Consumer guide: tips to help consumers avoid cars damaged by flood water

Media Contacts
Jacob van Cleef

Former Consumer Watchdog, Associate, PIRG

PHILADELPHIA — Hurricane Ida caused water damage to about 212,000 cars across the country, according to an estimate by Carfax. On top of that, increasingly common flooding caused by extreme weather — for example, earlier this month in Alabama — is damaging more cars. So, Americans looking to buy a vehicle need to be wary of those cars, which could have excessive long-term maintenance costs.

“Even though cars that have been totaled or rebuilt after a flood tend to be cheaper, you should avoid buying any flooded vehicle. Even the ones that come with honest documentation could cost you a lot more in the long run,” said Jacob van Cleef, Consumer Watchdog Associate with PIRG Education Fund. “When a vehicle has been flooded, the owner should say so — but unfortunately, not everyone selling a car is trustworthy.”

The current shortage of used cars on the market — and correlated increased prices — could make consumers more desperate and vulnerable to falling for a bad deal.

Although sellers are supposed to inform potential buyers if a car has been in a flood or declared a total loss by an insurance company, that won’t always be the case because it significantly reduces the value of the car. Sellers sometimes make basic cosmetic changes or repairs to try to trick the buyer.

Global warming-fueled extreme storms affected tens of millions of Americans this summer, with places such as Philadelphia and New York City seeing record rainfall. Moving forward, more severe weather and floods will occur in the United States, so consumers should get familiar with the signs of flood damage in cars.

Consumers may not know the long-term impacts of buying cars with flood damage or how to avoid those cars in the first place. Our new tips guide points out some signs of potential flood damage to look out for before buying a car, as well as what buyers should do ahead of time to avoid even going to look at a car with suspected flood damage. U.S. PIRG advises people to not buy those cars unless buying them for their parts.

Check out our guide: How to Avoid Used Cars with Flood Damage