How to spot flood-damaged trucks

Jill Dunn | August 09, 2011

Used truck experts say flood-damaged passenger vehicles are much more common on the market than flood-damaged trucks, but truck customers still should use caution.

Although shoppers should consider if the truck is for sale in an area that’s sustained flood damage, the truck could easily have been taken to another region to sell. Wherever you’re shopping, choosing a reputable used truck dealer is a good first step, say market experts.

One obvious thing to check is if the truck has a salvage title, says Dan Jeske, vice president of purchasing and wholesale for Kansas City-based Arrow Truck Sales. Still, truck owners do not always turn in a flood-damage claim to insurance, he added, in which case it would not have a salvage title. Also, not every state requires vehicle titles to indicate flood damage, says Brittany Senary, a spokeswoman for Progressive Casualty Insurance Co.

“At Progressive, we have very strict guidelines on flood vehicles,” Senary says. “If water reaches the dash, or engine, the vehicle is considered a total loss and we would not repair that vehicle.”

Some existing consumer services attempt to trace records of vehicles damaged in floods and accidents, or those reported as stolen, but focus primarily on passenger vehicles. “A new service being introduced at the Great American Trucking Show will concentrate on commercial trucks,” says James Vogel, general manager of RigDig. RigDig will be the only service for used vehicle customers that’s for over-the-road trucks only. More information will be available at RigDig.com during GATS, which opens Aug. 25.

As for on-site inspections, buyers should look for a waterline on the truck, much like what you would see in a house with flooded drywall. That might be “caked mud high on the vehicle where water may have been pooled for some time and a mildew smell from the interior,” says Frank Scafidi, a former OTR owner-operator who’s now public affairs director for the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Also, much like a cell phone dropped in water, a flooded truck’s electronic and computer components could be partially malfunctioning, indicating water damage, Jeske says. So it’s a good idea to check all components that could have been flooded, advises Bill McClusky, business consultant for ATBS, an owner-operator financial services company.

Get the engine, transmission and differential housing fluids analyzed, which may cost $100 to $125, McClusky says. “If all show high rust content, then that could be a red flag,” he says. Buying an after-market warranty is unlikely to help with flood damage, he adds.

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