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Coping with a

Flood-Damaged Car

Coping with a

A car damaged by floodwater should not be started until a thorough inspection and cleaning is performed.

"In addition to the obvious damage done to upholstery and carpeting, flood water is a corrosive and abrasive mixture of water and dirt that forces its way into every seam and crevice of an automobile," says John Milbrath, vice president of Automotive Services.

If the car has been submerged, it may be necessary to disassemble all mechanical parts for thorough cleaning and lubrication.

"Most vulnerable are the engine, transmission and other components of the drive train," says Milbrath. "Unless these vital parts are completely restored, contaminants from the flood water will cause premature wear and shorten the life of the vehicle."

Car owners should contact their insurance company to determine the extent of coverage before seeking repairs.

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

  • Inspect all mechanical components, including the engine, transmission, axles, brake system and fuel system for water contamination.
  • Drain floodwater from contaminated mechanical systems and flush with clean water or a solvent, as appropriate.
  • Drain and replace all contaminated fluids, such as oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, power-steering fluid and anti-freeze.
  • "The car's electrical system also is vulnerable to the damaging effects of flood water and water-sensitive components may need to be replaced," Milbrath says. "Engine computers and other electronic devices can sometimes be salvaged, but corrosion and oxidation can occur several weeks after the components are cleaned."

There are many parts of the car that are difficult to clean and dry because they are virtually inaccessible. Door locks, window regulators, wiring harnesses, heating and air conditioning components and many small devices are tucked away in hidden spaces. These items may fail at a later date because of contamination by dirty water.

"Total restoration of a flood-damaged car can be as extensive and expensive as restoring a classic car," Milbrath warns. "Compare the value of the vehicle to be restored to the cost of restoration before proceeding with flood-related repairs."

Car buyers in all parts of the United States should be aware that flood damaged vehicles can be shipped anywhere for resale and could be in the marketplace for many months. Having a vehicle inspected by a qualified technician and checking its title history will help determine whether it sustained flood damage.

A tell-tale sign of flood damage on new and used cars is the presence of dried mud on components under the hood. A damp or musty odor in the trunk is another warning sign. In older cars, new carpet and upholstery may indicate flood damage.