Hurricane Michael Aftermath: Alabama Sees Increase in Flood-Damaged Cars

We’re all opportunists in some respect, but it takes a certain type of villainous conman to scam people into buying a flooded car. Unfortunately, after Hurricane Michael tore up Florida and east Alabama, thousands of car shoppers around the country are, unbeknownst to them, being pushed into flood-damaged vehicles. And the problem has grown into a full-blown epidemic as the 2018 market has seen a 47% year-over-year increase in flooded cars being sold (500,000).

At Jim Burke Nissan, we have three words for these crooks: Shame on you. Because we’re always on the consumer’s side, we want to educate you on the issue—and how to avoid buying a vehicle that’s been through the water-soaked wringer. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions our Birmingham Nissan dealership and service center receives about car flood damage.

Car Flood Damage FAQ

Is a flood-damaged car repairable?

Generally speaking, no, “car flood damage repair” isn’t really in the realm of possibility. Most car insurance companies write off a flood-damaged car because of the problems that can arise if “fixed.” Water-locked engines, short-circuiting wires, flooded transmissions—the issues can be pretty severe.

However, some claim that you can repair a car after a flood. We don’t believe this to be true at Jim Burke Nissan, but we’ll let you be the judge: read more about common repairs for flooded cars to see if your vehicle can be re-conditioned.

Is my car totaled if it was flooded during Hurricane Michael?

Once a car encounters standing water—especially sea water—it’s probably seen its last days as a serviceable vehicle. About 75% of flooded cars are deemed unsalvageable.

But instead of having it crushed or leaving it to sit in a lot somewhere, you can find a good use for the car in some capacity. Flooded cars aren’t reliable, but they can still be sold as-is or used as a breeding ground for field mice.

What is the value of my flooded car?

The resale value of a flood-damaged car is far less than a functional one—obviously. Expect a 25% to 50% drop in value, plus the costs for repairs, when it’s time to sell it.

Is flood damage to a car covered by insurance?

When it comes to flood damage and car insurance, things get complex. While a typical comprehensive insurance policy will cover vehicle damage caused by “nature,” you may have difficulty filing or getting reimbursed (quickly) for a flood damage claim. If and when the flood damage claim is reimbursed, your insurance company will likely pay out the ACV, or the actual cash value of your vehicle, as well as for any car accessories that were destroyed.

If you haven’t already, you’ll want to discuss the issue with your auto insurance agent. He or she will likely be a better resource than the internet.

Will FEMA pay for flood-damaged vehicles?

After filing an insurance claim, you can seek extra monetary reimbursements from FEMA to fill in any gaps in policy coverage. Federal disaster aid is available, as needed, for vehicles that are deemed salvaged or inoperable due to storms like Hurricane Michael.

There are caveats to FEMA assistance, however.

  • For one, it may take a long time to be reimbursed, so expect delays in the range of months, if not longer.
  • Secondly, FEMA pay-outs are only available for one vehicle per person, meaning that if you have two vehicles, you’ll be automatically ineligible to receive assistance without approval.
  • Lastly, car owners are ineligible to receive money if they cannot provide proof of current auto liability insurance.

To begin the process of applying for FEMA car flood aid, visit

How do I check for signs of flood damage to a car?

Detecting water damage in a car can be a difficult task. The symptoms of a water-damaged vehicle can be subtle or quite obvious. Typically, you’ll want to look out for the following telltale signs of a flooded vehicle:

  • Musty or moldy odor in the interior, especially on carpets (seriously, smell the carpet and seats as if it were your last breath)
  • Water-stained or mismatched upholstery
  • Rust around door handles, door jambs, under the dashboard, or inside the hood and trunk
  • Silt and residue in the glove compartment or under the dash and seats
  • Electrical issues including problems with illuminated dashboard warnings, lights, windshield wipers, climate controls, ABS, the radio, or power seats and windows
  • Exposed, fragile wiring under the dashboard
  • Precipitation or fog inside taillights and headlights
  • Damp foam padding under the carpet
  • Rusted spare tire
  • Vehicle was presented with all its windows down and new air fresheners inside

How do I avoid buying a used car damaged by a flood?

After a storm like Hurricane Michael, dealerships like Jim Burke Nissan can be trusted, but you’ll want to take extra care when purchasing a vehicle from a third-party seller. If you can’t shop at your dealer, be sure to follow our advice to avoid buying a flood-damaged car:

  • Always ask for or buy a vehicle history report, which may include a car flood damage report
  • Perform a very thorough inspection of the interior, exterior, and engine bay
  • Run the car in idle and test the electrical system and heat/air conditioning for a while
  • In fact, test everything you can, for as long as you can without looking like a weirdo
  • Always take a test drive, both around town and on the highway
  • Bring it to a mechanic for a multipoint inspection

The only way to ensure you aren’t getting conned into buying a cruddy car is to buy from someone you can trust—someone like us. As one of the top-rated car dealers in Birmingham, Jim Burke Nissan says “heck no” to flooded cars. Every used vehicle you find on our Birmingham car lot is perfectly maintained, functional, and free from water damage. That’s a guarantee.

Browse our selection of used cars for sale in Birmingham or contact us directly at (205) 588-6287 if you have a question about flooded cars. We’d be happy to help.

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