car in flood

What Phoenix Residents Need to Know About Flood-Damaged Cars

The Phoenix Valley is known for its sunshine, blue skies and hot weather, but record-breaking rainfall this week made the national news as flash flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Norbert turned interstate 10 into a small river, submerging even the largest of vehicles. The National Weather Service reported that August 8th’s rainfall set a record for the most rain in a single day in Phoenix, and the 3 inch deluge was more rain than Phoenix receives during a typical monsoon season. While the weather cleared up fairly quickly and blue skies were present once more, the after effects of the flooding will remain for quite some time, especially when it comes to vehicles. Here are some things Phoenix residents need to know about vehicles and flood damage:



 

Can a Flooded Car be repaired?

For most cases, no. If a car is submerged in deep water (above the floorboards), it is generally damaged beyond repair. If water gets into one of the cylinders of an engine through the air intake or the exhaust system, the engine can hydro-lock and everything connected to the flooded cylinder will break or bend. Even if the water is removed before starting the engine, rust can cause the engine to run unevenly and burn oil at a fast rate. Water entering the transmission through the transmission fluid opening will likely cause it to fail as there is nothing to lubricate the transmission but fluid that has been corrupted by a large amount of water. There are also quite a few expensive electronic components that can be damaged under the seats or in the dashboard, as well as the electric components in the seat controls, windows, ignition switches and airbags. Mold can form on the inside of the car too, which can be detrimental to the interior of the car, as well as to the health of the car’s occupants.

While these problems can be fixed, it is usually too expensive to do so for all but the most minimal amounts of flooding. For this reason, flooded cars are generally totaled by insurance companies. However, you should always have a reliable auto body shop and an insurance adjuster look over the car just in case.

Arizona flooding - cars stuck on i10

Photo Credit: ABC News

How to Tell if a Car Has Flood Damage

While many insurance companies declare flooded cars totaled and they should not be resold, cars with flood damage still find their way to used car lots and classified ads every day. With the recent flooding, you can expect to see more cars with flood damage than usual being offered for sale. Here’s what to look for when you’re trying to spot a flood-damaged car.

  • Check the title. If the car has been totaled, the title should read “flood” or “salvage.” These are not clean titles. Beware of a car with a suspiciously low price – it may seem like a good deal, but the price may be hiding something. Use agencies like CarFax or the National Insurance Crime Bureau to check the VIN number for previous incident.
  • Smell and feel the interior. If you smell mold, the car likely has flood damage. Close the door and sit inside for a few minutes to get an idea of the vehicle’s scent and find any unpleasant odors. Feel the floorboards and carpet for dampness and remove the spare tire to see and feel underneath, as water tends to collect here and leaves behind debris when it evaporates.
  • Look for rust and corrosion on screws, hinges, latches and brackets. Look at the spot where the doors meet the chassis to spot signs of corrosion. Check the exterior of the car for bubbles in the paint – these are typically signs of rust under a nice new paint job.
  • Make sure the carpet and upholstery match each other. Mismatching colors, patterns or fabrics typically indicates that all or part of the interior has been replaced.
  • Check under the dash for brittle or damaged wires. When you turn on the ignition, pay attention to odd noises, lights, smells, smoke, etc.
  • When test driving, test all electronic elements of the vehicle. Don’t forget to try out the radio; if the audio has a lot of static or is missing, the radio could have been impacted by water damage.
  • Check the oil and the air filter. If the oil is light in color or sticky to the touch, water may have gotten into the oil. If the filter has water stains, then it’s a good indication of flood damage.
  • Are the headlights, taillights or instrument panel foggy? This typically happens when water accumulates inside and has not evaporated entirely.
  • Check for mud, sand, grass, etc. in the glove compartment, in the engine crevices, in the trunk, under the spare tire, under seats, in the wheel wells and around wiring. It is difficult to get all of the debris out of a vehicle when the water is drained or evaporated, so these can be signs that the car has been in a flood.

Before purchasing a used vehicle, you should have a mechanic look it over. While minimal flood damage can be repaired, cars with more severe hidden damage can be very dangerous to drive. Any car that has flood damage is a gamble.


Premier Coach Works is here to help with the aftermath of a flood. If your car was damaged in recent monsoon storms, bring it in; or if the car is not drivable, we can tow it to our shop.

Premier Coach Works is a full service Auto Body Repair and Paint Shop that works many different insurance agencies. Get an online quote from our service facility and let us get you going.

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