These simple steps will save you time and money when Mother Nature wrecks your car.

When your car or truck is damaged by a storm or fire, don’t panic and feel completely stranded. Even the most prepared car owners can be caught off guard by a fast-moving storm, one that brings with it flash floods and surges of water that inundate entire neighborhoods. Highly damaging hail and rapidly spreading fires can also strike, often with little to no warning, and cause serious damage to your vehicle.

“Most people carry comprehensive coverage on the automobiles, so you should definitely call your insurer if you have damage from perils other than a collision,” says Lynne McChristian, a representative with the Insurance Information Institute. “Comprehensive coverage is protection that does not involve another car, such as damage from fire, explosion, flood, hail, or a tree falling on your car.”

When the worst happens, what are the most important steps to take when it comes to talking with your insurance company? Here are five key pieces of advice to make certain you know what to tell your insurer when your vehicle is damaged by a high winds, flooding, or fire and smoke:

  • Call your insurance company as soon as possible, to give an accurate and detailed account of what happened. If the problem is sizable, such as a major hurricane or a large forest fire, your insurer might already have a dedicated disaster relief program in place. This could help expedite your claim.

  • If it’s safe to do so, try to locate your vehicle and make a quick assessment of its general condition. Is the car severely damaged? Does the vehicle appear to be drive-able? This doesn’t mean doing an exhaustive top-to-bottom check, that can come later and is best done by a professional insurance adjuster and expert mechanic.

  • Try to take photos and video to document any damage to your car or truck. Take detailed notes, too. This can be especially valuable when something seems wrong, but it’s not visible in a photo. This could include a strong smell of smoke in the interior following a fire, or perhaps wet carpeting after a serious flood. Relay this information to your insurance company, to ensure no detail is overlooked or forgotten. After all, you might be dealing with lots of other issues at the same time, such as flooding or fire damage to your home or workplace. These detailed photos and notes will be extremely useful in both the near- and long-term, particularly if the vehicle is a total loss.

  • If you have any doubt about whether your vehicle was damaged in a storm or fire, leave it parked and don’t drive it until an insurance adjuster arrives. Something like hail-storm damage will be easy to spot, since it leaves visible damage like dents and scratches on the bodywork. Flooding and fire damage can be much harder to determine without a thorough inspection, however. This is especially true if the car has been sitting for several days, or even a few hours, following an incident. Put safety first and don’t risk driving a car that could be hiding serious problems.

  • Be patient and understand that an insurance company might be inundated with similar claims, particularly following a large-scale disaster such as a hurricane or wildfire. There can be hundreds or even thousands of vehicles wrecked by a single fire or flood, so be prepared for it to take a few days to get an accurate assessment of your situation. Help is coming to get you back on your feet and on the road again.


Learn More: Does FEMA Provide Support for Storm and Fire Damaged Vehicles?

Learn More: 3 Things to do with a Storm or Fire Damaged Vehicle

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