Hurricane Harvey has left a trail of destruction across southeast Texas and the damage is not yet done. People have lost their lives, some remain missing, and tens of thousands of Houstonians are without a home. The recovery process will be long, with insurance losses expected to top $20 billion, according to Reuters.
As you assess the damage to your home and personal belongings, your car may have also sustained loss, whether it was partially or fully submerged. The extent of that damage isn’t always known until you perform a hands-on inspection. Here’s what you need to do (and not do) as you inspect your Hurricane Harvey damaged vehicle.
Post-Hurricane Harvey Car Inspection
1. Take caution before you begin your inspection. Is your car still sitting in flood water? Be extra careful here — debris, including metal, glass, sewage or chemicals, may be present. Unless you have the proper gear, including wading boots, it would be better to wait for the water to recede.
2. Do not start the car. Submerged vehicles likely have water in the engine, so don’t start the car. At least not immediately. Contact a tow operator to have your vehicle pulled to higher ground. Key fluids, including engine oil, transmission fluid, coolant/antifreeze and brake fluid may need replacement before moving your vehicle.
3. Inspect under the hood. Some of the worst damage done to a submerged vehicle is under the hood. Water and debris will find its way into every nook and crevice, including inside the engine, the transmission or other key components. Check your motor oil as you always do, by removing the dipstick. If you discover water droplets, then the engine cylinders sustained damaged.
4. Examine the fuel tank. You can’t see inside the fuel tank, but you can determine whether water invaded the interior by siphoning fuel into an empty gas can and looking for water, which doesn’t mix with fuel, by the way. If water is present, remove all fuel, dispose of properly, then refill.
5. Replace the motor oil and transmission fluid. Then attempt to start your car. If it starts, drive it for several hundred miles, then change the engine oil and transmission fluid again.
6. Check the electrical components. If your car doesn’t start, there may be damage to the electrical components. Corroded battery cables, burned out fuses, a malfunctioning alternator or voltage regulator and a broken serpentine belt are some things to look for. In addition to wiring, all belts and hoses may need replacement. Sensors and your car’s central processing unit (CPU) may have also sustained damage.
7. Attend to the interior. Unfortunately, Hurricane Harvey flood damage most likely isn’t limited to under the hood or to the gas tank. The interior may have filled with water, potentially ruining your audio system, soiling the carpeting, wrecking your upholstery and permeating other areas. Remove carpeting, seats and cushions, then use a garage vacuum to sop up water. Fans and dehumidifiers can hasten the drying process.
8. Don’t overlook the trunk. Your trunk or other storage compartments may have also sustained water damage. Check the wheel well and underfloor storage compartments, remove carpeting, replace netting and inspect and oil all hinges.
When Should I Notify My Insurance?
Depending on how much damage your car sustained, filing a claim with your auto insurer may be the most sensible approach. If you have comprehensive coverage, your claim may cover the cost of replacing your vehicle, minus a deductible. You should know that this information is a matter of public record, and it can appear on a CARFAX Vehicle History Report.
If the insurance company determines the cost to fix the damage to your car (minus your deductible) is more than what the vehicle is worth (and what it can fetch by selling it to the salvage yard), they’ll consider it a total loss and you’ll receive a check. The insurer then must report the totaled vehicle to the appropriate state department.
In some states, you’re allowed to buy back your totaled car, but it will also carry a “flood” or “salvage” title, indicating that it sustained major damage.
If you would like to confirm that a specific vehicle was reported to CARFAX as flood damaged, visit our free CARFAX Flood Check page and enter the vehicle identification number (VIN) to find out.