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How do you know when to total a car from flood damage?

Houston floodHow a vehicle is determined to be a total loss varies according to your state's laws as well as your car insurance company's guidelines.

No matter what, you must have comprehensive insurance coverage for your car to be repaired or replaced after flood damage. You will owe your chosen deductible. Liability or collision coverage will not apply in cases where a car is flooded or has been driven into flood waters.

In general a car is determined to be a total loss when:

  • It's so severely damaged it cannot be safely repaired.
  • It costs more than the worth of the vehicle to repair it.
  • Or, if the amount of damage or cost of repairing the vehicle is too much, according to state regulations or the insurer's guidelines for total loss.

If you made a comprehensive auto insurance claim for a car that was in a flood, it would certainly be totaled out by your car insurance company if mechanics say it's not repairable due to the extensive damage it received, or if the cost of repairing it is the same or more as the actual cash value (ACV) of the vehicle.

If instead, a mechanic says the car is repairable, and the costs are under 50 percent of the vehicle's ACV, then it will likely not be totaled out and instead fixed.

Once the damage to the vehicle reaches 50 percent or more, then it's up to the insurance company (abiding by state regulations) to determine if it will be totaled or not, based on the adjuster's assessment of the vehicle.

A flood-damaged car can be tricky for insurance adjusters, and mechanics, to determine the extent of the damages it received. Damage may first appear to be minimal, but once repairs are started it may end up being declared a total loss due to extensive electrical damage, mold or other issues that are uncovered.

Unless your state has spelled out specific rules for totaling out a flooded car, which most don't, it's left up to the guidelines of your car insurance company. You can ask your insurer if the car was submerged to a certain degree underwater if they would automatically total it out or not. You can also ask what will happen if your car is repaired, but later rust or mold appears, what rights you have, under your policy, to make a supplemental claim for these issues.

The threshold of repair costs is left to the insurance company in these states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont and Washington.

The threshold for total loss is set by law in these states:

  • Alabama 75%
  • Arkansas 70%
  • Colorado 100%
  • Florida 80%
  • Indiana 70%
  • Iowa 50%
  • Kansas 75%
  • Kentucky 75%
  • Louisiana 75%
  • Maryland 75%
  • Michigan 75%
  • Minnesota 70%
  • Missouri 80%
  • Nebraska 75%
  • Nevada 65%
  • New Hampshire 75%
  • New York 75%
  • North Carolina 75%
  • North Dakota 75%
  • Oklahoma 60%
  • Oregon 80%
  • South Carolina 75%
  • Tennessee 75%
  • Texas 100%
  • Virginia 75%
  • West Virginia 75%
  • Wisconsin 70%
  • Wyoming 75%

Here's how the different types of insurance coverage come into play if you're caught in a flood:

Comprehensive insurance–  If your vehicle sustains water or flood damage, you can file a claim under your comprehensive insurance coverage, which covers any type of damage to your car up to its actual cash value that's caused by natural disasters instead of accidents, says Penny Gusner, Insure.com consumer analyst.

Collision coverage—Collision comes into play if you hydroplane and flip your car or hit another car or a tree. Your claim will pay to repair your car or will pay the actual cash value of the car. You do still have to pay the deductible, Gusner says, whether the accident was your fault, someone else's or caused by the storm.

Gap insurance – This type of insurance comes into play if your car is totaled and you owe more money on your car than it's worth -- gap insurance will pay the difference. "For instance, if you owe $15,000 on your car loan but your car is only worth $12,000, gap insurance will reimburse your lender for the extra $3,000." You can get gap insurance from your car insurance company or from your car financing company, but it's usually more expensive from your lender.

Rental car reimbursement  -- Depending on your situation, rental reimbursement coverage is a wise choice or a waste, says Gusner. If you have a second car or a way to get where you need to go without your car, you don't need rental coverage, she says. But if you'd be left stranded for weeks while your car is being repaired, it may pay to have it. "Rental reimbursement coverage is optional and pays you a certain amount of money per day or per week for a rental car to drive while your car is being repaired," says Gusner.


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