Three Reasons NOT to Buy a Flood Car

flood cars
These flooded vehicles are typical of what you see at the insurance auction. Getty

Buying a car that has been in a flood may seem like a great way to save some money, but beware of the potential for haunting problems down the road. Just because the state has declared a vehicle safe for the road doesn't mean it's a good buy at any price. If you do decide to take the leap into rebuilt flood vehicles, be sure you know what you're getting into. At least you won't have quite as many surprises.

These are three reasons I would NOT consider purchasing a flood car. I have experienced all of these first hand and can promise you they are either more disgusting or more frustrating than you're imagining right now. It'll make that little dent you have to fix seem like nothing. 

1. The Smell
Have you ever left a load of laundry in the washer for an entire day in the summer. It usually doesn’t end well. Even when you put 12 dryer sheets in with your forgotten load, it still comes out smelling a little bit musty. That musty smell is here to stay, and adding a little sweat to the recipe will really bring it back. The same applies to your flooded vehicle’s interior. The metal and glass dry out in a matter of hours, but anything absorbent in the vehicle’s interior will stay wet for days and days after a flood. That laundry was freshly washed with nice, clean water, and it still came out of that moist cave of a washer smelling like the funk.

Compare that to the conditions a flooded vehicle must suffer -- a rush of foul, muddy water followed by days of festering. You can remove the water with a wet-dry vac, then let it completely air dry. Add a few deodorants and you think you're stink free. Then summer comes, and you get your first humid, rainy day, and that rancid, sour smell creeps back out of nowhere to aromatically haunt you.

Bummer. 

2. The Electronic Demons You Will Face
You may be able to live with a little funk-scent in your car for all of the money you saved buying a flood vehicle, but that smell may turn out to be the least of your worries. Before a flood vehicle with a salvage title can be put back on the road legally, it must pass a number of safety and functional inspections. Obviously, the central electronics must be in working order -- things like the ignition computer and the emissions control system. But what about the dozen or more electrical systems in your vehicle that are not directly related to drivability or safety? These are the things that can drive you mad, and they are generally NOT tested during a salvage inspection. Power locks and windows, cruise control, audio systems. All of these can be damaged by flood waters and left undisclosed. On top of that, the corrosion process which leads to electronics failure can continue for years once it has been jump-started by a flood. 

3. The Lack of Lube
When a car is underwater, it's not just sitting there. The flood waters are washing the car inside and out. That may not sound too bad, but as all of that water is swirling around, it's washing away the important lubricants that fill the crevices of your vehicle.

If the water got high enough to sail the inside of the engine, you'll have all sorts of problems trying to troubleshoot engine issues relating to a lack of lubrication or corrosion in strange places inside of the engine. An oil change alone may not be enough. When the engine oil has been washed away from places like your crankshaft bearings, it can reduce the life of your engine by half, or worse.