How to Spot a Flood Damaged Vehicle

If you are shopping for another car, be aware that there may be flooded cars hitting the used car lots.  These cars may give a lot of trouble later in the ownership.  Here are a few things to look for when searching for your next used car:

If you’re buying a used car always have it inspected by a trusted mechanic.

Ask to see the title of any used car you’re thinking about buying. Check the date and place of transfer. Did the car come from a state ravaged by floods? Is “salvage” stamped on the title?

Test everything related to the car’s electrical system. Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, heater, air conditioner, and cigarette lighter several times to make sure they all work.

Examine the wiring under the dash to see if they bend or crack. Once they’ve been wet, wires become brittle and can crack and fail.

  1. Get a vehicle history report.  Although it won’t uncover every flood-damaged car, history reports tag a fair number of problems. Services such as Carfax or AutoCheck can run reports electronically for an individual car, or multiple cars during a one-month subscription. All you need is your prospective car’s vehicle identification number (VIN), usually located at the bottom of the windshield on the driver side.
  2. Be alert to unusual odors.  Musty or moldy odors inside the car are a sign of mildew buildup from prolonged exposure to water. It might be coming from an area the seller is unable to completely clean. Beware of a strong air freshener or cleaning solution scent, as it may indicate the seller is trying to cover something up.
  3. Look for discolored carpeting.  Large stains or differences in color between lower and upper upholstery sections may indicate that standing water was in the vehicle. A used car with brand-new upholstery is also a warning sign, as a seller may have tried to remove the flood-damaged upholstery altogether.
  4. Examine the exterior for water buildup.  This may include fogging inside headlamps or taillights and damp or muddy areas where water naturally pools, such as overhangs inside the wheel wells.
  5. Inspect the undercarriage.  Look for evidence of rust and flaking metal that would not normally be associated with late-model vehicles.

Be suspicious of dirt buildup in unusual areas.  These include areas such as around the seat tracks or the upper carpeting under the glove compartment. Have an independent mechanic look for caked mud or grit in alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses and around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays. Look in the trunk, glove compartment, under the seats, and dash for signs of mud, rust or water damage. Examine the gauges on the dashboard to see if they’re accurate.  Check for signs of water stains.


Davidson County requires emission inspections on 1975 and newer light duty gasoline and diesel powered vehicles. Cars and light trucks weighing 10,500 lbs. or less gross vehicle weight rate (GVWR) registered in Davidson County require an annual emission inspection.


1410 Donelson Pike
Suite B-14
Nashville, TN 37217

2023 © All Rights Reserved.