The Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas has transformed into a parking lot of sorts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The sprawling race track is now the temporary home for hundreds of vehicles pulled from the floodwaters.

The Insurance Council of Texas said 150,000 claims for flood damage to cars have already been made and they expect that number to grow to around half a million.

Many of the cars will be declared a total loss but those that are not totaled may very well end up on the market for sale.

“The ones that get pulled out of the water that get sold to individuals could hit the market within a week or so of the damage,” said David Mullins, the general sales manager at Autos of Dallas.

According to Mullins, the larger used car dealerships like Autos of Dallas inspect vehicles for damage before purchasing and reselling them. But he says buyers should beware when purchasing a car from smaller dealers or individuals on Craigslist.

“As far as vehicles that have minor flood damage, there are no laws regarding disclosure so those are the vehicles that will get into the market quicker and easier.”

Even without the added disaster of Hurricane Harvey, both Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth ranked in the top 5 cities with flooded vehicles on the road according to data from Car Fax. Across the nation, the data shows more than 300,000 flooded cars are now once again being driven on the road.

Not only do those selling the flood-damaged cars clean up obviously visible signs of the damage but some might even take steps to clean the vehicle’s documented history.

“They can do what is called ‘washing the title,’” said Mullins. “Regulations in Texas are more stringent than in other states so they can go to other states and wash the title where it will not have flood damage showing.”

The naked eye might not pick up on signs of flood damage to a vehicle and it may run well initially. But there are a number of issues which could lead to buyer’s remorse later.

“Later in the cycle of the vehicle, electronics can get rusted and there will be electronic problems down the road. It might be six months to a year but electronics start rusting and the engines could be damaged.”

And Mullins said that is not even considering possible health issues.

“The water flooding these cars in Houston are toxic. They have chemicals in them, raw sewage, all kinds of thing that could cause mold problems, disease and all kinds of things you do not want to expose your family to.”

Autos of Dallas said anyone buying a used car from an individual or unreputable sellers should use sources like Car Fax to check the vehicle’s history and have a Pre-Purchase inspection done by a professional.

Other telltale signs can be odd smells and dirt build up in unusual areas like the trunk, gas cap, or engine bay. Signs of rust or aging in the undercarriage, under the dashboard, and beneath the seats.

Car Fax also has tips for how to spot flood damage on a vehicle.

Cities with the most flooded vehicles 2016 (Source: Car Fax)

  1. Houston – 19,314
  2. New York – 15, 722
  3. Philadelphia 11,898
  4. Dallas/Ft. Worth – 9,896
  5. Chicago – 9,524

Tips for finding flood damage on vehicles (Source: Autos of Dallas)

1. Check the vehicle history

2. Be alert to odd smells

3. Look for heavy or unusual staining on carpets, seats, doors and headliner

4. Check for signs of water damage under dash and seats, in trunk

5. Be suspicious of heavy dirt build up in unusual areas

6. Check undercarriage for evidence of rust or premature aging

7. Look at gas cap door and filler area

8. Have a Pre-Purchase Inspection done by a professional prior to purchase