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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 collisions. If you have only liability insurance, you are not insured for floods.

Is flood damage repairable? Is my car worth fixing? Everything is repairable, for a price. But 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. In general, water that goes past the floorboards -- into the areas where electronics begin -- will mean the car is totaled.

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, gap coverage would cover the difference, if you have it.

OK, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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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