How to Spot a Water or Flood Damaged Vehicle

Posted by on October 12, 2017 @16:06:42 EDT

After the recent hurricanes in the U.S., consumer agencies are warning Canadians to be on the lookout for flood-damaged cars.

Over the past few weeks, Canadians have watched in disbelief as islands in the Caribbean and several southern States were battered by hurricane winds, pounded by unrelenting rainfall and swamped by storm surges. Unfortunately, in the midst of all of the chaos, vehicles sat parked on streets, in driveways and on dealership lots.

When the floodwaters receded and vehicles reappeared in full view, owners and car dealerships were faced with the horrible reality that they were in possession of at least one flood-damaged car. According to Fortune, Hurricane Harvey has “destroyed 300,000 to 500,000 vehicles in Houston alone,” while it is estimated that Hurricane Irma claimed between 200,000 and 400,000 cars.

So what does that mean for Canadians looking to buy a vehicle in the near future? Well, CTV News recently published a piece to highlight the issue. According to the article, several consumer protection agencies are warning Canadians to be on the lookout for flood-damaged cars. Unfortunately, while many of the vehicles destroyed by the recent hurricanes will be sent to a salvage yard and properly disposed of by insurers, “some may be imported into Canada and sold to unsuspecting drivers.”

Are you looking for your next vehicle? If you are, has put together some information and tips to ensure you don’t get scammed. Keep reading!

What is a flood-damaged car?

A flood-damaged or water-damaged car is one that has been sitting in a high level of water for a period of time. With the recent hurricanes, cars were left parked for days in floodwaters and Carproof states that being submerged in such high water “could result in serious damage to the vehicle and its internal components.”


You probably think it’s easy to spot water damage in a car, but the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC) disagrees, stating that the full impact of floodwater damage could take years to emerge. Even though the car may be completely clean and dry by the time you’re checking it out with the seller, there could be permanent electrical damage and safety features may fail. OMVIC deems flood-damaged vehicles as unsafe for road use since “airbags could fail to deploy in a collision; engines could shut off at highway speeds or steering could fail.”

After the floods in Alberta in 2013, the Edmonton Journal reported that the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council (AMVIC) would not license vehicles that showed evidence of being “submerged in water at or above the bottom of the dash.” According to however, it only takes approximately six inches (sometimes less) of water to cause a vehicle’s engine to stall. The lesson here is that if a vehicle has been submerged in water, it’s highly likely that the vehicle is unsafe for the road and will probably malfunction in 5…4…3…2…

Now that you know how dangerous buying a flood-damaged car can be, you need some tips on how to protect yourself from dodgy car salesmen trying to sell you one. OMVIC, Carproof and Alpine Insurance have each created their own list of things you should be on the lookout for if you suspect water damage. Since you might not have the time to do the research yourself, read on for our compilation of tips.

How can you spot water damage in a vehicle?

Below you’ll find a chart of some things to pay attention to so you won’t get scammed into buying a flood-damaged vehicle:

Pay attention to Location Reason
Condensation ·         Dashboard  

·         Headlights

·         Brake lights

Moisture can linger in certain areas after being submerged in water
Mud/dirt/silt ·         Air vents  

·         Glove compartment

·         Trunk

·         Under dashboard

·         Under seats

Leftover mud/dirt/silt in unusual places could be a sign of the vehicle standing in high water
Odour Inside the vehicle A musty or mouldy odour within the car or excessive air freshener use to hide odours may mean that the car has been submerged in standing water
Price N/A If the price of the car is well below market value, you could be looking at a flood-damaged car
Rust/flaking metal ·         Air vents  

·         Glove compartment

·         Trunk

·         Under dashboard

·         Under seats

·         Brackets

·         Screws

·         Undercarriage

Rust or flaking metal in places that would not normally be exposed to water could be a sign of a flood-damaged car

Since water damage can fry your vehicle’s electronics, it’s important that you test the electronic components of the car before you finalize the purchase.

Test the following:

  •         Headlights/brake lights/signal lights
  •         Interior lighting
  •         Radio/speakers
  •         Heating/air conditioning
  •         Cigarette lighters
  •         Any other electrical components inside the car

How can you get the vehicle’s full history?

Also, before you purchase your next vehicle, make sure that you’re certain of its history. You can do this by checking the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) using the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VinCheck (USA) or VIN Verify by the Insurance Bureau of Canada. You should also obtain a full vehicle history report using CarProof, or Carfax if you believe or know the vehicle is from the United States. When checking the vehicle’s U.S. registration, be aware that flood damage will only be noted if the car has been declared a salvage vehicle. Since you’ll be buying a car in Ontario, make sure that you’re given a Used Vehicle Information Package (UVIP), which contains a list of all owners in the province and dates of ownership. Also, it’s safer to buy your next car from an OMVIC-Registered Dealer, who is required to declare flood damage.

When buying your next car, it’s important that you’re aware that not everyone has your best interest at heart. Protect yourself from unscrupulous car salespeople by being aware of the signs to look for if flood damage is suspected, and by buying from an OMVIC-Registered Dealer. is an OMVIC-Registered Dealer with access to an inventory of over 5000 vehicles, none of which has sustained flood or water damage. If you’re ready to start shopping for your next (DRY) ride, click here!

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