7 Ways To Check for Flooding Before You Buy That Used Truck

Updated Aug 10, 2015
Flooded vehicles after Hurricane Katrina, Waveland, MS. (Photo Bruce W. Smith ©2005)Flooded vehicles after Hurricane Katrina, Waveland, MS. (Photo Bruce W. Smith ©2005)

Buyer beware; not all is as nice it may look on the surface

With all of the extreme flooding we have seen in parts of the country this year and the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this month, many of us are dealing with the aftermath and the effects of those disasters, even if we don’t know it.

That’s right – even if you don’t live in some of the nation’s flood-ravaged areas, if you are shopping for a used vehicle, you could be purchasing one of the thousands that had submersion damaged.

But, how would you know?

Lisa Copeland, a pioneer in the field of automotive marketing and management for more than 25 years and Managing Partner of Fiat of Austin, the top Fiat retailer in North America since the brand’s return, says car buyers must be on high alert for these damaged vehicles.

Copeland’s tips for ways to check a car for flood damage include:

  • Seat tracks: Do they move? Are they rusty? If the vehicle has power seats, do they function? Check the bolts on the rails and look under any caps — if the bolts are rusty, the vehicle may have previously been involved in a flood.
  • Engine bay and exterior:  Are there water lines anywhere in the engine compartment or on the outside body/inside the fender wells? Rust lines? Unusual debris?
  • Interior smell: Does the vehicle have a musty odor? Is any of the interior upholstery discolored or look unusually new or replaced?

    Remove the step plate inside each door and roll back the carpet to see if rust/mud are evident.Remove the step plate inside each door and roll back the carpet to see if rust/mud are evident.

  • The Rear Seat: Be sure to fold it up and feel around the carpet there. On cars and SUVs, take out the spare tire and feel the material underneath. This is a location where water tends to collect and it can be missed during even the most thorough of preparations for the used car lot.
  • A compromised electrical system: this is a critical and potentially life-threatening hazard inherent in cars exposed to high waters for extended periods of time. You’ll want to test the car extensively to ensure all electrical components are operational.
  • Check the oil: Oil in a flood-affected vehicle will be a different color, sometimes compared to coffee with milk or a chocolate milkshake. The oil may be pale when it should be dark. Oil that’s been affected by flooding may also feel sticky to the touch.
  • The air filter: while you’re under the hood check the paper air filter. If it has water stains, that’s another clue that water has seeped in where it shouldn’t have.