What to Do If Your Car Is Flooded: A Step-by-Step Guide

Avoid Lasting Damage and Get the Coverage You Deserve

A torrent of storms has battered large swathes of the Southeastern U.S. and Caribbean over the past month, leaving millions of dollars’ worth of property damage in their wake. Thousands of cars were submerged in water for so long that their engines, cabins, and electrical systems incurred damage beyond repair.

If your area has been flooded, you’ll need to pay special attention to your car. If it’s immersed in water more than halfway up its wheels, or if you see a line of mud and debris indicating that the water had reached that height, you’ll need to take certain precautions.

Don’t Start Your Car

First, don’t try to start your car. Turning the key when water is in the engine could cause further damage, rendering your car unusable.

Evaluate the Damage

If the floodwaters were more than a few feet deep, you should check your car for water damage as soon as it’s safe to do so. First look at the depth of the water – or for evidence of a water line left by mud and debris – surrounding your car. The water level can reveal much about your car’s condition. Water that didn’t rise above the bottom of the doors is unlikely to have caused significant damage. If the water reached the bottom of the dashboard, your insurance company will likely consider the car totaled.

Review Your Insurance Policy

If you have a comprehensive policy that covers fire and theft, it’s likely that your insurance plan will cover flood damage, too. But be sure to read it thoroughly to understand what it will and will not repair or replace. Call your agent, who will work with you to determine how to proceed. At the repair shop, remember that your policy likely covers most repairs, from engines to floor mats.

Start Cleaning

The longer your car stays submerged in water, especially if it’s salt water, the higher the chances of corrosion. As soon as the storm has cleared and it’s safe to go outside, go to your car and begin the drying process. Drying the interior quickly will help prevent mold.

Open the car’s doors and windows to air it out, and get a towel to mop up the water in the cabin. Dry the remaining fluid on the carpet and upholstery with a wet/dry vacuum. If possible, bring the seats and cushions outside to dry. Fans and dehumidifiers can help speed the process.

Manage the Odor

Note that you’ll probably need to replace any interior components that were immersed in flood water, including floor mats, upholstery, door panels, and carpets. Lingering mold can cause its own problems, rendering your car unsafe to drive.

Deodorize your car with baking soda and a sponge before putting any of its components back inside.

Check the Oil

You can assess much of the damage your car has suffered by looking under the hood. Check the oil level first for signs of engine damage. Water droplets on the dipstick indicate a potential problem. If you see this, don’t try to start the car. The droplets mean that water may have gotten into your engine. If you turn the key, the cylinders – which are built to handle air, not water – will break. Instead, have it towed to a mechanic who can remove the water from the engine. The fuel tank will need to be emptied completely.

Assess the Rest

Storm water can affect more than the engine, so you’ll need to test your car’s electrical components for damage. Try the headlights, power locks, turn signals, windows and seats, air conditioning, interior lights, and stereo. Any part that seems to function differently than it did before the flood indicates potential electrical trouble. If you detect a problem, bring the car to a mechanic. Check your brakes, power steering, coolant reservoirs, and clutch for damage, too. If you have an older model, check your fuel system for signs of flood damage.

Await the Decision

An insurance agent will evaluate your car to decide whether it can be repaired or if it will need to be replaced. They’ll weigh the value of the vehicle against the cost of the repairs. If fixing it costs more than it’s worth, they’ll deem it totaled. The agent will take photos of the damage to accompany your insurance claim.

Weigh Your Options

If repair costs outweigh buying a replacement, you might need to start thinking about buying another car. If you’re buying used, browse used car listings and proceed cautiously. Before you buy, be sure to get a vehicle history report, which provides a comprehensive backstory on the car. It will give you its sales and ownership history, odometer reading, and repair records, as well as the most important piece of information of all: its title branding, which will say whether the car has been in an accident, flood, or fire.

If you’re satisfied with the report, take the car to a mechanic for a third-party inspection before any money leaves your hands.