November 9, 2022

An Estimated 350,000 Vehicles Were Severely Damaged in Hurricane Ian—Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection Warns Local Buyers to Beware of Getting One

An Estimated 350,000 Vehicles Were Severely Damaged in Hurricane Ian
A Florida National Guardsman views a car overcome by flood waters during evacuation efforts in a neighborhood flooded by the onslaught of Hurricane Ian in September. PHOTO: Valerie Wanzer/ Real Estate Professionals, S.E.

After hurricanes with large-scale floods—such as happened in Florida recently with Hurricane Ian—flood-damaged vehicles often end up at salvage auctions and bought by rebuilders. The vehicles should be marked as “salvage” or “total-loss” on the title, but every year, thousands of severely water-damaged vehicles are resold to unsuspecting consumers—often in different market areas. The Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) is warning local residents seeking to buy a used vehicle that they should take precautionary steps to avoid unknowingly purchasing one.

The Office of Consumer Protection says unscrupulous sellers know how to “wash” the titles and hide the damage. However, the damage caused by water will eventually impact the life of the vehicle.

OCP recently added to its staff automotive specialist Dave Elswick, an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)-certified investigator with 17 years of automotive technician experience. The ASE certification covers 28 areas of expertise and three master designations. He is available to help residents who think they might be buying, or have bought, a vehicle that was water damaged.

“The effects may not be immediate, but they are disastrous and dangerous when they appear,” said Investigator Elswick. “Issues such as mold, corroded and damaged wiring, corroded control units, damaged airbags and rusted interior components present serious safety issues. In addition to the safety issues with flooded vehicles is the cost of repairing them later. Rust and corrosion tend to take time to develop and mold also takes time to spread. What may seem like a great deal now could lead to a never-ending string of repairs, which makes detection the best protection.”

Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection Warns Local Buyers to Beware of Getting One
Dave Elswick, OCP's Automotive Investigations Expert

There are some steps OCP recommends used-vehicle purchasers should take before buying—especially if it seems they would be getting an extraordinary deal.

“It is estimated that more than 350,000 vehicles were damaged by the recent hurricane Ian,” said OCP Director Eric Friedman. “There is no telling how many of those will end up being resold across the country, but nonetheless, there are tools available to help purchasers avoid these well-disguised traps.”

OCP advises consumers to check online databases that identify flood-damaged vehicles. Free checks for flooded vehicles are available from Carfax, Inc. at its “Carfax Flood Check” website. Other available resources can be found at the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) website and at Experian’s service “AutoCheck.”

In using each of those services, OCP advises that it is important to have the vehicle identification number (VIN) to ensure obtaining the history on the actual vehicle being purchased. The VIN can be found on the left corner of the vehicle’s dashboard. It is visible through the windshield and can also be found on the panel inside the driver-side door.

Consumers who feel like they are being deceived in purchasing a flood-damaged vehicle can reach out to OCP for additional advice by calling 240-777-0311 or by sending an email to An OCP investigator can provide assistance.

For more information on how OCP helps Montgomery County consumers, visit OCP’s website at or view videos on its YouTube channel at