Could the used car market, become swamped with flood damaged cars?

Watch out for flood damaged 4x4s, says AA Cars

Thousands of families are counting the cost of widespread floods, not just to their homes but to their cars too. Now AA Cars, the AA’s new used car platform, is concerned that submersion-damaged cars may find their way on to the used car market, where owners have attempted to pass their car on rather than make an insrance claim.


The AA’s flood rescue team alone has now rescued more than 3,000 cars from flood water since 20th December, noting that a disproportionate number of them have been 4x4s.

David Bruce, director of AA Cars points out that insurers write off 70% of cars that have been immersed in flood water, either because the engine has been damaged or submerged electrical systems threaten the car’s safety.

If a car engine – regardless of whether it’s a small family hatchback or a 4×4 – draws even an eggcup-full of water through the air intake the engine will almost certainly be wrecked and in most cases the car will be written off.

Our specially-trained flood rescue crews say that many 4×4 drivers have gone through deep water finding that the ‘off road’ capability does not extend to flood water. Apart from the obvious risk of engine damage, only 30cm of moving water is enough to float a car and possibly sweep it off the road. It doesn’t matter what sort of car you drive, don’t attempt to drive through floods, certainly if it’s moving or more than 10cm (four inches) deep. Even cars that haven’t suffered engine damage are likely to be written off by insurers if they have been immersed in water.

David Bruce points out:

While a car can be dried out with no obvious visual damage, immersion in floods can store up a range of potentially costly or dangerous problems that could emerge at a later date.

For instance, catalytic converter and exhaust system life can be seriously compromised and there can be host of potentially serious electrical problems – including airbags spontaneously going off with a risk of injury.

Many owners may not tell their insurer that their car has been affected by flood water and attempt to dispose of it through the used car market, passing on potentially disastrous problems to an unwitting buyer.

Tips that could indicate a flood damaged car:

  • If a used car has the windows open it may be to ventilate a damp car interior; while air fresheners might be there to mask the smell of damp. Check the carpets for dampness.
  • If the car easily steam up especially when the screen heater is turned on there is moisture in the car.
  • If there is a whiteish emulsion on the underside of the oil filler cap there is likely to be water in the engine oil which could have come from flood water or may indicate a leaking head gasket (which would need attention).
  • Check that all the warning lights are working including the SRS airbag warning.
  • If the car has been recorded as a category C or D write-off, meaning that the car can be repaired and re-sold, this will be recorded on the V5C.
  • Cars bought from AA Cars include a full car history check and if it has been written off by an insurer it will be recorded.
  • Consider an AA vehicle inspection (there are discounts for AA Cars users) which should highlight problems.
  • If in any doubt, don’t buy it. There will always be another one.

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