10 Tips to Help You Avoid Vehicle Flood Damage

Nancy Mann Jackson

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.

Tips to Help 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.

1. Add Comprehensive Coverage to Your Insurance Policy

Comprehensive coverage can help cover your car when it’s damaged by fire, glass breakage, riots, deer, windstorms, hail, and other non-accident related claims. For example, say you get caught driving in a windstorm and a tree branch hits your window. This coverage can help pay for the damages. In most cases, this insurance also helps cover flood damage.

Adding comprehensive coverage to you policy, can be a costly endeavor, and many auto owners are unsure of whether their auto insurance policy will help cover the damage and repairs they need. For more information on what your policy covers, contact your auto insurance company.

2. Park Your Car on Higher Ground

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.

3. Keep Windows and Doors Tightly Shut

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.

4. Park in Garage

If you have a garage, park in it.  But that’s not all; 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.

Tips to Help You 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.

5. 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.)

6. Look 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.

7. Inspect carpeting for discoloration

The discoloration of the vehicle’s carpeting could happen if the vehicle sat in water for a period of time.

8. Check for evidence of water buildup

A water line in the trunk or fogged-inside headlights are a couple examples of evidence of water buildup.

9. Purchase a vehicle history check

A vehicle history check from the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System 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.

10. Beware of Salvage Titles

You probably already have a car dealer you trust. However, the next time you’re in the market for a car, you may want to take a closer look at your dealer.

Dealers around the U.S. have been taking in cars that have been previously totaled. How does this happen? First the salvage tagged cars are sold to wholesalers out of state.

These wholesalers are dealers who cannot sell vehicles to the general public. They can only sell them to car dealers.

The wholesalers that acquire these salvaged cars launder a fresh title to them that doesn’t reflect previously totaled damages. They then sell the cars to dealers who have no knowledge of the flood damage. This means that you should check with your dealer about their car sourcing. You can request that they inspect car’s you’re considering even further for damages caused by water.

What to Do if You Have Vehicle Flood Damage

If your current vehicle has been through a flood and you need to file a claim, take steps to mitigate the damages and correct potential problems if possible.

Step 1 Call Insurance Company

To file your claim, follow these steps:

  • Contact your insurance company.
  • Report the claim with your insurance company.
  • Track your car insurance claim. This can be done using either your claim number or personal information on your insurance company’s website.
  • Choose an auto repair shop. Many insurance companies offer preferred repair shops. These shops can be a good option because insurance companies generally back their work in the event of future problems.

Step 2 Dry out the vehicle as quickly as possible

As soon as the car is dry, in most cases, you will need a certified mechanic to assess the damage to your vehicle and prescribe the appropriate corrections and repairs. 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.

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