Flooded Car? FAQs for Affected Owners and Shoppers

By Renee Valdes 07/13/2023 4:00pm

Flooded vehicle

Quick Facts About Cars Damaged in Floods

  • If your car insurance includes comprehensive coverage, you’ll be covered. If not, FEMA may potentially cover your vehicle.
  • Never drive a flooded electric car. Leave it where it is and call your insurer.
  • In most states, selling cars damaged in floods is illegal without proper disclosure.
  • Be wary of buying a car with flood damage. Some vehicles get sold across state lines before being registered as damaged goods.

Hurricanes, tropical storms, and other catastrophic rain events like in Vermont recently and the resulting flooding can damage and destroy vehicles, sometimes beyond repair.

The effects of these events extend beyond those with affected vehicles. The already challenging supply of used cars and some new ones has pushed up prices. Higher interest rates make vehicles less affordable.

As a result, looking for a comparable vehicle may prove difficult. Car shoppers, even those searching beyond the affected regions, must be careful to avoid purchasing flood-damaged vehicles from unscrupulous parties.

Whatever your circumstance, you’ll find resources below that can help answer your questions. Most of all, don’t attempt to start a flood-damaged vehicle. You could cause more damage. Electric vehicles also need special care.

Affected Vehicle Owners: Here’s What to Do

Read on for the frequently asked questions about flood vehicles.

Does Car Insurance Cover Flood Damage?

Yes, it typically will if your car insurance policy includes comprehensive coverage. Take photos and call your car insurance company to determine your next steps.

Will FEMA Pay for My Flooded Car?

Potentially. According to FEMA, “Federal disaster assistance may help fill the gaps for those whose coverage does not pay for any or all storm-related damage costs.” If FEMA doesn’t cover the damage, your other options include getting help from the Other Needs Assistance (ONA) program or applying for a low-interest loan from the United States Small Business Administration (SBA).

What Happens If I Don’t Have Car Insurance?

If you didn’t purchase comprehensive car insurance, consider the FEMA, ONA, and SBA options. If nothing comes of it, or you live outside the declared disaster area, you’ll likely need to assess the cost of repairing the damage on your own.

Services like Alliance Inspection Management’s AiM Certify, owned by Kelley Blue Book parent Cox Automotive, will come to your location and inspect a vehicle. Costs range from $129 to $349, depending on the level of service inspection you choose. Once you know how the flooding affected your car, you can move forward with getting your vehicle repaired or replaced.

If nothing else, it can’t hurt to open the doors and windows (if you can), give the interior a thorough going-over with a wet vacuum, and perhaps even pull up the carpet to help dry out the car and prevent mold growth.

Can a Flooded Car Be Fixed?

It depends. According to State Farm, “Submersion of a vehicle in salt water — which is more damaging than fresh water — increases the chances of corrosion. Start drying out your vehicle as quickly as possible, and contact a towing service to get it back to higher ground. Oil, transmission fluid, and lube may need draining before a tow.”

Other insurers like Progressive say that “minor flooding that’s quickly drained can often be repaired.” However, many insurance companies consider a car a total loss if the water level reaches the dashboard and the electronic components. Also, if a vehicle sits in water for extended periods, the insurance company will consider it totaled. In Florida, electric cars began catching on fire after a hurricane in 2022 caused them to be sitting in floodwaters. Read more on that below.

When weighing the financials, a significant factor to remember is that a car’s resale value can be severely reduced by any sign of flood damage, whether or not the car’s title or vehicle history report reflects it.

If you don’t have insurance and find yourself paying the bill after exhausting all other options, it would be wise to get an inspection. A certified mechanic can tell you if the vehicle is repairable. If the car is beyond repair, find out how much a dismantler will pay you for the car. Remove your license plates from the vehicle before letting your car go.

If you can get the car fixed, shop around for several quotes and ask how long it will take since some car parts may still be in short supply.

Is It Illegal to Sell a Flood-Damaged Car?

Depends. In most states, selling cars damaged in floods is illegal without proper disclosure. However, some vehicles get sold across state lines before being registered as damaged goods.

How to Tell If a Car Has Been Flooded

To find out if a car received flood damage, check the vehicle history report from AutoCheck or Carfax. They offer free flood-risk checks by VIN. You can also visually inspect a vehicle and look for tell-tale signs like foggy headlights or rust. If you can’t tell or are unsure, consider getting a professional vehicle inspection. Knowing the vehicle’s actual condition and history helps ease your mind.

What Happens If a Leased Car Is Flooded?

If you leased a car, comprehensive insurance would likely cover your vehicle. You can go through the same process of calling your insurer and filling any gaps with FEMA and other federal programs, if available to you. Check your lease agreement to find out the exact specifications.

Should I Keep Making My Monthly Car Payment?

Yes, with an asterisk. Talk with your vehicle finance company. Many manufacturer-related financing arms, like Ford Credit, GM Financial, Toyota Financial Services, and Kia Motors Finance, typically offer affected owners payment relief or flexibility terms during hardship events.

What Should I Know About Hybrid and Electric Cars Damaged by a Flood?

After Hurricane Ian in 2022, Florida officials reported that electric cars spontaneously caught fire. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website, “batteries in hybrid and electric vehicles are highly corrosive and should not be exposed to standing water.” NHTSA also says batteries could short circuit and catch fire, even weeks after battery damage occurs.

If you suspect saltwater battery damage to your car, unplug the vehicle and talk to your insurance company to determine the next steps.

Used Car Shoppers in Affected Areas (and Beyond)

Generally speaking, we recommend steering clear of any vehicle involved in a flood. Given the likelihood of future problems and the eventual resale value implications, the chances of finding a diamond in the rough seem pretty slim.

I Don’t Live Anywhere Near Flooded Areas; Do I Need to be Concerned?

Yes. Unscrupulous parties can obtain a flood-damaged car cheaply, “clean” the title by registering it in a different state, and then sell it in another state for full value by passing it off as an unaffected vehicle.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy since it was initially published.