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Hurricane Harvey: What to Do if Your Car Was Damaged

By: Bridget Clerkin August 28, 2017
Hurricane Harvey spun into Southeast Texas as a category 4 storm, swamping much of the Houston area with unprecedented flooding.

Texas was inundated this weekend by Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm that displaced more than 30,000 people and caused multibillion-dollar damage, spanning as far inland as Austin and devastating Houston, the country’s fourth-largest city.

But for those affected by the disaster, the trouble has, in many ways, just begun.

Rebuilding your life after such a traumatic event is incredibly difficult, but if your car was damaged in the floods, there are a few tips that could help at least get that aspect of life back on track.

Survey the Damage

First thing’s first: When it’s safe, see how badly your car was damaged.

Acting quickly is key, as salt water is extremely corrosive. Start drying your car out as soon as possible, but make sure to use proper precaution.

A lot can go wrong when dealing with flood-damaged vehicles. Keep in mind:

  • Starting your car could be dangerous. If the flood damaged the engine, starting it could cause even more problems. Get a trusted mechanic to help you examine:
    • The oil dipstick—Water droplets found here could be indicators that your engine is flooded. That would likely mean your car is damaged—or at least your cylinders will need replacement.
    • Engine cylinders—They’re meant to compress air, not water. If they’re damaged, they’ll have to be replaced, and any corrosion from flooding will need to be dealt with.
    • Oil and transmission fluids—Clean transmission fluid will look redder in color, while dirty fluid will look deeper brown. Regardless, it’s a good idea to change out the liquid immediately. Consult your mechanic for more information.
  • There could be water in your fuel tank. Siphon out a bit of gas, and see if there’s any water mixed in (it should naturally separate from the fuel). If there is, you’ll need to completely empty the tank.
  • Modern cars are filled with electronics. Use caution when turning on the radio, testing windows, or checking any other electronic components of the vehicle.

After determining the extent of the damage, you’ll have a better idea of how to move forward, and whether you want to repair or replace your vehicle.

You’ll also likely need to get your insurance company involved at this point. There are several ways to handle the situation, depending on the type of coverage you had before the hurricane.

Getting Insurance to Cover Expenses

Your auto insurance company will only step in if you have comprehensive insurance—and if you had that policy in place before the hurricane hit.

If that’s the case, get your claim started by:

  • Taking photos. Grab the nearest camera—or phone—and start snapping pictures of the damage. The more photographic evidence you acquire, the better. Don’t forget to capture the car’s interior, trunk, and engine, as well as any other areas that may have sustained damage.
  • Contacting your insurance company. They’ll ask for all pertinent information—including the photos you took—and should point you in the right direction of where to go next. But remember: the company will likely be dealing with thousands of claims. Patience with the process will be key.
  • Forming a plan. Dealing with an insurance claim in the wake of a disaster could take months—especially if your car is declared a total loss. It will most likely be left to you to figure out how to get around in the interim.

Covered or not, there are also a few other outlets you could pursue to help manage the fallout, like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). See below for more information.

If You DON’T Have Comprehensive Coverage

Your baseline liability insurance will NOT cover damage sustained in a hurricane.

Comprehensive insurance is the only type of policy that will cover flood damage, and the policy will only work if you had it in place before the disaster.

If you find yourself in this situation, there are still a few options you can take, including:

  • Applying for government assistance. Nearly 25% of Texans live in areas that President Donald Trump declared disaster zones, which means they’re open to help from FEMA. By contacting the agency, you could be eligible for help with losses not covered by insurance. Visit DisasterAssistance.gov or call (800) 621-3362 for information.
  • Getting a disaster loan. You can apply for financial aid through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which offers low-interest loans for both homeowners and renters who sustained property damage in natural disasters, but you’ll have to consult with FEMA first. Contact the SBA at (800) 659-2955.
  • Checking your homeowners insurance policy. You may be able to cover damage to your vehicle—especially if it was parked on your property at the time—depending on your plan. Contact your insurance agent for more details.
  • Selling your car. Believe it or not, there’s a market for damaged vehicles. Local salvage yards may be interested in purchasing your car. Call around first—both to see if a lot is interested, and to compare how much each business is willing to pay.

If your vehicle is beyond saving, you can use the money to purchase a new car. But that pursuit may also be tricky in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Finding a New Car

You may very well find yourself in need of a new vehicle, but even if you’re desperate for a way to get around, proceed with caution.

Car dealerships in Texas have suffered the same type of damage as everyone else. As many as 18 dealerships in the Houston area have been shut down completely in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and local news sources estimate that thousands of new cars were potentially damaged in the flooding.

Make sure to keep the signs of flood damage in mind when surveying any possible new purchases, and have a trusted mechanic check out the car before you buy it.

A new car could be a great way to make a new start after surviving a disaster. Make sure when you’re rebuilding your life, you’re working off a strong foundation.

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