When you see TV newscasts from flooded areas, you’ll almost always see images of vehicles half-covered with water. Flood damage is rarely expected but can be very detrimental to a vehicle. Vehicles that have been even partially submerged in water can develop damaged mechanical, electrical and computerized components that can make the car unsafe.
Even if you can’t immediately tell that your car has suffered internal damage due to flooding, serious problems can emerge later. That’s why it’s important to prevent flood damage if possible and repair any damage after the fact. Otherwise, you may find yourself driving down the road when components suddenly lock up or cause other safety problems.
Auto owners can take some preventive steps to help ensure that their current cars remain free from flooding—and to make sure a future vehicle hasn’t experienced flood damage either.
How to Protect Your Car from Flood Damage
If your area is expecting heavy rains or is at risk for flood, you may not be able to prevent damage to your home or other built properties. But your car is a different story. Because it has wheels and can be moved, you can try to get it away from the areas at risk. Start by parking the vehicle on high ground when storms are forecast, especially if you live in a low-lying area. If you don’t, and the car experiences flood damage, driving it to high ground (or anywhere else) may become impossible.
Even if your car isn’t covered with water on the outside but has even a few inches of standing water on the inside, it can become damaged. When you’re not using the vehicle, always keep windows, doors and sunroofs shut tightly, and especially when inclement weather is expected.
If you live in an area that is prone to flooding, consider installing a pump or drainage system in your garage. That way, if the water rises outside, it won’t pool in your garage subjecting your vehicle to lasting water damage.
How to Identify Flood Damage in a Used Car
When you’re shopping for a used car, one of the things to look for is the evidence of water damage. If the car is dry and cleaned when you first encounter it, flood damage may not be evident—but there are some telltale signs if you know what to look for.
First, conduct a sniff test. Sniff for unusual odors, such as mold from mildew buildup. If the car sat in water for a period of time, there may be lasting odors. (Keep in mind that a strong odor of air freshener could be an attempt to cover up the smell of mildew or mold.)
In addition, look underneath the vehicle for evidence of rust or flaking metal. This may be more evident on the car’s undercarriage, as the upper parts of the vehicle may have been painted after the water damage occurred. Also, check the vehicle’s carpeting for discoloration, which could happen if the vehicle sat in water for a period of time. And look thoroughly for evidence of water buildup; for instance, you may find a water line in the trunk or fogged-inside headlights.
You can also purchase a vehicle history check from the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, which usually costs less than $15. That report will provide you with title records from each state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, as well as salvage and insurance total loss records and accident records.
If the vehicle you’re considering does have flood damage, that doesn’t necessarily have to be a deal breaker. But it’s very important to know what you’re getting into, find out what has been done to repair the damage, and get a complete inspection and recommendation from a trusted mechanic.
What to Do if You Have Vehicle Flood Damage
If your current vehicle has been through a flood, take steps to mitigate the damages and correct potential problems if possible. First, dry out the vehicle as quickly as possible.
As soon as the car is dry, check for internal damage or hire a mechanic to do so. For instance, if you see water droplets on the oil dipstick, that probably means there’s water in the engine, which would mean the cylinders are broken. Change the oil and transmission fluid.
In most cases, you will need a certified mechanic to assess the damage to your vehicle and prescribe the appropriate corrections and repairs. Of course, this can be a costly endeavor, and many auto owners are unsure of whether their auto insurance policy will cover the damage and repairs needed. If you have comprehensive coverage on your auto insurance policy, it will usually cover flood damage. Contact your auto insurance company to report the damage and file a claim.