Used car flood danger

Flood-damaged cars store up potentially fatal problems

Flood-damaged cars store up potentially fatal problems

Flood-damaged cars store up potentially fatal problems

AA Insurance has warned that the used car market could be swamped with flood-damaged cars following the extreme weather of recent weeks.

Estimating that insurers could be facing claims for up to £14 million* for cars written-off by recent weather, AA insurance says that cars which have been immersed in water may seem undamaged but can store up potentially fatal faults.

water can seriously affect electrical and electronic systems including the airbags, which might go off unexpectedly

Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance

Simon Douglas, 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 might find their way on to the used car market.

“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.”

An AA Patrol was recently called to assist with a car that had been immersed in flood water.  Leaning in to the car, the airbag went off without warning, breaking the patrol’s arm.

Beware private sales

Some owners whose vehicles, once dried out, may appear not to have been seriously damaged by water could simply sell their cars on without making an insurance claim. 

Buyers should beware from buying from private vendors as they may have no come-back when problems emerge maybe after some weeks.

Tips to spot a flood-damaged car

  • Windows may be left open to let out the smell of damp.  Feel the carpets  – and if the interior smells of air-freshener, it may be hiding something worse!  Check for water in the spare tyre well.
  • If the inside of the windows are seriously running with condensation, there is moisture inside the car – misted windows are usually OK
  • 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.  Modest misting could be the pollen filter being damp or filter drain blocked, get that checked. 
  • Check to see if the air bag warning light works - it should come on and then go off after a few seconds. If the air bag electronics have been submerged they may fail when needed or go off unexpectedly while driving.
  • Check light housings for trapped water - rock the car and if water is present, you’ll see it moving behind the lens.

Insurance write-offs

Insurers operate a code of practice under which written-off cars are coded and notified to DVLA.

Vehicles suffering water damage will usually be categorised A (scrap only) or B (break for parts). It is for the inspecting engineer to determine, given the specific circumstances such as type of water (fresh, contaminated or salt), depth of submersion etc., how a vehicle should be categorised.

If in any doubt

Consider carrying out an AA Car Data 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.  An AA Vehicle Inspection 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.

If still in doubt, don’t buy it.  There is always another car…

(28 November 2012)

* Source: AA Insurance.  AA has dealt with about 80 cars ruined by flood water over recent days estimates that nationally about 2,800 cars have been so affected.  Assuming an average value of £5,000 this equates to £14m


Need AA Breakdown Cover?

We fix more cars by the roadside than anyone else. Get a quote »

Need AA Breakdown Cover?