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Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the U.S., and every year more and more people are exposed to its hazards. If your car is damaged in a flood, you can rely on comprehensive insurance to cover the repair costs. Read on to find out how your car insurance will protect your vehicle in the case of a flood.
When does auto insurance cover flooding?
To be covered for flood damage you need to have comprehensive auto insurance. In most cases, the coverage is not mandatory, but if your car is under 10 years old and/or worth more than $3,000 it is recommended that you carry it (and its counterpart collision insurance). Although the coverage can be pricey, it will shield your car from many of life's uncontrollable events on top of heavy rains and flooding, like vandalism and broken windshields.
Your comprehensive policy would pay (after the deductible) for repair costs or reimburse you for the actual cash value of the car if your insurance adjusters say it's a total loss. It depends on how deep the water is surrounding your car, and what the water got into.
If rains cause water levels to rise but are no higher than the floor of your car: You might be lucky and avoid most damages, or just have minor repairs covered after your deductible.
If the floodwater line goes any higher/partial submersion: Up to tires or up to the dashboard, your engine, braking and other electrical systems might be impacted. Progressive recommends you check your oil level reading, and State Farm advises drivers to look for water droplets on the oil dipstick. If the reading is too high, or you see droplets, chances are there's water in the engine and your engine cylinders can be broken. The damage here will be more extensive. You will still be covered after your deductible, but you run the risk of a total loss, where the cost of repairing your car is higher than the actual cash value the insurer would reimburse you for. In this case, they'll pay you the actual cash value, and you give them your car.
Comprehensive insurance is meant to cover damage from heavy flooding in your area, but most likely would not cover the second. Lastly, floods from saltwater are a lot more damaging to the car and introduce the risk of corrosion on top of the other freshwater flood damage described above.
What to do if you don't have comprehensive coverage
Unfortunately, there is not much you can do if you don't have comprehensive insurance in a flood event. The liability portion of your auto insurance policy is only meant to cover damages you cause to other drivers — not your own car. If you have a homeowners or renters insurance policy, those never cover damage from flooding — even damage to the home. Even if you have a flood insurance policy, you could only use flood insurance for any personal property that was destroyed in your car as a result of a flood — not the car itself. If you fear your car being damaged in a flood, we highly recommend you just add comprehensive insurance to your policy.
How to file a car insurance claim after a flood
Filing a claim for flood damage is the same as filing a claim for any other type of vehicle damage. You can either call up your company's claim center or you can file a claim online if the company allows it. We recommend you do this as soon as possible though for two reasons. The longer you wait, the more damage the water can be inflicting on your vehicle. Second, major floods tend to slow insurance companies from dealing with every claim as fast as they normally would. If there was a major flood in your area, it is likely there are other drivers filing similar claims, and the insurance companies only have a finite amount of claims adjusters to evaluate each case. The sooner you file the claim, however, the more likely you will be one of the first cases processed.
In the meantime, we recommend you take as many photos or videos of your car from different angles to record the flood damage and dry out the car as much as you can until your auto insurer can send over a claims adjuster. Here's what State Farm advises car owners to do to minimize the damage:
- Do not start your car, as potential water damage in your engine will make it worse
- Check with a mechanic whether the oil, transmission fluid and lube needs to be drained
- Get a towing service to move your car to higher ground, or wait until the water recedes
- Remove all water: vacuum or mop up the remaining water pooled in your car, remove seats and cushions if possible, use fans and dehumidifiers
When the claims adjuster finally comes, they will try to determine if the car is a 'total loss'. A car is considered a 'total loss' when the cost to repair the car is greater than its value. Half of the states have a threshold that needs to be surpassed for a car to be a total loss. In Oklahoma for example, the repair costs only have to be greater than 60% of the value of the car to be considered totaled. The other half use what is called the Total Loss Formula (TLF), where if the sum of the cost of repair plus the salvage value of the car exceeds the car's value, then it is considered a total loss.
Declaring a total loss on the car is not an ideal situation for most drivers, unfortunately. Auto insurance policies only pay you the actual cash value of the vehicle, meaning what you paid for it minus how much it depreciated since. For example, if you bought a Jeep Wrangler for $40,000 in 2012, and in 2017 it only has a value of $20,000, should a flood (or anything else) total it, you would only be paid the $20,000.
If you lease or finance your car, the actual cash value would not be enough to cover the cost you still owe to the leaser or financier. We recommend all drivers who lease or finance to get gap insurance at least for the first few years of the financing agreement. Cars, especially luxury types, depreciate quickly once they leave the lot. A flood and no gap insurance could end up leaving you in several thousands of dollars of debt.