Floods can happen anywhere, and they can be devastating to almost any vehicle. Vehicles are full of complex moving parts, and the water can damage not only the aesthetics of the vehicle, but also its functionality, creating a safety hazard and plummeting its value.
In light of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which collectively damaged more than one million cars, it’s even more important to be aware of the damage floods can do to your car—and how to respond.
Preventing Flood Damage
Your first and best course of action is to try and prevent water from ever damaging your vehicle in the first place:
- Avoid frequently flooded locations. Though this is more feasible a task for some than others, try to avoid living in areas that are frequently flooded, such as those prone to hurricanes or heavy rainfall.
- Evacuate during flood warnings. No matter how severe the weather alerts are, some people are tempted to ignore them; don’t be one of those people. If you hear that your area may become flooded, take the warning seriously and leave.
- Park your vehicle on high ground. If you can’t leave, or if you move to an area that’s still under threat, make sure your vehicle is parked on high ground. This should allow you to avoid the worst of the flooding.
- Get a good insurance policy. Not all car insurance policies cover flood damage, so make sure your policy is comprehensive—especially if you live in an area prone to flooding. Ask your insurance agent about your policy if you’re in doubt, and consider paying the extra money to upgrade.
How to Respond to a Flooded Vehicle
No matter how well you prepare, your car could still be vulnerable to flood damage. Fortunately, even if your car has taken on significant water damage, there’s a good chance it can be recovered. Here’s what to do if your car’s been flooded:
- Avoid starting the vehicle. First and foremost, avoid starting the vehicle. If there’s any water in the engine, starting your car will cause even more damage — and might even pose a risk to you. For now, leave it where it is.
- Allow as much airflow as possible. Your first priority should be to remove as much water as possible, as quickly as possible from the vehicle. The longer the water sits, the more damage it’s going to cause. Open all your doors and/or windows if you can, and remove any standing or excess water you can see. If you have a wet/dry vacuum cleaner, consider using it to remove moisture; otherwise, create as much airflow as possible. Open the hood and the trunk as well, and leave the vehicle like this for as long as you can.
- Change all fluids. Once your vehicle has dried out for some time, you can work on the interior. If any water intermingles with essential fluids, like oil or gasoline, it will cause significant problems for the engine. Start by draining all these fluids, and replace them with new material.
- Change or dry all spark plugs. Spark plugs can be another hidden source of moisture that causes problems for your engine. Remove all your spark plugs, and either dry them thoroughly or replace them.
- Thoroughly clean the interior. Once that’s done, you’ll want to give the interior a thorough cleaning. Even if the seats and flooring seems mostly dry, you’ll want to shampoo and/or professionally clean the interior to prevent musty odors and further deterioration over time. This is an essential step if you plan on selling the car.
Even with all these steps, it’s possible that your vehicle may be totaled. If too much damage is done to the engine before you’re able to take action, the vehicle may never run properly again. The value of your car will also deteriorate significantly once it’s taken on flood damage, so keep that in mind if you plan to sell it. Prevention is the best way to mitigate your costs here, so try to think as far ahead as possible.