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 the vehicle's title and title history, it may state whether it has sustained flood damage;
Examine the interior and the engine compartment for evidence of water and grit from suspected submersion;
Check for recently shampooed carpet;
Look under the floorboard carpet for water residue or stain marks from evaporated water not related to air-conditioning pan leaks;
Inspect for rusting on the inside of the car and under interior carpeting and visually inspect all interior upholstery and door panels for any evidence of fading;
Check under the dashboard for dried mud and residue, and note any evidence of mold or a musty odor in the upholstery, carpet or trunk;
Check for rust on screws in the console or other areas where the water would normally not reach unless 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;
Complete a detailed inspection of the electrical wiring system looking for rusted components, water residue or suspicious corrosion; and
Inspect the undercarriage of other components for evidence of rust and flaking metal that would not normally be associated with 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.