Signs a Used Car Has Flood Damage

How to tell if the used car you’re buying has flood damage (and what to do about it)

If you’re in the market for a used car, always check for flood damage. Why? Because it’s common for vehicles from flood and hurricane-prone areas to get sold at auction after natural disasters.

After some cleaning and repairs, these cars can end up at used car dealerships all over the country. In some cases, insurance companies or dealerships may fail to disclose prior flood damage.

flood damage car

Signs of flood damage in a car: Check for these dead giveaways

Here are a few places and clues to check for potential flood damage in your vehicle.

Dampness, discoloration, and water stains

Check the seats and floor of the car for water damage. Signs of water damage may include damp upholstery or carpets, discoloration, and water stains. 

Damp or musty smell

Smell the car for mildew. Does the vehicle have a musty smell in its interior? A damp odor may signify that the car was submerged in water for some time. For mold or mildew, smell the car’s upholstery, carpets, and trunk. Turn on the car’s air conditioning to see if the vents smell like mildew, too.

Water lines

Look for water lines. Check for visible water lines or faded paint lines on the vehicle’s body, doors, and engine compartment. You should also check the lights for condensation or water lines.

Mud and grit

Check for any mud or grit residue in the vehicle’s interior, glove compartment, trunk, and engine compartment.


Check for rust. Look at areas that usually would not rust unless submerged in water. Check screws and bolts, the vehicle’s undercarriage, and interior areas.

Electrical functioning

Test the car’s electrical system. Turn the vehicle on and ensure that the car’s electrical system works. For example, you should check the car’s lights, turn signals, and windshield wipers. You should also check the audio, heating, and air conditioning systems.

Vehicle history reports may not disclose previous flood damage

Flood water can cause serious damage to vehicles that worsens with time. Over time, corrosion can damage a vehicle’s transmission, electrical system, and computer system. 

Flood damage can even compromise your vehicle’s safety features, including brakes and airbags. As a consumer, you have the right to know the history of the vehicle you buy and whether it has had damage. 

Though you can recover helpful information from companies like Carfax, vehicle history reports are not all-inclusive. Unfortunately, in some cases, the car dealership or the insurance company may fail to disclose the flood damage.

How a consumer law attorney can help find the responsible party

Under the Illinois Vehicle Code, if a vehicle has been submerged in water that has risen over the door sill and into the passenger or trunk compartment, it must be designated as a “flood vehicle.”

Unfortunately, dishonest sellers often skirt the law and sell these damaged vehicles to unsuspecting consumers. Fortunately, a consumer law attorney may be able to help you find out who is responsible and hold them accountable. 

Investigating the insurance company that paid a claim on the vehicle

Your attorney can investigate the insurance company that paid a claim on the car. If the vehicle was insured before the flood, the insurance company might end up with the vehicle after the flood.

If the insurance company marks the car as a total loss and pays a total loss claim, it owns the car. It should get the vehicle a salvage or flood title before selling it to a new buyer or putting it in a salvage auction. 

Our attorneys can determine whether the insurance company followed state laws and proper procedures or if it committed mistitling conduct.

Following the vehicle’s chain of title

Many buyers and sellers may touch a vehicle’s title. For example, if a car is damaged and sustains flood damage, it may be purchased by the insurance company. The insurance company should get a salvage title or a flood title. 

Then, if a buyer purchases the vehicle to rebuild it for sale, the car must pass inspection. The car should also have a rebuilt title to let consumers know it was rebuilt after damage. 

We can follow the chain of title to determine when the car was “washed” clean.

Did you purchase a used car with undisclosed flood damage? Contact a Chicago consumer law attorney today.

Do you believe that a used car dealership sold you a car with undisclosed flood damage? If so, we encourage you to contact the skilled Chicago consumer law attorneys with Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates.

We have extensive experience helping consumers in Illinois hold businesses responsible for deceptive and fraudulent business practices. We can help you, too. Call us at (800) 985-1819 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation.