Buyer beware: Used car for sale might’ve been in a flood

Cars are seen submerged in flood waters in Morro Bay, California, U.S., January 9, 2023 in this picture obtained from social media. Photo by Carolyn Krueger/via REUTERS.

California is still recovering from heavy storms. The damage is estimated to be around $1 billion. Along with homes, businesses, and roads, the storms also destroyed hundreds, if not thousands, of cars. Many of them could end up for sale again, and sometimes the damage is not obvious.

“When insurance companies total vehicles because of flood damage, the vehicles are often then unloaded at auctions. And some of these auctions are open to dealers. And some of these auctions are in fact open to the general public,” explains Daniel Miller, business reporter for the Los Angeles Times. “And there are ways that these cars can have a new life. Some are shipped overseas, some are taken apart and sold as parts. And some are even bought by perhaps some unscrupulous operators who want to obscure that flood damage and sell them to another person.”

He says experts from the salvage market advise: “Get on your hands and knees, pull up that carpet. Is it musty? Is it moldy? Does it stink? That's a big red flag. … You could also have serious structural issues like rust in the floorboards. … You have to know what you're doing if you're going to be buying one of these vehicles.”