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cars in flood AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Automobiles and water are not friends. Sure, yes, there are quite a few brave off-roaders who purposefully ford streams and climb waterfalls, but that’s not what one would consider the rule in the automotive world.

Floodwaters can cause significant damage to vehicles. Whether due to natural disasters or a man-made whoopsie, a flooded vehicle can be a really big problem. Take a look at what you should do if your car suffers flood damage.

Step 1: Avoid Floods

This step may be easier said that done. Did you know that every U.S. state has areas where flooding is possible? Did you also know that some types of auto insurance do not cover a flooded car or water damage?

You may think “I’ll never encounter a flood at my home,” and you may be right. But, a random flash flood caused by a sudden heavy downpour, clogged sewers, or even a poorly-drained parking lot could cause you to not only eat those words, but the expenses of repairs, too.

If you see a lot of water on the road, do not attempt to drive through. Seriously. It takes as little as six inches of water to cause you to lose control of your car, and just two feet of water will cause a 3,000-pound vehicle to float.

Should you find yourself in a car that is floating away in floodwaters, your goal should be to leave the car and seek higher ground. If the car becomes submerged, wait for the vehicle to fill completely with water before attempting to open a door. This allows water pressure to reach equal levels inside and outside.

Step 2: The Drying Process

If you find yourself with a flood-damaged vehicle, all may not be lost. There are a few things you can do to attempt to restore a flooded car.

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Do not attempt to start it unless you are an experienced mechanic. If there is water in the engine or electrical system, attempting to start the engine could create even more problems.

One way to check for water in the engine is to look at the dipstick. If there are water droplets on the dipstick, absolutely do not attempt to start your engine. Water and oil don’t mix, especially not in the combustible atmosphere of an engine. Another thing to inspect is the water level versus the air intake system. Water in the air filter is pretty much a guarantee that there’s water in your engine, and again, that’s bad.

Instead, start with the interior and work your way to the electric components. Use a wet-dry vacuum to remove any standing water from the carpeting and upholstery, along with towels and fans if necessary to speed up the process. Mold and mildew are a real concern, beyond that funky musty smell. Many of the materials used in modern interiors are great at holding water, which can not only make the car unpleasant, but add to the overall cost of repairs.

Step 3: Contact Your Insurance Company

Generally speaking, brief exposure to flood waters won’t cause a vehicle to be a total loss, but it can take up to 90 days to discover the full effects of prolonged flood damage, especially in the computer-operated electrical components.

That doesn’t mean you want to wait 90 days to contact your auto insurance company. You can file an insurance claim right away.

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Whether or not your insurance covers the damage to your vehicle depends on your policy. If you have comprehensive insurance, then situations like flood, hail, vandalism, animal collision, and theft are covered. There is a deductible associated with comprehensive coverage, which means a portion of the total the car insurance company will pay for repairs will be reduced by that amount. You can review, add, or change your insurance policy, including comprehensive coverage and deductibles, at any time by contacting your insurance agent or company.

Step 4: Assess Everything

That being said, it’s important to be extremely thorough once an insurance claim has been filed. You’ll want to document the date of the flooding, and make note of the highest water line. This may correspond with any damage to mechanical components.

Your insurer will likely urge you to visit a certified technician to examine your vehicle. You’ll want to make sure that the engine, transmission, axles, brake and fuel system are all thoroughly checked out. Not only could they be actively damaged by the flood water, but this damage could lead to future corrosion, which we all know is the enemy of vehicles everywhere.

It’s also a great idea to flush and refill oil and transmission fluid. Brake systems, power steering, and components of the fuel system will all need to be assessed as well.

What Do I Do if My Flooded Vehicle Is Considered a Total Loss?

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do with it. You should receive a salvage title, which essentially means that the car has been totaled out by an insurance company and is no longer deemed drivable.

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There are gearheads out there who would be happy to purchase a salvaged flood car for some project or another, but bear in mind, this will be connected to the vehicle identification number, and will appear on the vehicle history report. This is also another reason why it’s not a bad idea to tap into the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System when purchasing a used vehicle.

Flood damage is never good news, but it may not be the worst situation ever. Some flood-damaged vehicles can get back on the roads after repairs are completed, no worse for the wear. Others still need to find a new career.

Whenever high waters strike your town, be cautious with your vehicle, and avoid floodwaters. But, if the waters come to you, be sure to connect with your auto insurance company to figure out the best next steps, and always get your car completely checked out before you try to start it.

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