Flood Damaged Cars

AAA Auto Repair Article
By AAA Automotive
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Heavy rain, rapidly melting snow, rising rivers, and breaches in levees or dikes can cause vehicle flood damage and the need for difficult and expensive auto repairs. Once floodwaters rise above the vehicle door openings, extensive disassembly may be required for cleaning. To avoid causing additional problems, never attempt to start a flood-damaged car until a thorough vehicle inspection has been performed by a qualified technician.

Depending on the vehicle year, make and model, the cost of repairing flood damage can easily exceed a car’s value. When dealing with an automobile that has been in a flood, the first step should be to contact your insurance company (provided you have comprehensive coverage) for help in determining the best course of action.
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In addition to the obvious damage it does to upholstery and carpeting, floodwater is a corrosive and abrasive mixture of water and dirt that works its way into every seam and crevice of a vehicle. Sewage and chemical contaminants may also be present in floodwater, and in coastal areas salt water from ocean storm surges can increase the possibility of vehicle damage and costly auto repairs. Even if a car is mechanically safe to drive, sanitary concerns could make it unwise for you to do so.

What To Look For

Obvious areas of concern when a vehicle has been in a flood are the engine, transmission and drivetrain, along with the fuel, brake and power steering systems. Unless contaminants are completely removed from these important components, increased wear and premature failure can result.

The electrical systems in modern cars are particularly prone to flood water damage. Engine control computers, vehicle sensors, infotainment systems, and other electronic devices – along with wiring harnesses and the many connectors that join them together – can be very difficult to salvage. Unless every part is thoroughly cleaned and dried, inside and out, problems caused by corrosion can crop up weeks or even months after the flooding.

Many parts of a car are challenging to clean and dry because they are hard to access. Door locks, window regulators, power seat motors, heating and air conditioning components, and many small parts are tucked away in enclosed areas or up under the dash. These items may work okay immediately following a flood, only to fail later due to contamination by dirty water.

Before attempting to start a flood-damaged car, a qualified technician should do three things:

  • Inspect mechanical components and systems that contain fluids for water contamination.
  • Drain floodwater from contaminated components and systems, flush with clean water or an appropriate solvent, and then refill systems with the proper new fluids.
  • Inspect, clean, and dry electrical system components and connections.
Cars With Salvage Titles

In many cases, insurance companies “total” flood damaged vehicles and sell them at auction. Instead of being disassembled for parts by salvage companies, some of these vehicles are purchased by people who restore them to operating condition – with varying levels of expertise – and resell them to unsuspecting consumers.

A flood-damaged car that has been totaled should have a “salvage” title, but some sellers use lax registration procedures in certain states to “launder” titles and eliminate the salvage branding. Buyers should also know that flood-damaged vehicles can be shipped anywhere for resale, and continue to appear in the marketplace for many months following major floods.

The best protection against buying a flood-damaged vehicle is a thorough pre-purchase inspection by a quality shop such as a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility. To find nearby locations, visit AAA.com/AutoRepair. The shop will look for common indicators of flood damage such as:

  • Damp and musty odors.
  • Carpet and upholstery that has been recently cleaned or replaced.
  • Dirt and dried mud under the dash, in the engine compartment, and in body cavities inside the trunk.
  • Rust or corrosion on the body and inside electrical connectors.
AAA also recommends that prospective buyers purchase a vehicle history report such as those available from CARFAX. While these reports cannot catch everything, they usually will indicate when a vehicle has been issued a salvage title, indicating a major problem in its past.


Finding Quality Auto Repair

AAA recommends that you plan ahead for vehicle service by finding an auto repair shop and technician you can trust before you need them. AAA.com/AutoRepair provides information on nearly 7,000 Approved Auto Repair facilities that have met AAA’s high standards for appearance, technician training and certification, insurance coverage and customer satisfaction. AAA regularly inspects every Approved Auto Repair facility and surveys their customers to ensure ongoing performance. In addition, AAA members receive special benefits that include auto repair discounts, an extended 24-month/24,000-mile parts and labor warranty, and AAA assistance in resolving repair-related issues.
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