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What to do if Vermont's historic floods damaged (or ruined) your car

A photo of two cars almost completely submerged in brown water outside a brick house
Karen Meisner
/
Courtesy
Here are some tips for what to do if your car was submerged in floodwaters.

Recent flooding in the state didn’t just impact homes and businesses. All that dirty water also filled up people’s cars, and many are now a total loss.

If your car was impacted, here’s what you need to know.

1. Call your insurance company.

If you haven't already, experts say the first thing you should do is call your insurance company to see if flood damage is covered.

By law, Vermont drivers have to have liability insurance. But you usually need more extensive coverage — "comprehensive" — to cover flood damage.

Luckily, most drivers have it. According to the Insurance Information Institute, 79% of insured drivers nationwide purchase comprehensive and collision coverage in addition to liability.

But one in eight drivers has no insurance at all, according to the Insurance Research Council.

If you're among those with too little coverage or none at all, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may be able to provide some assistance under its Other Needs Assistance program of Individual Assistance.

According to the agency’s website: “Repairs with a minimum amount of $250 and a maximum of $4,000 may be authorized with receipts. If the vehicle is replaced, up to $4,000 is available with documentation.”

To apply for help, go to disasterassistance.gov, download the FEMA mobile app, or call 800-621-3362.

2. Don't assume that because the water's gone your car is OK.

"Never drive a flooded car until you know the extent of any damage," said Josh Shum, service manager at Key Honda in Rutland.
"Because even shallow water can harm brakes, and internal damage may be more severe than what's visible.”

Man in blue shirt stands in front of cars being serviced at a dealership.
Nina Keck
/
Vermont Public
Josh Shum, Maintence Director at Key Honda in Rutland

Even if a car may seem dry now, Shum says some of the worst damage will be to components you can’t see.

"If the motor is flooded or takes on a lot of water and somebody tries to start it, you know the motor will lock up. And that can ruin components internally," Shum said.

He added that modern cars have electronic components everywhere, and they’re not designed to be submerged.

“They're designed to get wet from road spray rain, things like that," Shum said.

And: "You've got soft materials in the car, like cushions for the seats, that absorb all this moisture.”

Getting out all the moisture and making the necessary repairs can be incredibly difficult and cost thousands of dollars.

It’s why insurance companies often consider a car caught in a flood a total loss.

3. Be careful if you replace your car

If you have comprehensive auto insurance, depending on the policy, you’ll typically be reimbursed for the value of the car that was flood damaged. That’s the good news.

But consumer advocates say be careful if you plan to buy a used car as a replacement. According toConsumer Reports, some water-damaged cars are repaired and resold in other parts of the country without the buyer being aware of the car’s waterlogged history.

 A photo of a car surrounded by brown water
Courtesy
Coventry Town Administrator Matt Maxwell lost a car to flooding last week. He was rescued by someone in a canoe.

Josh Shum and others recommend using Carfax, a company that provides vehicle data like the number of owners a car has had, accidents it's been involved in, title issues, maintenance and damage history.

CarFax Editor-In-Chief Patrick Olsen says in 2022, there were about 400,000 cars on the road that had some kind of flood damage.

"Any car that has been flooded is rotting from the inside out, and it's only a matter of time before problems come up," he said. "You can put in the vehicle identification number of any car you're thinking about, and we will tell you for free whether that car has ever been tagged as flooded, salvaged or totaled."

Do that here: carfax.com/flood.

Olsen says 80% of flooded cars that are salvaged are crushed and taken off the market. So he says you shouldn't be worried that every used car you're looking at is a potential flooded car. But he says it pays to do your homework.

Signs of a flooded car include:

  • Dampness or musty odor in the interior
  • Mismatched or loose upholstery or carpet
  • Rust around the doors, under the dashboard, gas pedal, brakes and inside the trunk and hood latches
  • Silt in the glovebox
  • Moisture beads or fogginess in headlights or tail lights

Flooding recovery assistance and other key resources

View or share a printable PDF version of these resources.

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