AA Insurance has warned that the used car market could be swamped with flood-damaged cars following the extreme weather of recent weeks.

Estimating that insurers could be facing claims for up to £40 million for cars written-off by recent weather, the broker says that cars which have been immersed in water may seem undamaged but can store up potentially fatal faults.

AA Insurance director Michael Lloyd says he is concerned that while insurers go to stringent efforts to dispose of flood-damaged cars and ensure that they don’t reach the open market, many others could be sold on.

“Catalytic converter and exhaust system life can be seriously reduced, wheel bearings could seize, brakes can be affected and alternator and starter motors could fail,” he said.

“In addition, water can seriously affect electrical and electronic systems including the airbags, which might go off unexpectedly – or not deploy when they should.

“A car that has been driven through water which has found its way through the air intake and in to the engine, will cause irreparable damage to the engine so cars so affected are also likely to be written off.”

Mr Lloyd believes some owners whose vehicles once dried out may appear undamaged could simply sell their cars on without making an insurance claim and thus avoid losing their no-claim bonus.

“Buyers should beware buying from private vendors as they may have no come-back when problems later emerge,” he added.

“Buying from a reputable outlet such as AA Cars will help reduce the risk that vehicles sold have a watery history.”

AA offers some simple steps to help identify cars offered for sale that might have been involved in floods:

Tips to spot a flood-damaged car:

  • If a used car has the windows open it may be to let out the smell of damp. Feel the carpets – and if the interior smells of air-freshener, it may be hiding something worse
  • If the windows are seriously condensated, it’s likely that there is significant moisture inside the car.
  • Take the oil filler cap off and check underneath the cap. If there is a whitish, mayonnaise-like deposit (emulsified oil) under the cap, there is water in the engine.
  • Start the engine and turn the heater blower on to the windscreen. If the glass immediately steams up and takes a long time to clear, there is moisture in the system. The air may also have an unpleasant odour.
  • Check to see if air bag warning light works. The system does a self-check when you switch on the ignition. The light should go off after a few seconds. If the light doesn’t come on or doesn’t go off, there is a fault. If the air bag electronics have been submerged they may fail when needed or unexpectedly go off while driving.
  • See if there is water trapped in the car light clusters (rock the car and if water is present, you’ll see water moving within the red rear filter for example)
  • If the car is simply a category C insurance write-off (rather than a category A or B which means the car is too dangerous to be allowed back on the road) this should be recorded on the V5C registration document.