Safety Committee

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Hurricane-Damaged Vehicles

What You Need to Know

When hurricanes hit, vehicles are often flooded. But what happens to these flood-damaged vehicles? In some cases, the vehicles and vehicle parts start appearing on the market for sale — even hundreds of miles away — which can then be sold to unsuspecting buyers.

Whether you’re a victim of the hurricane or someone hundreds of miles away looking to buy a car, you should be aware of flood-damaged vehicles. 

Scammers looking to make a buck know how to clean up a damaged vehicle. On first appearance, the vehicle may look fine. If the seller is using a fraudulent title, it may be even more difficult to determine whether the vehicle is flood-damaged. However, flood damage can affect a vehicle’s mechanisms for years to come, and may not always manifest as a problem right away. Remember these tips from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for spotting flood-damaged vehicles when shopping around:

  • Sniff Test: If the car smells musty, there is a high likelihood it has been exposed to water. If it has a strong smell of deodorizer or air freshener, it is possible the seller is trying to mask the smell of mildew.
  • Dirt and Grime: Mud, dirt, or waterlines inside the vehicle are possible signs of flood damage. Don’t forget to check hidden spots for dirt and watermarks, like the trunk, glove box, and under the dashboard.
  • Rust and Corrosion: Check under the vehicle to see if there is an unusual amount of rust or corrosion for the vehicle’s age and location.

For more information, including how to handle hurricane-damaged equipment like car seats and tires, and the first steps in reporting a hurricane-damaged vehicle, visit NHTSA.gov.