'Rotting from the inside': Thousands of flooded cars from Hurricane Ian headed to NC to be resold

Diane Wilson Image
Wednesday, October 19, 2022
Flooded cars from Hurricane Ian headed to NC to be resold
Before you buy a car, here are signs of a car that may have flood damage.

Cars that were flooded during Hurricane Ian are heading here to the Triangle. These are cars that you could end up buying, which could ultimately cost you more money and put you and your family at risk.

"There are mechanical, electrical, health (and) safety issues with these vehicles as the brakes might not work properly, the airbags might not work properly. They are literally rotting from the inside out. We know that sometimes there can be mold on the upholstery or bacteria in the ventilation system," Emily Voss with Carfax said.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Carfax estimates as many as 358,000 cars from Florida to the Carolinas have flood damage from Ian. This is on top of the already 400,000 water-damaged cars in Carfax's database.

Carfax estimates North Carolina is 6th in the nation when it comes to the number of flood-damaged vehicles on the road -- with an estimated 15,600.

But you may not know immediately if the car you're trying to buy has experienced flood damage. If the car was insured when it was damaged and salvaged, the title will state that it is a previously flooded vehicle. But if the car was not insured, it can easily be cleaned up and resold without having the flood damage documented.

"When you look at the current, used car market -- with how low supply is right now (and) how high prices are -- there's no doubt that con men are going to try to take advantage of the situation, clean up these cars and...turn around to sell them to unsuspecting buyers," Voss said.

Before you buy a car, here are signs of a car that may have flood damage:

  • Open up the hood and look for rust, corrosion, or brittle wires.
  • Check around the doors and under the dash for signs of water damage.
  • Look for fog or moisture beads in the lights, as that's often a sign a car has been submerged in water.
  • When it comes to upholstery, seat belts and carpet look for water stains.
  • If you smell a musty odor that could also be a sign of water damage.

Besides flooded cars hitting the market, there's an urgent alert about electric vehicles in Florida that have been bursting into flames in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

Officials said the saltwater interacts with the EV batteries, sparking the fires.

Florida's State Fire Marshal called on federal officials for action. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration responded in a letter acknowledging the problem writing "Lithium-Ion vehicle battery fires have been observed both rapidly igniting and igniting several weeks after battery damage occurred." If you have an electric car that's been damaged in floodwaters, especially saltwater, you'll want to make sure that the car is unplugged.

It is so important to check the history of any car before you buy it. You can use Carfax's free flood check, but again, not all car history will show up on these reports, so never buy any car sight unseen, best advice is to take it to a mechanic as they can get underneath the car and spot what you may not see.