Buyer Beware: Spotting a Hurricane-Damaged Vehicle

Harvey and Irma quickly became household names when the storms wreaked widespread havoc on people and property. Although no longer a top news story, unsuspecting car buyers in locations far from those affected by the storms may encounter a hurricane damaged vehicle for sale by an unscrupulous vendor.


The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) offers a free service called VINCheck to help the public determine if a car was reported as damaged and subsequently has a branded title; an official damage designation made by a state agency that appears on a vehicle’s title paperwork. Unfortunately, not all flood-damaged vehicles will be captured by VINCheck. The system is based on data compiled from documented insurance losses and not all vehicles have the coverage (Comprehensive) that would initiate an insurance claim. Vehicle titles can also be manipulated and “cleaned” when transferred to a different state so the vehicle may appear to have a clean title.

Hurricane Damaged Vehicle Red Flags

To help avoid buying a flood-damaged vehicle, in addition to checking VINCheck, buyers should watch for the following red flags:

  • Inspect the carpeting, upholstery, and seat belts for water damage.
  • Beware of a strong air freshener that may be hiding a musty odor.
  • hurricane flood damaged vehicleInspect headlights and taillights for signs of water.
  • Check for rust on metallic items.
  • Remove the spare tire and look for water damage.
  • Check for mud or moisture damage under the hood, dashboard, and other hard-to-reach areas.
  • Beware of a “too good to be true” price.
  • Ensure all electronic components function properly.
  • Ask the dealer if the car has any flood damage.

It is always advisable to have a vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic prior to purchase. Be smart and use caution whenever buying a used vehicle and don’t forget to use VINCheck at

Photo © Andrew Smith (cc-by-sa/2.0)