Quick answers to your top questions about flood damaged cars

A quick glance up at the skies right now will tell you that winter is well on the way, and with the UK currently experiencing heavy rain and even scattered floods, the danger of flood damage is becoming a very real threat for many new and used car owners. 

It’s a big part of the reason why around this time of year in about winter, we tend to see a relative influx of flood damaged cars. As you might expect, many of our buyers tend to have lots of questions about flood damaged salvage cars, not least of which is whether they should consider buying them. As specialists in online vehicle auctions, we tend to field quite a lot of those questions here at RAW2K, so here are our answers to some of the most common!

What is a flood damaged car?

In the strictest definition of the term, a flood damaged car is typically one that’s sustained serious water damage. Generally this is in the form of water damage to the interior, resulting in mechanical defects in the engine or transmission. 

Here are some of the major ways in which floodwater can affect a vehicle:

  • Water in the engine bay can damage the transmission components and contaminate the oils, which can lead to engine failure further on down the line
  • Similarly, high levels of water can contaminate the fuel tank. Contaminated fuel can seriously affect the car’s filter systems, and cause further damage
  • The electrical systems are especially vulnerable, particularly in-car technology, electric windows, and rear lights or headlights. 
  • Water can damage control systems, such as the ECU or engine control
  • High levels of water can also affect the brakes, starter motor, and catalytic converters
  • If the car was trapped in flowing water, it can sometimes result in small pieces of debris being lodged under the car

One of the major problems with flood damage is that not all of the damage is immediately evident, and has a nasty habit of developing later on. A motorist who ploughed through deep floodwater in their vehicle might be tempted to simply give it ‘a bit of an airing’ rather than take it to see a professional mechanic, only to experience a catastrophic engine failure later on down the line. 

What salvage category is a flood damaged car?

That really depends on the level of damage. There are four salvage categories in total, and flood damaged cars could theoretically be put in any one of them. The age and overall condition of the car in question can often factor in to how flood damaged vehicles are categorised. 

Category A

Cars in this category are deemed to be so badly damaged that they are too dangerous to be put back on the roads, so much so that they cannot even have parts removed. Flood damaged cars that are Cat A have usually been fully submerged, often for some length of time. 

Category B

Cat B cars are similarly illegal to put back on the roads, and the body of the car must be scrapped. However, parts can legally be removed from the car for re-use or re-sale before it is scrapped. 

These types of flood damaged cars have typically suffered water ingress into the passenger or driver compartment, which has affected the safety of the mechanical or electrical systems. The water in question may have been corrosive (like saltwater), or else contaminated or polluted. 

Category S

Formerly known as Category C cars, the S stands for structural damage. It’s relatively rare for flood damaged cars to be classed in this category unless they’ve also suffered some form of physical impact along with their flooding. 

Category N

Formerly known as Category D cars, the N stands for non-structural damage. This means that the car was deemed uneconomical to repair (as the cost would be more than its total value), but Category N cars can theoretically be repaired and put back on the roads again. The seller should be explicit about what caused the car to be written off, and provide the buyer with details about the level of damage. However, the final responsibility lies with the buyer to ascertain the level of damage to the car. 

Category N flood damaged cars can sometimes be a viable option in the short term, as long as they’re not too heavily used, but they will need some professional attention before they can be properly relied upon. For this reason, it’s more common for professional mechanics to buy flood damaged cars than first-time buyers, or people looking for a new personal vehicle.

Who can buy flood damaged vehicles?

Theoretically, anyone can buy a Category N vehicle, as long as they’re legally permitted to do so. Some auction houses and similar organisations require purchasers of Category B cars to hold a licence before they can do so, though. Category A cars are rarely bought at all, since by definition they can provide no reasonable value to anyone. 

As we touched upon a moment ago, as a general rule flood damaged cars are mostly bought by professional mechanics, so that they can fix them up and ‘flip’ them for a quick profit. While our own listings are designed to provide helpful key information at a glance, it’s never a bad idea to do your own research on a vehicle you intend to buy, especially if you know for a fact that it’s flood damaged. 

Good questions to ask before you buy a flood damaged car

Amongst the questions it’s a good idea to ask first is: how deeply was the car submerged? And also: how long was it actually submerged for? Most flood damaged cars end up with rust and corrosion, but if it was only briefly wading through shallow water, then the electronics and engine components may well have survived. If it was deeper water, though, it could signal unpredictable damage that might occur further down the road. What’s more, the longer it was underwater, typically the greater the damage. 

If you can, it’s not a bad idea to ascertain what kind of water was involved. Saltwater is more aggressive than freshwater, as it’s more corrosive - potentially resulting in more damaged. Whatever the case, when you’re buying a flood damaged car, the understanding is that you’re assuming substantial financial risk for any repairs that may be necessary - either that, or you’re making the repairs yourself. 

It’s worth doing a vehicle check as soon as you can physically see the car. The best thing to check first is the electrics - namely, the lights and electric windows, to make sure they all function as they’re supposed to. Next, look for any signs of damp and rust - if there is any rust or corrosion, it should ideally be in line with the age and mileage of the car. Finally, check the starter motor - just to be sure. After that, feel free to use your own intuition, professional or otherwise! 

Can I get insurance for a flood damaged car?

You can, as long as you’re upfront about the nature and severity of the damage. This is true whether it’s a currently insured vehicle which has just suffered flood damage, or a used vehicle or salvage car you’ve just bought from auction. You’ll need to provide details of the damage caused from the original claim. Plus, if you’ve got receipts from the original repair work done on the vehicle, it helps to have those to hand too. 

Whether you’re looking for a car to fix up and sell on, or a new motor to repair and use yourself, here at RAW2K you’ll find no shortage of options! Our online car auctions feature a wide range of vehicles from leading manufacturers including BMW, Renault and Vauxhall, and we refresh our auctions on a daily and weekly basis. Why not take a look around, and see what you can find?