Tips for Dealing With a Flood-Damaged Vehicle

Hurricane Harvey damaged many of our cars, ushering in new problems amidst the already extensive damage. You may be wondering what to do next if your car has been damaged by hurricane flooding.

The first step in this process is to assess the damage to your car.  Because salt water is extremely dangerous to a car because it is rather corrosive, inspect the car as soon as it is safe.

Because there are quite a few things that can go wrong when examining flood-damaged vehicles, it is important to remember:

  • Don’t start your car after a flood. The water can damage the engine, which will be destroyed even more after starting. Get your vehicle to a mechanic.
  • If the flood damaged the car’s engine, starting the car could cause even more problems, which is why it is important to get a trusted mechanic to examine it. 
  • If water droplets are found in the oil dipstick, this could signal that the car’s engine is flooded, which means that, at the very least, the cylinders will need to be replaced, or the car could be severely damaged.
  • Engine cylinders are meant to compress air, not water.  If the engine cylinders are damaged, they will need to be replaced, while other corrosion from the flooding will need to be dealt with.
  • Clean transmission fluids will look redder in color, while dirty fluids will look like a deeper brown color.  Either way, the oil and transmission fluids should be changed immediately, and you should consult a trusted mechanic.
  • Siphon off some gas. Water and gas should separate naturally, so if you find water, you’ll need to drain all the gas from your car.
  • Cars are fitted with all different sorts of electronics, which don’t mix well with water at all. You should be wary of turning on the radio, raising or lowering the windows, or using any other electrical components of the vehicle.

After following these steps and examining the extent of the damage to the vehicle, you can then determine if it would be more beneficial to replace or repair the vehicle. Now is the time to bring your insurance company into the conversation.

Depending on your insurance coverage, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Auto insurance companies will only intervene if: you have comprehensive insurance and your policy was in place before the storm hit.
  • Insurance claims can be started by taking as many detailed photographs as possible of your damaged vehicle is best, especially the car’s interior, engine, and trunk, as well as any other damaged parts of the vehicle.
  • After your insurance company has been contacted, they will ask for as much information as you can give them.  Because the insurance company will likely be dealing with many other claims simultaneously, you will need to be patient as you wait for a response to your claim.
  • Working with an insurance company can take months following a huge disaster. At the end of everything, your car could still be considered a loss. Think about other options.

If your insurance plan will not cover your care, FEMA might be another avenue to explore.

While baseline insurance liability insurance will not cover flood damage that is sustained in a hurricane, comprehensive insurance is the only policy that will cover flood damage and the policy will only work if you had it in place before the storm.

If insurance will not cover your damaged vehicle, there are still other avenues to explore:

  • Nearly 25 percent of Texans live in places declared to be disaster zones, and thus qualify for FEMA assistance.  By connecting with this service, you could be eligible for government financial assistance. Please consider visiting DisasterAssistance.gov or call (800) 621-3362 for more information.
  • Applying for financial aid through the Small Business Administration (SBA) will offer low-interest loans for both homeowners and renters in natural disaster areas.  However, this requires contacting FEMA first.
  • Depending on your particular insurance plan, you may be able to cover any damage to your vehicle, if it was parked on your property at the time.
  • If all else fails, there is a market for damaged cars.  Local salvage yards may be interested in purchasing your car.  So, it might be worth calling around to compare prices, as well as to gauge interest.  This money could be used to purchase a better car or at least make a down payment on a different car.  

However, finding a new car may be easier said than done.  News reports have estimated that as many as 18 car dealerships in Texas have faced severe damages to thousands of their new cars.  Before buying a new car, have an inspector and a trusted mechanic take a look at the vehicle.  

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