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How To File An Auto Insurance Claim After A Flood

Jason Metz

In the wake of the damage from Hurricane Harvey, it can be confusing as to what insurance covers and what it does not. Many Americans may be wondering how to file a car insurance claim after a hurricane or flood

In addition to extensive property damage, hurricanes and flooding wreak damage upon automobiles. Fortunately, there is a relatively inexpensive way to cover your automobile from flood damage: comprehensive insurance. The average cost of comprehensive insurance in 2013 in the United States was $143.45 per year, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Comprehensive insurance covers car theft and damage from floods, fire, vandalism, animal collisions, natural disasters and weather such as hail. 

If you carry comprehensive insurance on your automobile and have experienced flood damage, the following information can assist you in filing a claim. First, if you suspect your car has sustained water damage, you’ll want to contact your insurer to have an adjuster come out and assess the damage. If you’re not sure if the vehicle has sustained water damage, it doesn’t hurt to consult with a professional. Attempting to operate a vehicle that sustained water damage could further damage it.

State Farm offers the following advice:

  • Don’t try to start your car–this will cause more damage if there’s water in the engine.

  • Act quickly. Submersion in salt water (which is more damaging than fresh water) makes the chances of corrosion much higher. Start by drying out your vehicle as quickly as possible, and contact a towing service to get the vehicle to higher ground. Oil, transmission fluid and lube may need draining before a tow.

  • Look under the hood. This is where you’ll find clues as to how extensive the flood damage may be. Unless you’re an auto expert, you may want to partner with a mechanic for the following tasks:

    • Check the oil dipstick. Look for water droplets, which likely indicates there is water in your engine. If that’s the case, the cylinders, which are supposed to compress air instead of water, will be broken.

    • Remove water-damaged cylinders and check for corroded spots.

    • Change the oil and transmission fluid. You’ll want to do this again after the car is drivable and you’ve gone several hundred miles.

  • Clean the interior. If floodwaters were more than a few feet deep, water probably made it to the inside of your car. Here’s what to do next:

    • Remove all moisture. Use a wet/dry vacuum to collect standing water, and cloth towels to absorb water that has soaked into the seats and carpet. Remove seats and seat cushions if possible, and use fans and dehumidifiers to accelerate the drying process.

    • Check electrical components. Extensive flood damage could require a trip to the mechanic to get it replaced.

    • Check the fuel tank and line. Use a store-bought siphon pump to remove some fuel. If you note any water (which would naturally separate from the fuel), you’ll want to empty the tank completely.

KHOU in Houston offers additional advice:

  • If your car floated away contact the police department’s unclaimed autos department to determine if your vehicle has been located.

  • If your car is totaled and you think your car is worth more than your insurance company is willing to pay you can research online for prices for similar vehicles, take note of any special features or customizations your vehicle may have had, and negotiate settlement with your insurance company.

  • If you owe more on the vehicle than the settlement amount, you should be covered if you purchased a gap policy. If you do not have gap coverage, you’ll be responsible for the remainder of the loan.

  • If you need a copy of your title contact your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

  • Be wary of buying flood-damaged cars. Flood-damaged cars can often show up in used parking lots. Only buy from a reputable dealer, ask if the vehicle sustained any flood damage, and get it in writing. Ask to see the title as well as the car’s history, as well as a Carfax, and consider having a professional inspect the vehicle. If the vehicle sustained flood-damage, it may still be in good condition and worth purchasing, but be sure you know what kind of damage you’re dealing with and how extensive the damage is.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30. Preparation is key. If you live in a region that’s been affected or may be affected, you may want to contact your insurance company now to ensure you have the proper coverages in place.