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Flood Damaged Vehicles - buyer's alert

Updated: May 20, 2021

It isn’t only residents of flood affected areas that should be cautious. Within days of being sold at salvage auctions, these vehicles could be anywhere in Australia, so it’s important to exercise great care in your used car purchase. Here are some tools to assist you.

National Written 0ff Vehicle Register

Designated vehicles* (i.e. those up to 15 years old, up to 4.5 tonnes, motorcycles, caravans, and certain trailers) that are written off for whatever reason must be recorded on the national Written Off Vehicle Register. These vehicles will be classified as either a Repairable Write Off or a Statutory Write Off.

  • Repairable Write Offs can be re-registered once they’ve passed a Written Off Vehicle Inspection, which deals primarily with the vehicle’s identity and the provenance of any parts used in the repair.

  • Statutory Write Offs can never be reregistered.

The Personal Property Security Register will list the known stolen and written off status of any vehicle you are considering. However, while this is an important first step, it is not a guarantee that the vehicle has not been flood affected. Vehicles that were more than 15 years old or uninsured at the time or that have had no insurance claim lodged will probably not be captured by the register.


Even if the PPSR check comes up clean, always have the vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic before you buy.

But before you do …..

Here are a few indicators that might help you identify a flooded car before you spend money on an inspection. But it isn’t an exhaustive list, or a substitute for a professional vehicle inspection. It’s only a preliminary guide to determining if the vehicle is worthy of a full, professional inspection.

Be aware that some of the indicators listed may have other explanations that don’t necessarily relate to flooding. Where appropriate, these alternatives are discussed.

Note also that a flooded vehicle will rarely have only one indicator, so you’ll need to look for and assess of all the indicators listed below.

  • Check for mud or silt under seats, behind the dash and in places such as inside the glove box, ashtray or other places that may have been overlooked during cleaning.

  • Look for corrosion in the spare wheel and boot wells.

  • Look for rusty tools in the tool pouch as this can easily be overlooked during cleaning.

  • Water damaged log books or service records are a giveaway, but will most likely be removed or replaced before sale. If books are missing or their condition appears inconsistent with the rest of the car question why.

  • Check the air filter element and inside the air cleaner housing and intake ducting for mud or silt that may indicate water has reached the engine.

  • Look for signs of corrosion on unpainted metal components such as under dash brackets, seat bases and hardware, and in under body and engine bay seam and joints.

  • Salt water exposure will show as a white, powdery corrosion on alloy components.

  • Look for green, powdery corrosion in electrical connectors. It may be necessary to carefully separate a connector to check for this.

  • Mud build up inside the chassis rails on utes and 4WDs or on under body components, such as suspension parts, can indicate flooding or it could suggest use on unsealed roads. You’ll need to consider all the evidence presented and make a decision about which one it is.

  • If the car has recently been exposed to flood water it can take some time for seats, carpets, and floor insulation to dry out. This is not positive proof of flooding as cleaning unrelated to flood damage can show up in the same way. However, if you see a vehicle with wet interior it should serve as a warning sign that requires further investigation.

  • The damp smell produced by flooding can be difficult to remove from carpets and trims, so be suspicious of any vehicle that has been treated with strong fragrances that could be an attempt to hide the odour.

*The written-off vehicle register captures information about written-off vehicles aged 15 years or less, including:

  • motor vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Mass up to and including 4.5 tonnes (t)

  • trailers with an aggregate trailer mass of 4.5t and over

  • motorbikes

  • caravans

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