Flood Vehicles

Beware of flood vehicles if you’re going to be in the market for a vehicle after a hurricane or other major storm event. Vehicles damaged by floodwaters are often reconditioned and disguised as ordinary used vehicles with titles “washed” to hide the vehicle’s soggy history. Most flood vehicles exhibit electrical and mechanical problems that may be difficult to remedy.

Flood vehicles that would have been branded as salvage in Virginia may be titled in another state that permits a lower-valued vehicle to be re-titled and returned to the road. Once the vehicle’s title has been “washed,” the vehicle will be brought into Virginia to be sold. Other flood vehicles will turn up on Internet sites, at local auto auctions, or on the lots of unscrupulous used vehicle dealers.

How to Detect a Flood Vehicle

  • Is the price too good to be true? 
  • Ask the seller for the vehicle’s title history, and compare that with a purchased vehicle history report. 
    • Did the vehicle come from an area that was hit by flooding? 
    • Was the car’s title transferred shortly afterwards? 
    • The small fee you’ll pay for the vehicle history report may save you thousands in repairs and many hours of aggravation.
  • Inspect the engine compartment, starter motor, power steering pump, relays, and alternator for signs of silt, mud, or rust. 
  • Today’s vehicles have a myriad of on-board computer systems. Check under the dashboard for unpainted screws, shiny new bolts, or new trim that would indicate replacement. If water invades the dashboard, the vehicle is considered totaled by insurers. 
  • Look under the carpets to see if they are wet, rusty, or muddy. Check around the door panels and in the spare-tire well for signs of silt, mud, or rust. 
  • Does the upholstery smell of mildews? Do you detect a strong scent of air fresheners in the vehicle? Pull seat belts all the way out to look for hidden rust or mildew from moisture.
  • Are the seat mountings or springs under the seats rusted? Is there evidence that the mounting screws have been removed? In order to dry out seats, they must be removed from the vehicle. 
  • Look for signs of overspray from paint in the doors, under the hood, and around window seals and lights. 
  • Check the lights. Water marks may still be visible on the lens or reflectors.
  • Look at the undercarriage. Newer vehicles should not have excessive rust or flaking metal.
  • As with any used vehicle purchase, take the vehicle to a reputable mechanic to be thoroughly checked out before you buy it. If you’re buying the vehicle from a dealer, ask for a six-month parts and labor warranty on the drive train (engine, transmission, and axles).    

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Email: consumer@fairfaxcounty.gov


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