Inspecting Your Vehicle After a Flood

Those of us living in the gulf coastal region have a close relationship with water and its potentially expensive and damaging effects on lives and property. The damage to your home after a hurricane or severe flooding event is usually immediately apparent in the floors and lower sections of the walls in your home, and a water restoration professional or disaster specialist can tell you exactly how far the water has travelled and the steps you should take to restore and repair the property. However, damage to your vehicle after a flooding event may not always be so obvious at first glance. Remember that just like any other device with electrical components, it’s important to conduct a very thorough inspection, taking certain precautionary steps before every attempting to start your vehicle if you suspect it may have sustained damage from flood waters. Fortunately, it doesn’t take an expert auto mechanic or even a water restoration pro to determine if your vehicle has been affected by flooding. Just a few simple steps will tell you all you need to know about your vehicle’s condition.
Check the interior. If the carpet or upholstery inside your vehicle is wet, simply leaving the windows open will not get the job done fast or efficiently enough to prevent even more damage from occurring. Full coverage customers should file a claim immediately and then contact a professional water restoration company to dry out, disinfect and deodorize the interior. Other tell-tale signs that the car may be unsafe to start include standing water inside headlights or parking lamps, visible mud or water lines inside the engine compartment, and any signs of new rust beginning to form along door, hood or trunk springs and latches.
Check your air filter for any signs of dampness. This would indicate that water has travelled over key areas of your engine, and you should definitely not try to start it any time soon. Checking the oil is also a good indicator of water damage. If the oil appears diluted or discolored, this probably means that water has gotten into the oil pan and the vehicle should be towed to a certified repair shop after any emergency drying is completed.
If you find any of these signs of water damage, you should immediately contact your insurance company and do whatever you can to fix these problems BEFORE starting the vehicle! Towing expenses are typically covered in these types of claims, and even if they aren’t, the potential damage from starting a flooded engine is much more expensive and time-consuming than footing the tow bill yourself. Depending upon the age, make and model of your vehicle and the amount of damage sustained, the cost of repairing may warrant a new vehicle altogether, but you should always follow the proper channels to reaching this determination. Even if the damage is truly minimal, you should always play it safe after a flood, since starting a wet vehicle takes the water to places it wasn’t before you turned the key. Water in an engine’s intake system can permanently damage or bend piston rods and can even crack the entire engine block, making older vehicles economically obsolete in most cases. If you’ve owned your vehicle for 10 years or more, odds are that replacing the engine is not a financial possibility, unless the car is extremely important to you.
It’s also important to mention that some signs of water damage are more gradual than others and may only become apparent several days later. Water in the braking system can slowly cause your brakes to deteriorate or fail completely over time, and rusty suspension joints are another gradually progressive symptom of flood damage. After your initial inspection, you may still want to schedule an appointment with an automotive professional who knows what to look for and where to find it. In closing, you should follow these same inspection guidelines when deciding on your next vehicle to be sure it doesn’t also have a history of water damage.