Your car insurance policy has several parts that’ll protect you during a hurricane. For repairs and replacement coverage to your own car, you need to opt for comprehensive or collision coverage, as we’ll explain below. Liability coverage, which is typically mandatory in most states, covers you hurting or damaging someone or something else while in a hurricane.
How Car Insurance Covers Water Damage and Flooding in a Hurricane
Flooding is one of the most common ways a hurricane can damage your car, and you would be protected if you got comprehensive protection. This includes reimbursing you for repair bills, or paying you the leftover value of your car because of:
- Corrosion from dried saltwater exposure
- Damage from rising floodwaters from storm surges and heavy rains
Hurricane Irma, which struck in September 2017, brought heavy rainfall and record storm surges to Jacksonville and Naples in Florida, with flooding measuring 6 to 8 feet high. Any car left exposed and unsecured in most of these cases would have been completely submerged and declared total losses. In these cases, insurers would pay out under your comprehensive coverage for the replacement cost of your car, less depreciation and your deductible, if any.
If rising floodwaters carry your car away and you can’t find it, comprehensive should pay for the depreciated value of the car after your deductible. The National Weather Service notes that it only takes a foot of rushing water to carry away a small car; two feet is more than sufficient to carry away most vehicles.
Storm surges can also travel several miles inland away from the coast via rivers and other estuary water sources, bringing saltwater onto your car. Even if your car dries out completely after the hurricane, there’s a risk of corrosion that’ll cause the parts to stop working in the future. That’s why your insurer will likely treat any saltwater flooding as a total loss as well.
Drivers living further north in Valdosta faced less, with anywhere from 2.5 to 3 inches of rain. With this kind of level, it’s possible that the damage from flooding was more restrained. If the water level rises but is lower than the floor of your car, you might be lucky enough to get away with no or minor repairs. Flooding rising to the footwell underneath your steering wheel or any higher gets dicier. Read more about flood damage and auto insurance here.
Insuring Your Car Against Wind or Airborne Damage
Comprehensive insurance will also cover you for the cost of repairs, or the remaining value of your car, if the hurricane:
- Causes strong winds to flip your car over
- Launches loose signs and other unsecured objects through the air, piercing your car
- Uproots trees or breaks branches, causing them to fall on your car
- Disorients migrating birds and launches them onto your car
Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in Texas on August 2017, was a category 4 hurricane, with a peak of 132 mph reported near Port Aransas. It felled trees, fences and power poles in the Corpus Christi area. Cox Automotive estimates that up to 500,000 cars were impacted in the Houston area alone.
Should any tree fall on your vehicle, the comprehensive part of your car insurance policy in Texas will pay to replace your windshield, or the roof panel, bows and headliner underneath. If it’s an old car, the cost of repairs may exceed the cash value (less depreciation and deductible), in which case, your insurer will just cut a check for the net amount.
Comprehensive also covers impacts with animals to your car, both during a hurricane and on a normal day. Powerful gales can blow animals off-course and toss them around; at high speeds, birds can become missiles that can pierce the glass on your car, or in the case of a larger animal, dent your doors.
Skidding Your Car Into Others and Their Property in a Hurricane
If for some reason you’re driving while it’s raining during a hurricane, you have the added risk of hydroplaning your car into something else. If it’s a person you hurt, they could file against your bodily injury liability coverage to pay for their medical bills. If it’s someone else’s house or car or other property, they could file against your property damage liability coverage to fix the destruction. These are two protections that are required by most states when you get car insurance.
If strong rainfalls produce flooding conditions, then the greater concern is that strong currents can carry your car (and you) away, and smash it into something else. In this case, you would be covered by medical payments or personal injury protection (mandatory and optional depending on which state you live in), and the other person or property would be similarly covered by bodily injury and property damage liability, respectively.
Tips on Filing a Car Insurance Claim After a Hurricane
We would recommend filing a claim with your insurer as soon as it is safely possible. Because hurricanes are large-scale disasters, there will be a large bottleneck of claims submitted all at once. While insurers may have special catastrophic teams of adjusters deployed during hurricanes, chances are that your claim will be placed in a queue with a limited number of customer service representatives. The earlier you begin your claim after a hurricane, the faster you’ll get a response, and hopefully payment.
As for proof, we typically advise policyholders to document and record as much as possible when conditions are safe. Take photographs of the damage from several angles (perhaps with a ruler for scale) and ideally on well-lit days. It’ll also be helpful to record on video and walk around your car, so that you (or an adjuster) could get a 360 degree view. Create a word document or use a notebook to record any significant observations or any conversation with adjusters and insurance representatives. Claims can take weeks or months to pay out, and it’ll be helpful to have the proof to refer back to.
How and When to Get Car Insurance for Hurricanes
You’re require to have car insurance or demonstrate financial responsibility when you drive, otherwise you’ll get penalized. Most car insurance companies will start with the minimum amounts required of bodily injury and property damage liability. You can increase the coverage to match how much you could lose (in case someone sues you). We’d recommend opting in for collision and comprehensive coverage, in order to get better coverage in a hurricane. Normally, we’d tell consumers to compare and get quotes from at least three insurers, but time is of the essence before a hurricane. An independent agent would be a good resource because they have access to and compare multiple insurers all at once.
If you live outside of the hurricane’s forecasted path, we’d recommend adding collision and coverage, and re-assessing the limits of your liability coverage.
We recommend getting a policy as soon as feasible, before hurricane season starts. Getting insured at the last minute before a hurricane becomes part of the news cycle is a huge risk. Car insurance companies stop offering coverage when hurricanes become a known risk. Before Hurricane Irma hit in September 2017, our team of analysts tried getting quotes from State Farm, Allstate and GEICO, and were rejected because they were not offering coverage. We found a few inconsistent exceptions. Two days before the hurricane made landfall, insurers were open to policies for newly purchased cars and houses, but the next day all binding had stopped.