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Flood-damaged cars: Your top questions answered

Here's the most important advice to have immediately following a flood that affects your vehicle.

flooded carsAm I covered for flood damage to my car?

Only if you have comprehensive coverage, which insures you for the things that happen to your car other than collision, such as fire, theft and floodwaters. Your deductible will be due.

If your car insurance only covers liability, you are not insured for floods or floodwater and will have to pay out of pocket for repairs.

Is flood damage repairable? Is my car worth fixing?

Everything is repairable, for a price, but your insurance company won't pay for repairs if they are past the threshold the insurer has established for totaling out a vehicle.

In general, water that goes past the floorboards -- into the areas where electronics begin -- will mean the car could be determined a total loss, but your insurance company will make that determination. You can dry a car completely and still have musty odors, silt in the seats and carpets, and electrical issues. If you drove into a flooded area, you may have taken water into the engine.

Depending on how much water entered your car -- and where -- your vehicle may have suffered severe damage. Major flooding can lead to trouble with the engine, electrical system, air bags or other major car components may be damaged or compromised. Minor flooding can lead to rust, mold and other issues.

Your insurance company will likely try to fix your vehicle if it appears to have only minor damage, but once the mechanic opens it up more damage will be found,and the car is totaled out. Listen to the mechanic about if the car should be fixed or not.  If he says it shouldn't and your car wasn't totaled out, go back to the insurance company.

What if I owe more than my car is worth?

Floods are no different than any other insurance; your car insurance company will pay you only the car’s actual cash value. If you’re upside-down on your loan, meaning you owe more than the vehicle is worth, gap coverage would cover the difference, if you have it.

If your car is totaled, be prepared to negotiate with your insurance company about the value of the vehicle. If it is very bad condition after the flood, showing pictures of what it looked like before (the better condition before the better the payout). 

My car is flooded. What should I do?

Here is what the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) recommends:

  • Do not start a flooded vehicle until a thorough inspection and cleaning is performed.  Starting the car with water in the engine could cause more damage.
  • Take immediate steps to dry the vehicle as much as possible so as to reduce the length of time vehicle components are exposed to water. Get the vehicle towed to higher ground if floodwaters are receding.
  • Remove all moisture from the car if the interior got wet.  Use a wet/dry vacuum to take out any standing water and towels to try to absorb water soaked into the seats and carpet. Remove seats if possible and use fans to quicken the drying process.
  • Contact your insurance company or agent and promptly report the exposure of your vehicle to water or flood.
  • Record the highest level of water exposure on a flooded vehicle. This will aid qualified technicians in evaluating and taking the necessary steps to correct any damage.
  • Contact a certified technician to arrange for an inspection and evaluation of all mechanical components, including the engine, transmission, axles, brake and fuel system for water contamination.
  • Flush and replace all fluids, oils and lubricants, and replace all filters and gaskets for components exposed to water. While a vehicle may drive with fluids that have experienced water intrusion, extended internal exposure to water will increase the level of damage to the engine and other vehicle components.
  • Many repair facilities recommend a thorough cleaning of brake parts and repacking of bearings, particularly for rear-drive vehicles. In front-wheel-drive vehicles, bearings are sealed.
  • Some of today's vehicles have padding and insulation that do not easily release moisture. In this situation, it is most effective to replace the materials to prevent the forming of mold or mildew that may contaminate the entire vehicle. With mildew, a repair that may have cost only $100 can easily escalate.
  • Have a qualified technician inspect all wiring and electrical components exposed to water. While many components are protected from casual water exposure, extended flood exposure may have lingering effects. In some instances, difficulty due to water exposure will not surface earlier than 90 days, when computer and other electrical components begin to corrode.

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