Hurricanes leave a large swath of destruction in their wake. Automotive data firm Black Book says that Hurricane Harvey in 2017 destroyed as many as 1 million cars, according to USA Today, and many more incurred damage. Some flood-damaged cars are definitely fixable, which requires drying them out and making repairs before returning to the road again. Even if your insurance company has “totaled” your car, you may be able to reclaim it and complete the repairs but it won’t be easy or cheap. Here’s how to assess your vehicle.
Water Damage Assessment: Light, Moderate or Severe
Water brings life, but it can also bring destruction. During storms, water can invade the tiniest cracks, then settle in the lowest reaches of your car. Even small amounts of water can do significant damage, destroying carpeting, rusting metal parts and leaving behind dangerous mold that may spread undetected.
By answering the following three questions, you can determine whether to proceed with repairs on your flood-damaged vehicle or if you unfortunately have to say goodbye to it.
1. Was Your Car Fully Submerged?
If your car sat in water up to the bottom of the wheels, even for many days, the worse problem you’ll likely face is rotting tires and rusting wheels. However, if your car was submerged, water would have poured in through the vents and possibly through the sunroof, windows and trunk. Water in the engine bay and passenger compartment can pose a huge threat to your vehicle.
2. How Long Was It Immersed?
If you passed through high waters and quickly returned to firm ground, the amount of water taken in might be greatly limited. On the other hand, if your car sat for days or even just hours in water, the damage may be severe. Even an airtight car is no match for time and tide.
3. What Type of Water Did the Car Sit in?
Flood waters are never clean, but there is a big difference between muddy and salt water. Salt water is especially corrosive and nearly impossible to remove without fully rebuilding the car. Even if it seems your vehicle escaped relatively unscathed, rust may soon eat away your car from the inside out.
Step-by-Step Cleanup Instructions
Any damage incurred is a big deal. What you do when assessing your vehicle can make a difference. Have a camera or smartphone ready, because you’ll want to take photos for insurance purposes. A smartphone may be the best choice here, as that will allow you to upload your pictures to the cloud for safekeeping and easy retrieval later. While assessing your vehicle’s damage immediately after the flood, it helps to follow a few cleanup steps.
1. Have Your Vehicle Towed to Dry Land
You can’t accurately evaluate the problem if your car is still sitting in a pool of water. Get yourself to safety and call a tow to get your vehicle out of the flood waters.
2. Do Not Attempt to Start a Car That Was Once Submerged
According to Carfax, it’s likely that that water invaded the engine and transmission, destroying the lubricating properties of both, so do not, under any circumstances, attempt to start the vehicle. At the very least, you’ll be replacing the motor oil and transmission fluid. If the damage is more extensive, rebuilding both may be your only option. At this point, reaching out to your local NAPA AutoCare for further guidance may be the best approach.
3. Check Everything Else Under the Hood
Beyond the engine and transmission, wires, hoses and belts may need replacing. The problem may be much worse if you find damaged sensors or the core central processing unit destroyed. Again, once you have a rough idea of the damage, consult your local NAPA AutoCare for further guidance.
4. Examine the Safety System
Replace contaminated steering and brake fluid, flushing both. Examine brake pads, calipers, rotors and drums, cleaning out or replacing as necessary.
5. Clean out the Interior
Removing seats, carpeting and insulation may be the only way to dry the cabin. According to Popular Mechanics, it’s critical to start cleaning out as much water as possible, as soon as possible, to stave off mold and corrosion. Disconnect all electrical components, clear the vents and storage compartments, replace fuses and test all switches, knobs and buttons for workability. New car infotainment and navigation systems cannot handle water and are expensive to replace. Don’t forget to check the trunk!
6. Replace the Fuel
Most likely, water invaded the fuel tank. That means you’ll need to siphon the tank, recycle the old fuel and then refill. Start your car only after completing these steps.
The aftermath of hurricane damage can last for months, even years. But if your car is adequately insured — that is, if it has comprehensive coverage — then your repair or replacement costs may be covered, minus a deductible. The most important things are to get yourself and your vehicle to dry land and consult your trusted mechanic for guidance before attempting to repair or start it.
Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on flood-damaged cars, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.