Hurricane Ian has caused countless problems in that regard. It is important to know how to identify a car with flood damage and why that can be extremely dangerous
Every hurricane goes away leaving hundreds of victims and millions of dollars in property damage. In the USA, Ian and Ida are only two recent examples; the latter has damaged around 212,000 cars according to Carfax. As you can imagine, natural disasters pose a dilemma for car owners to solve. They have to assess the car’s damage, identify what resources they have to deal with it, and use the most affordable one.
Unfortunately, the first piece of good advice in this topic is that flood damage is rarely worth recovering. This article is going to take you through the multiple ways in which such events can affect your car. Then, it compiles what you can do to protect yourself when looking for a used car. After all, after learning about those issues, we are sure you will not want to buy a car with such damage. Let us give it a closer look.
What is car flood damage?
In short, it happens when the car is surrounded by a large quantity of water. The higher its level, the more water will effectively enter the car in every possible way. In fact, when enough water gets inside, there is a strong possibility that the car will float. That makes the whole situation even more dangerous. The car can move in an uncontrollable way, which will lead to crashes. But let us stay on the topic of flood damage.
Intensive contact with dirty water damages the body paint and might even make the sheetmetal rust over time. When it enters the cabin, it creates mold and the subsequent odor, and may deposit dirt on all gaps between trim parts. Last, but not least, having water enter mechanical components is the worst that could happen. It makes them rust, contaminates all engine fluids, and renders the engine simply inoperable.
In some cases, it is possible to quickly drain that water and minimize the flood damage. However, they are rare. In practice, disasters like that cause severe and complex damage. Insurers consider it unrepairable or, at least, more expensive to repair than the car’s value. Because of that, it is not recommendable to buy a car with flood damage under any circumstances. Buyers should be attentive in order to avoid those cars.
How to detect a flood damaged car?
First of all, contact your local department of motor vehicles. It usually has a national database where such issues must be documented. There are cases when the owner does repair flood damage in a way that the car becomes safe to use again. And we are going to cover that in the next section. Regardless, whatever is done to the car must be formally registered so future owners can be informed of its overall condition.
When it comes to the car itself, looking and sniffing around goes a long way. Flood damage causes more rust than usual for the car’s age and causes it in unusual regions. There may be discoloring on sheetmetal, carpets, and upholstery. Sand and dirt are difficult to clean especially in crevices and panel gaps. And the car will either have a strong mold odor or a strong smell of cleaning products to disguise all that.
As if that was not enough, even more serious signs appear when you take a damaged car for a drive. Odd noises may come from the steering wheel or the brakes, for example, if they were affected by flood water. The electric (lights, windshield wipers etc.) and electronic devices (i.e. infotainment central, audio system) may have problems or simply stop working altogether. And there may be smoke coming from the engine.
How to deal with flood damage?
With all that in mind, the typical procedure is to declare a total loss. In that case, the insurance company pays the owner how much the car was worth at that time minus any deductible. Then, the car is issued a salvage title, so its condition is formally disclosed to anyone who may be interested. In practice, insurers resell those cars to salvage yards or rebuilding companies because regular drivers do not want them.
As mentioned before, it is always possible to try and repair the flood damage of a car. If the owner does a good job, they can insure and use the new car like any other. Anyone can recover salvage title cars too, of course, but it is usually difficult to insure them. They have gone through severe structural damage, so it is difficult to assess the risk of using them. You may have to pay for any accident repairs out of pocket.
It is extremely unfortunate to have our cars damaged by a flood. However, we have to admit that they are no longer safe to use. Owners must formally disclose that condition and let their insurers act accordingly. On the other hand, people who are looking for a new car must resist the temptation. Buying those cars is going to either demand an excessive repair investment or get you literally a life threat on four wheels.