Car buyers warned, beware of hurricane damaged ‘flood cars’

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The wave of deadly hurricanes slamming the United States and Caribbean Islands is prompting consumer watchdogs to warn other Americans they could become victims, too, indirectly. Floodwaters have destroyed or damaged thousands of homes and vehicles, but some of those damaged vehicles could make it onto used car lots.

Insurance professionals estimate Hurricane Harvey alone swamped or destroyed as many as a half million cars, and experts predict the wrath of Hurricane Irma could raise the number of storm damaged cars by thousands more.

Generally flood-damaged cars are written off as a total loss by the insurance companies, and the car titles are branded as salvage vehicles, but in some cases, Chris Basso of Carfax says, an owner might not report the damage.

“Flooded cars that hit the market from owners who don’t have insurance, or don’t have comprehensive insurance, to cover the loss of their vehicle. So they are going to clean those cars up rather quickly and try to salvage any value that they can out of them.”

But Basso added, some cars will get to market through legal means, “through the salvage auctions and insurance companies–but once those cars are re-sold then it is anybody’s guess as to where they end up, but our data suggests that New York is definitely one of those targets.”

Carfax records show New York state is in the top ten for flood cars on the road. Basso said these telltale signs can indicate a car might have been in a flood:

• A musty odor in the interior, which can sometimes be covered with a strong air-freshener
• Upholstery or carpeting which is loose, stained, or doesn’t match
• Damp carpets
• Mud or silt in the glove compartment or under the seats
• Fog or moisture beads in the interior lights, exterior lights or instrument panel

Careful car buyers can check to see if an auto they want to buy is a salvage vehicle, for free, by going to the Carfax website, and entering the Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN. It is a service Carfax is offering for free. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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