How to Spot a Flood Damaged Vehicle While Car Shopping

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Meghan Carbary has been writing professionally for nearly 20 years. A published journalist in three states, Meghan honed her skills as a feature writer and sports editor. She has now expanded her skill-set into the automotive industry as a content writer for Auto Credit Express, where she contributes to several automotive and auto finance blogs.


, - July 12, 2021

Each year, flooding impacts the U.S. and a number of water-damaged vehicles find their way back onto the used car market. As a borrower with bad credit, knowing how to spot a good deal on an affordable, reliable vehicle is important since auto loans can be more difficult to come by. This means knowing when to walk away from a car that may not be worth its salt!

Spotting Signs of Flood Damage

To protect yourself from falling victim to a vehicle that may break down before its time, it's wise to always have used cars inspected by an independent, certified mechanic. However, before you test drive every vehicle down to the shop, you can learn how to look for obvious (and not so obvious) signs of flood damage.

Here are 6 ways to tell if a car you're considering buying has water damage:

  1. Smells of mold or mildew – This is typically a dead giveaway that a vehicle has sat in water. Mold and mildew not only smell gross but can be tough on your lungs, too. Check the interior and exterior air filters to ensure they're not the culprit, and if not, consider a car that doesn't require new air fresheners every other day!
  2. Has hidden mud and moisture – Hidden mud and moisture can be tough to detect, but you can search it out if you know where to look. Signs of mud may be hidden underneath floor mats, under the dash cover, or resting in the base of your trunk. You should also check for telltale signs of moisture, such as corrosion on or behind wiring harnesses, spark plugs, and fuse boxes. Don't forget to check the oil and other fluids for signs of water, which can be very damaging to an engine.
  3. Shows signs of interior rust – Even if all traces of moisture have evaporated, a sure sign that something's not right is signs of interior rust. Common places to find this are under seats on bracket screws, under the hood, on trunk hinges, and on any metal parts on doors.
  4. Water stains on fabric and carpeting – Obvious signs of interior cleanings like freshly-washed seats and carpets may not mean much on their own, but signs of the whole car being shampooed from top to bottom inside may be. Check for water lines on the roof fabric, inside the trunk, and across the backs of seats. Another good way to tell if a car sat submerged is to pull the seatbelts all the way out to look for discoloration and water damage.
  5. Damaged or missing drain plugs – One sure sign of water in your potential vehicle is damaged or missing drain plugs in the bottom of the doors and lower frame. If these are missing, or look like they've ever been pried out, it's worth noting and perhaps walking away from.
  6. Check the VIN – You can use any number of websites to check into the vehicle identification number (VIN) of a car you're pursuing and see if you find a record of it being listed as being flood damaged, or possibly having another brand on its title.

Branded titles can include more than flood damage, so when you're shopping for a used car, be sure to stray away from things like junk, salvage, flood, or lemon titles, to name a few.

Shop for a Reliable Used Car

As a bad credit borrower, shopping for a reliable used vehicle often means going through a special finance dealership. Typically, both franchised dealers, as well as some independent dealerships only, sell cars with clean titles, so you're less likely to run into a flood-damaged vehicle. However, sometimes these cars and those with other branded titles can slip through the cracks. It's still a good idea to have all used vehicles you're seriously thinking of purchasing inspected by a trusted mechanic.

If you think that your credit score is too low to allow you to get financing through a special finance dealership, you may be selling yourself short. These dealers are signed up with subprime lenders that specialize in financing borrowers who are facing credit challenges.

This means you may still have an opportunity for financing as long as you meet all the lender requirements. Lenders vary in their stipulations, but most have the same base qualifications that are designed to look beyond your credit score and base loans on your individual situation.

If this sounds like the opportunity you've been waiting for to get into another vehicle, we want to help! At CarsDirect, you can shop for new and used cars, and get signed up to find financing by completing our fast, free, auto loan request form. See what we have in store for you!

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Meghan Carbary has been writing professionally for nearly 20 years. A published journalist in three states, Meghan honed her skills as a feature writer and sports editor. She has now expanded her skill-set into the automotive industry as a content writer for Auto Credit Express, where she contributes to several automotive and auto finance blogs.


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