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Flood-damaged cars: Your top questions answered

What should you do if your car is flooded?  Here are the answers to readers top questions.

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. It covers you whether it floods around your car or if you drive through floodwaters. Your deductible will be due.

Comprehensive is optional coverage, typically sold in conjunction with collision, which is the other type of physical damage coverage. If you're making payments on your vehicle, your finance company will require you to carry collision and comp.

If you hydroplane and crash your car, this would instead be covered by collision.

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

Will my home insurance cover my flooded vehicle if it was parked at home when the damage was done?

No, your home insurance never covers your vehicles. Homeowner's insurance excludes coverage to your car and expect you to claim damages against your physical damage coverage if your vehicle sustains damage while at home, even if your car is harmed in a flood, fire, tornado, etc. Comprehensive auto insurance is what covers damage to your car by flood or other natural disasters.

Will a comprehensive claim raise my auto insurance rates?

According to Insure.com's rate analysis, a comprehensive claim only raises rates by an average of 3 percent, or $39 a year. Many companies do not raise your rates at all for one comprehensive claim. Before making a claim though, see how extensive the damage is. If it is relatively minor, you may want to get it checked out by a mechanic to make certain the damage will cost more than your deductible. There is no need to make a claim if repairs will cost less than deductible as your insurance benefits only kick in after the deductible has been met. If it's extensive damage to begin with or your mechanic "opens up" the car and finds major issues, make the claim.

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 if once the mechanic opens it up more damage is found the car may be 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 to discuss the situation. Even if your insurer thought the claim was paid out and there is "surprise" flood damage the mechanic finds, your insurer can amend the claim to reopen it.

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, try showing pictures of what it looked like before to get a better settlement amount (the better condition before the better the payout). 

My car is flooded. What should I do immediately?

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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