Beware of Buying Flood-Damaged Vehicles

Published 7:55 pm Friday, April 29, 2016

AUSTIN — There’s a reason why insurance companies usually declare flooded vehicles a total loss. Once an engine gets waterlogged, it’s almost impossible to ever make it right.

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous sellers will try to buy these cars at auction and resell them to unsuspecting buyers. Here’s what to do if that used car deal looks too good to be true:

Look for obvious signs of water damage. Stains, mildew, rust, or discoloration are signs of water damage. Look for dirt or debris under the floor mats, carpet, or where the spare tire is located. Mold or mildew will give off a distinctive musty odor; if you notice a strong smell of cleaner or disinfectant, it could be an attempt to cover up those odors.

Check the title. When a vehicle is declared a total loss, the title must be changed to a “salvage” title. You can ask to see the title, and a vehicle history report will list the status of the title.

Check the VIN. The National Insurance Crime Bureau offers a free service on its website ( called VINCheck. Enter the vehicle identification number, and NICB’s database will show if that vehicle has been stolen or listed as a total loss.

Flood damage isn’t always obvious, and damaged cars can end up for sale even in areas that weren’t affected by floods. Try to have a trusted mechanic inspect the vehicle and buy from a reputable dealer.

The Texas Department of Insurance works to protect consumers from insurance fraud. If you suspect fraud, report it by calling the TDI Consumer Help Line at 800-252-3439.