How to spot flood damage before you buy a car

More than 3K cars in Florida on market with flood damage, experts say

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thousands of cars damaged by floodwater often end up back on the market after disasters like hurricanes.

They can be repaired and resold, sometimes without the buyer knowing about the car’s history.

In Florida, it is legal for cars with water damage to be sold as long as the seller shares that info with the buyer. But there are cases when that does not happen.

But there are some things you can do to avoid getting into a regrettable situation.

Steve Tillman, a local car dealer and dealership owner, showed us three prime spots on a car you should inspect to see if it has any flood damage:

  • Under the hood
  • The driver’s side, especially along the floorboard
  • In the trunk of the car

Tillman said he does not see it often, but he’s aware of people trying to sell cars with significant flood damage, passing them off to unknowing buyers.

“It breaks your heart. It is a sign of the times that we live in that the honesty and integrity can be bought and sold for a dollar bill. It is a shame,” Tillman said.

He said the spots to look for telltale signs are the bright, shiny metal on the driver’s side or in the trunk. Both would show damage if the car had been flooded.

Local car dealer and dealership owner Steve Tillman points out the places to look for flood damage before you buy a car. (WJXT)

“If it has been swimming, you don’t have to look real hard. It will show up,” Tillman said.

Also, be sure to check in battery compartments and under the spare tire for any kind of gray sediment. Tillman said it’s easy to spot if you look.

He said you can also check the vents and behind the cabin filter to see if there’s any residue.

Then there’s under the hood.

“You would see residue up against the firewall and in the back. You would not have this clean image,” Tillman said, demonstrating where to look around the engine.

According to IAA and Copart, two companies known for reselling used, wholesale and salvage title cars, more than 3,000 cars in Florida that have flood damage are on the market now or will be hitting the market this week.

Thousands of cars damaged by floodwater often end up back on the market after disasters like hurricanes. (WJXT)

A few things potential buyers can do to cover their bases are:

  • Review the car’s paperwork, like the title. If it experienced at least 75% water damage, it should say “rebuilt” on it or indicate the extent of damage
  • Take the car to be inspected by a reputable mechanic before finalizing the purchase

Tillman said that people can sometimes get in trouble through casual sales.

“You own the car personally. I come and pay you for the car, and I get down the road, you have my cash, and then you find out (there’s something wrong),” Tillman said.

Another tool that can benefit a buyer is checking the National Insurance Crime Bureau to review the VIN number. That resource is used to crack down on any possible “title washing.”

The main thing, Tillman said, is just doing your due diligence before buying your new ride.

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.