime Bureau's VinCheck, the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System or a commercially available vehicle history report service, such as Experian or Carfax, etc. Reports may state whether a vehicle has been flood damaged.
Examine the interior and the engine compartment for evidence of water and grit from suspected submersion.
Check for recently shampooed carpeting.
Look under the carpeting for water residue or stain marks from evaporated water not related to air-conditioning pan leaks.
Inspect for interior rust and under the carpeting, and inspect upholstery and door panels for evidence of fading.
Check under the dash for dried mud and residue, and note any mold or a musty odor in the upholstery, carpet or trunk.
Check for rust on screws in the console and in other areas water would normally not reach unless the vehicle was submerged.
Look for mud or grit in alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses and around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.
Inspect electrical wiring for rusted components, water residue or suspicious corrosion.
Inspect other components for rust or flaking metal not normally found in late model vehicles.
While these inspection suggestions will not detect flood damage in every case, they do provide some information that may help to protect consumers from purchasing a vehicle damaged by water or flood.