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Flood Damaged Car Warning From The AA

Published 31 December 2015

With floods inundating large areas of Northern England and Yorkshire, the AA is warning that many car owners either refused claims or on 3rd Party insurance may try to sell flood damaged cars. Here's how to spot them.

Cars that have been immersed in water may seem undamaged but can store up potentially fatal faults.

Michael Lloyd, director of AA Insurance says he is concerned that while insurers go to stringent efforts to dispose of flood-damaged cars and ensure that they don’t reach the open market, many others could be sold on. 

“Catalytic converter and exhaust system life can be seriously reduced, wheel bearings could seize, brakes can be affected and alternator and starter motors could fail,” he points out. 

“In addition, water can seriously affect electrical and electronic systems including the airbags, which might go off unexpectedly – or not deploy when they should.

“A car that has been driven through water which has found its way through the air intake and in to the engine, will cause irreparable damage to the engine so cars so affected are also likely to be written off.”

Mr Lloyd believes some owners whose vehicles once dried out may appear undamaged could simply sell their cars on without making an insurance claim and thus avoid losing their no-claim bonus. 

“Buyers should beware buying from private vendors as they may have no come-back when problems later emerge,” he says.

“Buying from a dealer will help reduce the risk that vehicles sold have a watery history.”

The AA offers some simple steps to help identify cars offered for sale that might have been involved in floods:

Tips to spot a flood-damaged car

  • ·        If a used car has the windows open it may be to let out the smell of damp.  Feel the carpets – and if the interior smells of air-freshener, it may be hiding something worse
  • ·        If the windows are seriously condensated, it’s likely that there is significant moisture inside the car.
  • ·        Take the oil filler cap off and check underneath the cap.  If there is a whitish, mayonnaise-like deposit (emulsified oil) under the cap, there is water in the engine.
  • ·        Start the engine and turn the heater blower on to the windscreen.  If the glass immediately steams up and takes a long time to clear, there is moisture in the system.  The air may also have an unpleasant odour.
  • ·        Check to see if air bag warning light works.  The system does a self-check when you switch on the ignition.  The light should go off after a few seconds. If the light doesn’t come on or doesn’t go off, there is a fault.  If the air bag electronics have been submerged they may fail when needed or unexpectedly go off while driving.
  • ·        See if there is water trapped in the car light clusters (rock the car and if water is present, you’ll see water moving within the red rear filter for example)
  • ·        If the car is simply a category C insurance write-off (rather than a category A or B which means the car is too dangerous to be allowed back on the road) this should be recorded on the V5C registration document.

If in any doubt

  • ·        Consider carrying out an Used Car History Check to find out whether the vehicle has been registered as a write-off by insurance companies and the DVLA.  In addition, make sure that the V5C form matches the details in the check and has a valid watermark.
  • ·        Have an independent professional inspection on the car of your choice which can identify existing issues with a car, such as electrical problems and bodywork damage. 
  • ·        Make sure you are given a valid receipt – a trader should supply a formal printed document and offer a warranty.  If buying privately, document all details of the car and its vendor
  • ·        On newer vehicles, check the manufacturer’s warranty.  Where the vehicle is known to have been flood damaged, the manufacturer may have voided the warranty.


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