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How to Spot a Flood Damaged Car

Author of the article

By Saoirse McClure Fisher

calendar 03-03-2021 tag MAINTENANCE clock 5 min read

Guess how many days of sunshine the UK had last year? Did you say “not enough”? That’s right, in the UK it can rain. A lot.

As a result, sometimes the roads can become more like rivers, and cars aren’t quite as waterproof as boats. Flood damage affects many things, cars among them. Still, the question, especially when buying a used vehicle, is how to spot a flood-damaged car? Well in this article we are going to tell you.

Flood Damaged Cars | On the Rise?

When a car is flood-damaged, it can often be terminal. Cars simply aren’t designed to be submerged in water. Many think that once a car has dried out, it is ‘good to go’. This is not the case. The damage can often be permanent. Here are some of the systems that are adversely affected by flood damage: -

  • The engine
  • The brakes
  • The starter motor
  • The electrical system
  • The catalytic converter

Quite a big list? Some sellers have no qualms with selling cars that have been wetter than a trout’s pocket. When you add up the cost of repairing some of these systems, that ‘bargain’ doesn’t look quite so appealing after all.

So how do you spot it?

Putting a Dampener on Flood Damage

Ok, here’s our quick and handy guide: -

Check the vehicle’s history.

As the saying goes, let the buyer beware. It is on you to make sure the vehicle hasn’t been previously written off as a loss. Undertaking a quick HPI check means that you don’t need to rely on the word of someone wanting you to part with your hard-earned.

Warm things up.

Even when flood damage has vanished, residual water may remain in the ventilation system. By warming the car, you’ll be able to observe signs of excess moisture, like windows steaming up or a damp smell.

Check under the hood.

We hope you would do this anyway when buying a car, but make sure to check under the bonnet. Areas like the underside of the bonnet and engine components shouldn’t be rusty or corroded. If there is excessive rust, this could indicate that the engine was left wet for some time.

Test the electrics.

Water and electricity don’t mix. Often electrical components can become permanently damaged by water, and it is an easy ‘tell’. Try electric windows and switches to see if they operate. Be extremely vigilant of untoward things happening like window switches moving the wrong window or lights that only work intermittently.

Look for rust.

Ok, so older used cars might have the odd speck here and there, but this should match the age and mileage. No one expects a Mark I fiesta to be in perfect condition, but if it is last year’s model with 3,000 miles on the clock, you shouldn’t see any rust at all… Unless it’s flood-damaged, of course.

Use your nose.

Standing water may be easy to remove, but damp smells tend to linger. Check areas that don’t dry quickly, like footwells, and see if you can see, feel, or smell any signs of moisture.

Want to see an example of flood damage? Check out this video

Flood Damaged Cars | The Solution

If any of the above reveals that a potential ‘new’ car has been flood-damaged, you’ve got a few options.

The first is obviously don’t buy it. Generally, flood-damaged cars aren’t worth the risk. That said, if it is a bargain too good to resist, here’s what to do: -

  • Seek professional advice. A mechanic or car technician will be able to verify whether a flood-damaged car is likely to cause you future trouble.
  • Ask for a record of repairs. Provided the seller has been upfront enough to tell you about the damage, they should have kept records indicating how it was fixed. Make sure this has been completed to your satisfaction. If you aren’t sure, either refuse the purchase or again consult a professional.

The Right Choice or a Write-Off?

If the car has previously been written off, you will see in which category it was placed. Cat C and D write-offs can be repaired and potentially brought back to their former glory. Cat A and B write-offs are an absolute no-go. It is illegal to try and make these two categories of write off roadworthy again. They are dangerous. Consider them damaged beyond repair and spend your money elsewhere.


Knowing how to spot a flood-damaged car isn’t particularly difficult. Normally it is very obvious. The signs given above may be expected if a vendor has already told you about the damage. The problem comes when unscrupulous sellers try and present a vehicle as ‘normal’ when it is, in fact, anything but. If you suspect flood damage and haven’t been told about it, walk away… If they haven’t told you about the flood damage, what else have they hidden? Better to save your money for something that hasn’t got a shared experience with the Titanic.

Whether you’re looking for a used bargain, or a new car, get a great set of tyres at cheap prices from Motokiki.

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