Is It Safe to Drive a Car that Was Flooded?
Whether it’s a slow-moving hurricane or some freak thunderstorm that rapidly turns your driveway or garage into a murky swamp, heavy rains and flash flooding can wreak havoc on your car or truck. Even a high-riding SUV isn’t immune to the dangers and costly repairs caused when a wall of water rushes into your home or workplace.
The main concern is that unless your vehicle has been completely deluged, it’s hard to know how extensive the damage might be. Is it only cosmetic, and is the car safe to drive? Or is the damage more severe than it appears at first glance?
We’ve compiled eight tips for dealing with a flood-affected vehicle. Using this common-sense advice might not just save you time and money, it could potentially save your life by steering you clear from a vehicle riddled with hidden problems.
- Contact your insurance company and let them know exactly what happened. If you have comprehensive coverage, the costs might be covered under your policy. Take photos if the damage is visible, though the water might have receded considerably by the time you have access to the vehicle.
- There are state regulations that determine when a car or truck is considered a total loss due to flooding. This helps prevent unscrupulous sales tactics, especially when a large-scale natural disaster affects thousands of vehicles in one location. Beware of any too-good-to-be-true deals on cars and trucks immediately following a natural disaster.
- When in doubt, don’t drive a flood-damaged car until you know the extent of what happened. If you’re coming to the car hours later, or possibly even days after the flood waters receded, it could be impossible to know how high the water levels reached. There could be lots of water that seeped into the engine, so starting the car could make a bad problem much worse (and more expensive).
- Read between the lines, or at least try to look for one. Like a ring around a dirty bathtub, you might notice a subtle line on the car’s exterior body panels or windows, and possibly inside the cabin itself. This likely indicates where the water crested, and it could give a good idea about the severity of the flooding. With this in mind, it’s still best not to drive the vehicle until you have it checked by an expert.
- Get the car dry as quickly as you can. Open the doors and windows and remove any floormats. As we’ll discuss in a moment, this is especially important if saltwater or a brackish mix of fresh and saltwater have flooded your vehicle.
- While we’re focusing most of our attention on advice centered around vehicles that are flooded when parked, it goes without saying that purposefully driving down a severely flooded road is just plain dumb. Don’t do it! You could be putting your life at risk, never mind the health of your car. For example, if water gets into the vehicle’s air intake, you’re going to be in big trouble and stopped dead in your tracks. And while that 4-wheel-drive SUV you’re piloting might seem impervious to anything Mother Nature throws your way, even the toughest trucks can get stranded or bogged down in high water with unknown obstacles lurking beneath the surface.
- The good news is that not every flooded car is going to be a total loss. If the water levels got high enough to soak the interior carpets, but not so high as to ruin the engine and electrical system, you could resolve things by spending a several hundred dollars for a professional cleaning. Again, it’s best to talk to your insurance company and have the car inspected by an expert.
- Having any water in your vehicle is a problem, but saltwater is even more damaging due to the corrosive effect it can have on rubber hoses and wiring. If a car sits in saltwater for any length of time, serious problems related to the electrical system and brakes can develop. Remember, after making it through a torrential flood, the last thing you need is a car that unexpectedly refuses to stop at a red traffic signal.
Learn More: See how FEMA can help you if your car is flooded during a major disaster