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Recovery following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the southeastern US have been affected or will be affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. CarMax wants to help by providing valuable information to owners of flood-damaged cars. Keep these tips in mind so you’ll know how to assess damage and avoid flood-damaged cars when it’s time to buy a replacement.

Suspect flood damage? Don’t start your car!

If your vehicle was affected by the flood, do not attempt to turn on or operate it until you’ve informed your insurance company. Your provider should advise you on when and how to start your vehicle, and where to take it for inspection, or if an inspector will come to you to formally assess any damage.

We can’t stress this enough: use extreme caution when determining the extent of the damage and contact your insurance provider as soon as possible.

How to check for flood damage

  • If you’re sure the water did not reach the level where your car door opens, it's probably safe to drive. You should still have it inspected by a mechanic as soon as possible. Some makes and models have their batteries and other sensitive electronic components housed at a low point in the car’s frame, like the lower part of the engine or near the spare tire compartment in the trunk.
  • If you suspect or see evidence that water has risen above your door openings, do not start your vehicle. Even if it doesn't start, any attempt to get your car running could cause further damage. Have your vehicle towed to a mechanic for inspection.
  • If you suspect water damage, have a mechanic check all the fluids. “For example, if your oil indicator is high, that may be a sign that there’s water in your engine,” says Mark Royer, a master technician for CarMax in Charlotte, North Carolina. Water can contaminate fluids which can lead to expensive repairs down the road. 

Flood-damaged vehicles are often neither mechanically, nor structurally sound. Water damage reveals itself in several ways.

  • In the short term, electrical issues are commonly the first to become apparent
  • Longer-term problems can include rust and corrosion, which could affect a vehicle’s structural integrity

How to avoid buying a flood-damaged car


Here are four things you can do to avoid purchasing a flood-damaged vehicle:
  • Watch for excessive condensation on the interior of windows and windshields. Especially on warm days, condensation can indicate that there’s excessive moisture inside the vehicle.
  • Check behind the front seats and inside the spare tire well. Both are common areas for sitting water to pool and cause damage.
  • Inspect for rust. Excessive rust in the spare tire well, engine compartment, or undercarriage of the vehicle can be an indication of flood damage.
  • Check the Vehicle History Report. Using the VIN, you can see whether a flood claim has been filed, or if a salvage title has been issued.

For more precautions you can take, see our full article How to Identify and Avoid Flood Damaged Cars.

CarMax does not sell flood-damaged vehicles, but we do see these vehicles in the marketplace. We’ve bought and sold more than 7 million cars over the years, so our nationwide team of more than 1,000 buyers know what to watch out for.

"In this day and age, many consumers rely on vehicle history reports to identify flood damage. In some cases, there can be a significant lag time from when an incident occurs to when it reports as part of the vehicle history,” says Javier Vasquez, purchasing manager for CarMax in Miami, Florida. "With our inspection process, CarMax is often able to identify flood damage long before it populates on a vehicle history report, eliminating the risk of our customers purchasing vehicles with flood damage.”

You can see a free vehicle history report on every car on carmax.com®. Learn more about understanding vehicle history reports in our article Do You Know Your Car’s History?.

Harvey and Irma recovery and our commitment to help

At CarMax, we understand that many Americans are facing a long road ahead to recover and rebuild.

After ensuring the wellbeing of our associates and soundness of our stores, “our next priority is to help consumers get back on the road safely and to avoid the pitfalls of unknowingly purchasing a flood-damaged vehicle,” says Cliff Wood, CarMax Chief Operations Officer.

“As we see the images of the devastation that has occurred as a result of two major hurricanes, our hearts go out to those whose lives and neighborhoods have been forever changed,” says CarMax President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Nash. “We’re working together to begin rebuilding for our Associates, our customers, and our communities.”

As a Red Cross Disaster Responder Partner, CarMax donates $250,000 annually to ensure immediate response to those affected by disaster. If you’re able to give, you can donate here.