MDOT MVA, MIA Issue Consumer Alert on Warning Signs of Flood Damaged Vehicles

The hurricane season has ended and flooded vehicles are making its way to the used car market.

GLEN BURNIE, MD – While November 30th marks the end of hurricane season, the impacts of this year’s storms will continue for months to come. The Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration (MDOT MVA) and the Maryland Insurance Administration (MIA) are partnering to issue an alert for consumers in the market for a used car to vigilantly be aware of flood damaged vehicles originating from states recently impacted by hurricanes and flooding.

“Vehicles that have recently sustained flood-related damage may still look great in photos, but may develop rust and mold over the long-term,” said MDOT MVA Administrator Chrissy Nizer. “Despite the continued demand for used vehicles, customers must protect themselves from potential financial and safety risks down the road.”

Buyers need to be educated when they consider purchasing a used vehicle. Common signs that a vehicle may have experienced flood damage include condensation in headlights and taillights, a musty odor, vehicle rust spots and mold or mildew on seats or carpeting. However, many signs of flood damage are not always obvious, such as water damage compromising the car’s computer and safety mechanisms, including airbag sensors.

“Purchasing a vehicle is a big decision for many consumers, not only up front but also in continuous safety coverage and maintenance,” said MIA Commissioner Kathleen A. Birrane. “We encourage those looking to purchase a used vehicle to take advantage of the many resources and tips to protect them from becoming a victim.”

In addition to Customer Connect, MDOT MVA and MIA have the following tips for consumers looking to buy a new vehicle:

Take the time to inspect the vehicle. Check the engine for a high-water mark on the engine block or radiator. Look for rust or corrosion on wires and other components under the hood.
Be suspicious if the interior smells damp and of mildew. Don’t forget to check the trunk and under the spare tire for any water marks.
Shop at a licensed dealer. Flood damaged vehicles often end up at auctions or sold by “curb stoners.” Curb stoning is a way for unscrupulous sellers to avoid laws. They may pose as a private seller or through an online service. Not all private sellers are curb stoning but check thoroughly before making the purchase.
Before buying a car, ask the dealer to obtain a report with a detailed history of the car. Comprehensive reports are produced with the vehicle identification number (VIN) and are available for a fee from a variety of sources, including:
Carfax (;
Auto Check (; and
Consumer Guide (
Consider taking the car to a qualified mechanic to inspect the vehicle thoroughly.

CARFAX has a list of seven telltale signs of flooding:

  1. A musty odor in the interior, which sellers sometimes try to cover with a strong air-freshener
  2. Upholstery or carpeting that may be loose, new, stained or that doesn’t match the rest of the interior
  3. Damp carpets
  4. Rust around doors, under the dashboard, on the pedals or inside the hood and trunk latches
  5. Mud or silt in the glove compartment or under the seats
  6. Brittle wires under the dashboard
  7. Fog or moisture beads in the interior lights, exterior lights or instrument panel