Skip to main content

Consumer alert regarding cars damaged by floods

The Financial and Consumer Services Commission (FCNB) is issuing this notice to warn consumers about the sale of cars and boats that have been damaged by floods.

It is estimated that 650,000 vehicles were flooded following Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida. Water causes extensive damage to a vehicle and it is expected that many of these water damaged vehicles will be disposed of by insurers so they cannot be resold. However, water-damaged vehicles are often moved far from their original location following a large storm, and sold to unsuspecting drivers.  Some of these vehicles may make their way into Canada, or be purchased by Canadians looking for vehicles south of the border.

Water damage goes far beyond rust. It can impact important mechanical and electronic systems (including airbag controllers) and cause corrosion. A car that has been flooded may appear to be in perfect condition, but could start having problems in the future, as water damage may take a long time to appear.

To avoid purchasing a vehicle that has been damaged by flooding, New Brunswickers are advised to:

  • Purchase from a reputable registered dealership as they have an obligation to disclose if a car has sustained water damage. To know if a dealership is registered, you can ask to see their Motor Vehicle Dealer Licence.
  • Use extra caution when buying through private sale.  Private sellers have no obligation to disclose if a car has sustained water damage.
  • Use the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s VIN Verify Service to check if a vehicle has been deemed non-repairable.  (If you are purchasing a car from the States, you may want to try the National insurance Crime Bureau’s VINCheckSM (English only)).  To learn more about salvaged and modified vehicles, visit Buying a Vehicle.
  • Use a service like CARPROOF or CARFAX, to see the vehicle’s history, including damage records. Avoid purchasing one that came from a flooded area.
  • Beware of vehicles being sold below market value. If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Bring the vehicle to a trusted mechanic to have them inspect the vehicle before you purchase it.

Common indicators of a flood-damaged vehicle may include:

Interior and Exterior of the vehicle
  • A musty odor in the interior, which can sometimes be covered with a strong air-freshener or shampoo.  If there is a strong scent of air or fabric freshener make sure it is not masking a more serious scent.
  • Upholstery or carpeting which is mismatched, loose, new, or stained.
  • Damp carpets.  If you can, try lifting the carpet to check for damp padding under the carpet.
  • Moisture, sitting water, or debris in the trunk or spare tire area.
  • Rust around doors, inside the hood and trunk latches, pedals, on unfinished metal surfaces (like the springs and bolts under the seats), or under the dashboard.
  • Bubbling of paint in areas that are not exposed to weather.
  • Mud or silt in the glove compartment or under seats.
  • Brittle wires under the dashboard.
  • Fog or moisture beads in the interior or exterior lights or instrument panel.
  • Seat mounting screws that have been tampered with in an effort to dry the carpets.
Under the hood
  • Water lines in the engine compartment.
  • Silt and sand in nooks and crannies.
  • Check the oil – even a small amount of water in the oil will make it murky.
  • Check the air filter – if there are water stains on the paper filter walk away.

It is important to ask questions and be informed when buying a vehicle from a private seller or a dealership. With all the options and details to consider, you may be excited and overwhelmed at the same time.  For more information on purchasing a vehicle, consult Buying a Vehicle on the FCNB website.