How to avoid buying a flood-damaged car

How to avoid buying a flood-damaged car

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - After recent flooding across the Pine Belt, experts are giving tips to drivers to keep them from buying flood-damaged cars.

"If something doesn't feel right, it's not right," said Daniel Peters, a salesperson at Hattiesburg Cars. "Walk away from it. Don't be scared to walk away from a car that doesn't feel right."

According to the Better Business Bureau, there's no foolproof way to spot flood damage, but said smelling for musty odors are good ways to check for damage.

Peters agreed smell is an easy way to find water damage.

"Water, mold, mildew that kind of stuff's all very easy to smell on the inside of a car," he said. "If you buy a 20-year-old car and it smells like a brand new car, that's a trigger. What happened? Why has somebody put in that kind of effort to make it smell like that?"

Technician Michael Orsi said he always checks the inside of cars for rust and water marks.

"I look for rust, salt water damage," he said. "I try to look underneath the seat tracks because when water is in the seats, it gets rusted out. And you can't hide that, and most people don't care to look there or to clean it up. If you're buying a truck, you should look behind the bed and the cab where the gap is, and then, of course, on top of transmissions for mud and weird things like that. Cars, you typically want to stay in the cab area. Pull the carpet back and look, and in the center console. Pull the cup holders out and look down there."

Peters said, "(Look) under the hood for rust and corrosion, under the carpet for rust, screws under the dash rusted. I mean, those things would all indicate that it's had excessive water or moisture in it."

Orsi said to be sure to have a background report on the car before you buy.

"Always ask for history of the vehicle," he said. "Always know the history of the vehicle before you buy."

Peters said his dealership always uses Carfax reports to gather a history on its cars.

"Carfax is the only way," Peters said. "It's going to give you the history on the car all the way down to the county it was registered in, and that will show, you know, that it was registered in a county declared a flood zone."

Peter said the best way to know you are getting a quality vehicle is to buy from someone you know.

"Buy cars from people you trust," he said.

Here's the BBB's full list of tips to use before you buy:

  • Start With Trust® Check out the reliability of the dealer by contacting BBB at
  • Ask to see the title of a used car. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged state and if the title is stamped "salvage."
  • Check all gauges on the dashboard to make sure they are accurate and look for signs of water.
  • Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work.
  • Check the trunk, glove compartment and beneath the seats and dash for signs of mud, rust or water damage.
  • Look for discolored, faded or stained upholstery and carpeting. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color.
  • Check for a well-defined line, or watermark, and for musty odors resulting from mildew.
  • If the car's history seems suspicious, ask the dealer or individual directly if the car has been damaged by floodwater.
  • Before buying any used car, always get a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic. The extra cost may save you money in the long run if major problems are discovered.