It’s been a long while since Central Texas has seen such a wet month of May, and while rainfall filling up the lakes and aquifers is a welcome way to start the summer, the tornados, pounding hail, and massive flash floods are not quite as appreciated. These storms have caused an estimated $250 million in auto insurance losses. As always, there are those lurking in the shadow of disaster, ready to profit off of other people’s misfortunate. In this case, it’s used car dealers who are taking these flooded, totaled cars and trying to sell them to unsuspecting buyers. So how do you avoid potentially purchasing a previously flooded car? Some signs are obvious, others less so.


  1. First and foremost, do a VIN check on any used car you’re thinking of buying. Cars that have suffered massive flood damage and are declared a total loss by an insurance company should be marked as such. Only about 88% of insurance companies report to VINCheck though, so it’s possible for these reports not to be entirely accurate.
  2. Look closely at the interior of the vehicle. Brand new upholstery, particularly if it doesn’t seem to match the carpet, is a pretty dead giveaway that the dealer is trying to cover up water stains and mold from flooding. Pull up the carpet and look for water residue and dried stains there as well.
  3. Get a good whiff of the interior of the car. No amount of cleaning and air freshener can hide the deeply ingrained faint damp smell that accompanies flooded cars.
  4. Rust in high places or under the gas pedal often indicate prolonged water exposure.
  5. Dealers will do a decently thorough cleaning of flooded vehicles, but may miss places like the glove compartment or under the seats, so check these spots for mud and silt.
  6. Does the car’s price seem too good to be true? Flooded vehicles are often offered at very low prices to move them faster, with fewer questions.
  7. Of course, the best and most failsafe way to make sure you aren’t purchasing a dud vehicle is to hire an inspector to pop the hood and check things out.


It’s kind of sad that buyers would need to go through this checklist, but unfortunately there are plenty of used car dealers with shaky moral compasses. So be safe rather than sorry and put in the extra effort to really investigate a potential used car purchase, especially soon after mass flash flooding.