Flooded Cars: What to do if you bought a submarine instead of a subcompact?


Hurricane Harvey has dumped tons of rain on the Greater Houston Area and those floodwaters have swallowed up thousands upon thousands of cars. The news coverage will, for good reason, focus on the damage to personal property and homes, but the sale of flooded vehicles is another serious casualty of these kinds of storms.

Not all dealers are up front when a car has flood damage, and it can cost you. Even if a car looks good and seems to run fine, expensive problems can appear later as corrosion continues to creep inside critical components. This article talks about how to protect yourself from this and what to do if you purchase a flood damaged car.

How to spot one

Water damage can be hard to detect, but there are some telltale signs you should be aware of:

  • Inspect the carpets to see if they show signs of having been waterlogged, such as smelling musty or having caked-on mud. Also, brand-new carpets in an older vehicle may be another red flag.
  • Check the seat-mounting bolts to see if there is any evidence that they have been removed. To dry the carpets effectively, the seats must be removed and possibly even replaced.
  • Inspect the lights. Headlights and taillights are expensive to replace, and a visible water line may still show on the lens or the reflector.
  • Inspect the difficult-to-clean places, such as gaps between panels in the trunk and under the hood. Waterborne mud and debris may still appear in these places.
  • Look for mud or debris on the bottom edges of brackets or panels, where it wouldn’t settle naturally.
  • Search around the engine compartment. Water lines and debris can appear in hard-to-clean places, such as behind the engine.
  • Look at the heads of any unpainted, exposed screws under the dashboard. Unpainted metal in flood cars will show signs of rust.
  • Check if the rubber drain plugs under the car and on the bottom of doors look as if they have been removed recently. It may have been done to drain floodwater.

How to protect yourself

Follow some of these guidelines to protect yourself from a flooded vehicle. 

Reputable Dealer

A good place to start when buying a used car is \ a reputable dealer. Reputable dealerships with longstanding good history won't risk their reputations by ripping off their customers. Additionally, if something goes wrong with the car, you have an established business to try to recover from rather than a fly by night individual with no funds to make it right.

Get it In Writing

With anyone, ask if the car has been damaged by floods, and get the answer in writing. Anything less than a firm "no" or any hesitation to commit to that answer in writing are causes for concern. You should walk away from any dealer who won’t give you their word in writing that the car has not been flooded.

If It Seems Too Good To Be True….It Is

Often times, flooded vehicles will be sold at deep discounts. We’ve all heard the old adage that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Get It Inspected

I always recommend that you have a vehicle inspected by a competent mechanic. It might cost you a few hundred dollars in the short term, but can save you thousands long term.

What to do if you buy a flooded car

So, you’ve bought the car before you read this article and you bought a submarine instead of a subcompact.

Now what?

You may be able to recover your losses under several causes of action outlined below. My recommendation to obtain a certification that the vehicle has not been flooded makes it easier to go after the dishonest individual or business who sold you the vehicle in the first place.


You may have a fraud claim against the seller of the vehicle if the seller made some statement that the seller knew or should have known was untrue and you relied upon it to your detriment. For example, if you asked the seller if the vehicle had been flooded and they expressly told you it had not when, in fact it had, you likely have a fraud claim against the seller.


DTPA stands for Deceptive Trade Practices Act and is a wide ranging cause of action designed to protect consumers from dishonest practices. There are almost too many applications of this Act to go into in this short blog post, but there are several provisions of the DTPA that would apply to a seller who misrepresents that a vehicle had not been in a flood.

Fraud by Nondisclosure

What happens if you forgot to ask about the flood status of the vehicle you purchased? Well, it may also actionable if the seller knows of a pertinent detail and fails or refuses to disclose that detail. It is more complicated than this simple explanation and it may be required that the Court find some special relationship or duty on the seller’s behalf, but it’s something you should keep in mind if you find yourself having recently purchased a flooded vehicle.


If you have purchased a vehicle that you believe was flooded, please feel free to give me a call at 713-999-9398. I may be able to help you recover your damages and go after the business or individual who harmed you by selling you a flooded car and failing to disclose that fact. You can also email me at jmoon@moonlawfirm.com