The dangers of a flood damaged car

Many of us are suffering at the hands of torrential rain that has caused some of the worst flooding seen in Ireland for many years. As a result there will be many more flood damaged cars surfacing in the marketplace.
Unfortunately cars and water don't mix well and insurance claims are 'flooding' in as a result. For many car owners, finding their pride and joy classed as a 'total loss' and consequently written off by its insurer can be difficult for some to accept. After all, the car looks fine! The engine lights still come on and the brakes work. What's the big deal? Surely a couple of days in the sun will see it good as new???
What a lot of people don't realise is that Water leaves lasting damage that may not be evident at first glance. There can be a real danger that electrical and mechanical components will fail in a flood damaged car. Mold and mildew are very difficult to get rid of and any remaining warranty you might have on the car would be void. Not to mention in the case of sewage contamination the real real risk of contamination by effluent diseases.
Most flood damaged cars declared to be a 'Total Loss' or 'Write off' are sent directly to a salvage yard. However in some cases, the owner will be insistent on retaining the flooded car and worryingly some of these will be dried out, cleaned up and put back into the used car market where an unsuspecting buyer will be duped into a sale thinking they've got a great deal.
If you're concerned that a car you're thinking of purchasing could have been involved in a flood the following tips could help you.

How to Detect a Flood Damaged Car

Look for the following tell-tale signs when inspecting a car

  • Mildew, debris and silt in places where it wouldn't normally be found, such as under the carpeting in the foot wells, boot, or around the engine compartment. Mud and rust in the glove compartment are also warning signs.
  • Check for rust on screws and other metal parts
  • Waterstains or faded upholstery; discoloration of seat belts and door panels
  • Dampness in the floor and carpeting; moisture on the inside of the instrument panel
  • A moldy odor or an intense smell of a detergent or deodorizer being used to cover up an odor problem
  • Condensation on the glass and or instrument panel

Get an expert opinion. Ask your mechanic to check the cars:

  • Electronic system
  • Transmission
  • Anti-lock brake system
  • Airbags

Having these areas checked will not only help detect if the car you're looking at was indeed in a flood, but will also let you know if the car is actually safe to drive. (A Motorcheck Pre-Purchase Inspection is one way to do this).
If you're still thinking of buying a car that has been damaged in a flood be sure to read the following.  Not all flood damage has the same consequences and you need to be aware of all the risks before taking the gamble. A flood damaged vehicle will fall into one of three categories. Fresh Water, Salt Water or Sewage Contaminated.

Fresh Water

This is a vehicle that has been damaged by fresh water with no evidence of sewage contamination. In most cases this type of damage will occur out of town and be connected with a river flooding. If the vehicle has been totally submerged it will most likely be written off as a category "B". This means that the bodyshell should be crushed. The vehicle should never reappear on the road, but it can be broken for spare parts plus any residual scrap metal. This category of 'write off' is reported to the Department of Transport and subsequently made available in a Motorcheck report.
Where the water level is at the level of the dashboard or below, an insurer may opt to write off the vehicle as a category "C" or "D". The status chosen generally depends upon the estimated cost of repair and the vehicle's pre-flooding value. Worryingly category "C" and "D" 'write offs' are not reported to the Department and may not be detected on your Motorcheck report.

Salt Water

Vehicles with interior salt water flooding should always be dealt with as a 'total loss' and written off by an insurer. They will normally be categorised as "A" or "B" depending on the level reached by the water in the interior of the car. In some cases where there has been only minor low level flood damage to the exterior of a car, consideration might be given towards a possible repair but this would be highly unusual and should be taken on with extreme caution and only by a professional.

Sewage Contaminated

Where there is evidence of sewage contamination within the interior of a car, including the boot area, a vehicle should always be dealt with on a 'total loss' basis and will be categorised as "A" or "B".

Car buyers Guide - November 30, 2009 at 12:52 pm
Some good advice on spotting a flood damaged car. Now that the winter season is well and truly upon us here is some safety information about driving in wet conditions.
Shane Teskey - November 30, 2009 at 1:11 pm
Thanks for that. Some useful information there!
bryan - November 24, 2012 at 9:48 pm
air bags can deploy after drying at any time!