Up to 1 million cars were damaged in flooding caused by Harvey in Southwest Texas and Louisiana according to industry experts.  That makes purchasing a used car a little tricky.  How can you tell if the car has been flooded?  We have some tips for you.

Salvage Titles

Everything that's ruled a total loss by an insurance company should get a salvage title. But consumers should be careful. A vehicle considered a total loss in one state might not require a salvage title in another state, says Ron Montoya, a senior consumer advice editor for

Flooded cars could be shipped to other parts of the country or even other nations. To find out where the car came from and if it has a salvage title, experts suggest keying the vehicle identification number into services (there's a charge) that search car histories such as Autocheck or Carfax. Carfax and the National Insurance Crime Bureau offer free services to check for flood damage


Use your common senses to sniff out water damage on a car. The most obvious signs of flood damage are the same as anywhere: smell and watermarks. If you pick up a damp, mildewy scent, be suspicious of where the car has been.

That smell is strongest if the car has been sitting with its windows closed for a while. Equally telling is the opposite smell of cleaning agents and car fresheners trying to mask the mold.


Water damage is sometimes visible. Think of what happens to fabric, like on a couch, when you spill a glass of water. Even dry, that ring never goes away.

Look for those marks on all the interior fabrics of the used car, including:

  • Rugs
  • Upholstery
  • Ceiling fabric
  • Seat belts

You should also keep an eye out for recently updated fabric. A new rug on an older car, or non-matching fabrics/upholstery, can be red flags.

Sometimes you will also see mud or silt left over from the flood. This and other debris get caught in all the nooks and crannies of a car, and are hard to clean out. Be sure to check under the rugs, seats, and spare tire in the trunk for any pooling water or muddy residue. Headlights also trap moisture, so don't forget to take a close look at those.

Electrical and Mechanical Components

A car with extensive water damage may have problems with its electrical components. Test out every electrical element, including its:

  • Windows
  • Seats
  • Blinkers
  • A/C
  • Radio

You may also feel a difference in the ride when you test drive the car. The engine may not run as smoothly.

Get a VIN Check

A car report or a DMV VIN check can reveal any other strikes against a vehicle that might make you think twice about signing on the dotted line, such as:

  • Past ownership
  • Any liens held on the vehicle
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Title history blemishes
  • Faulty odometer settings
  • Flood damage
  • Accident history
  • Car title check
  • Whether a vehicle was determined to be a lemon
  • Airbag deployments

Dean and Draper

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Sources:, Fox News