How To Tell If a Car Has Been Flooded

Reader Question Mr. Davis

My wife and I are considering the purchase of a 2000 Volvo (not sure of model, wife leading the charge here!) However, I do know that the current owners who also purchased it used have done at least two things on the vehicle that cause me to raise my brows.

1. The replaced the entire steering system. Again, not really sure of how extensive that repair was but when someone tells me they replaced the entire system on anything car related I get suspicious.

2. They replaced the leather seats in the vehicle because the leather was damaged. The used car dealer ( not an actual dealership) had actually spray painted the leather seats. I’ve never ever heard of such a thing.

Given the two points, would your first impression be that the vehicle had been damaged in a flood?



Hello David,

From what you have told me I am not sure I would suspect a flood car right off the bat, but the leather seat story does seem odd for being a relatively new vehicle.

Leather seats can last a long time with small cracks and some color fading which is usually normal. So I agree with you that replacing the seats does raise some concern. I am not sure about spray painting the seats either, although I know the leather can be re-dyed, and maybe that is how the dye is applied, I am not real sure.

The steering system replacement could have been caused by high water getting inside the rack and pinion assembly (power steering fluid and water do not like each other and they create a pinkish looking froth). On the other hand, the steering could have been worn out or leaking and needed replacement?

I would get a car fax report for sure, or call your insurance company and ask them if they can run the vehicle history report for you to see if the vehicle has had a major insurance claim against it, like a flood.

Flood cars usually have rust in strange places, under the seats on the metal seat brackets, on the exhaust system under the vehicle, behind the fenders, behind the wheels on the brake parts, and a musty odor inside that seems to never go away completely and gets worse as the temperature outside gets hotter.

I would take this vehicle to your regular mechanic and let them remove the wheels and inspect the brakes for rust, inspect the undercarriage for rust, look under the carpet under the dash board for signs of carpet replacement and check all the under hood fluids for signs of water contamination.

BTW, I am not a real big fan of Volvo, especially an 8 year old Volvo. Their electronics are tricky to work on if you are not familiar with them (so not every mechanic is capable of making repairs, you might be forced back to the dealership), parts are not as readily available (do you have a dealership close by your house or will you have to order parts from another dealer), the repairs are generally more expensive….and more often than a Honda or Toyota (two of my favorite vehicles).

There are so many used cars on the market today, maybe you can convince your wife to look at something else without those two concerning problems, and maybe a Honda or Toyota…or Lexus which have been maintenance records than Volvo.

Here is a great used car check list you can print out and give to your mechanic, or do yourself

Used Car Check List


Austin C. Davis

Posted in: Reader Questions

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