Recent severe flooding in Houston and other parts of Texas reminds us that floods can happen anywhere at any time, causing catastrophic property damage – including damage to vehicles.

A “flood vehicle” has been fully or partially underwater, causing damage to its body, engine, transmission or other mechanical components, according to the Insurance Information Institute. If the damage renders the vehicle inoperable, the driver’s insurance company will compensate the owner by purchasing the vehicle and then selling it as “salvage” at an auto auction.

Floods are dangerous to people, not just cars. Be careful with any vehicle that suffers flood damage. Read on to learn how to file an insurance claim, whether your rates will increase after the claim, whether your car can be fixed after a flood and more.

Key Highlights
  • A flood-damaged vehicle must be carefully inspected and, if repairable, dried out by a professional.
  • If your car is flood-damaged, the comprehensive coverage portion of your policy should cover the repair or replacement of the vehicle.
  • Expect your insurance premiums to increase following a claim for flood damage.
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Written by:
Erik Martin
Contributing Researcher
Erik J. Martin is a Chicago area-based freelance writer whose articles have been published by AARP The Magazine, The Motley Fool, The Costco Connection, USAA, US Chamber of Commerce, Bankrate, The Chicago Tribune, and other publications. He often writes on topics related to insurance, real estate, personal finance, business, technology, health care, and entertainment. Erik also hosts a podcast and publishes several blogs, including Martinspiration.com and Cineversegroup.com.
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Reviewed by:
Laura Longero
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Executive Editor
Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

What do I do if my car is caught in a flood?

If you are caught in a flood while driving, follow these safety tips provided by the American Safety Council:

  • Avoid large puddles. Even 6 inches of water can disable most vehicles and 2 feet of water can sweep your car away.
  • Listen to the radio for updates. If necessary, leave your car and move to higher and safer ground.
  • If your car starts sinking, remain calm. Don’t call 911; focus on escaping. Unbuckle your seatbelt immediately. Lower your window within 30 seconds if possible and swim out through the window – the doors will be too heavy to open. Don’t cling to the car; swim with the current to higher ground and wait for help.
  • If you can’t exit through your car window, you have two options:
    • Break the center of a side window using a sharp object like an umbrella, heel, rock or hammer, or try kicking near the window’s front or hinges.
    • Or, as a last resort, wait for the car to sink. Unlock your car doors and breathe slowly. Wait for the pressure inside and outside the car to equalize, which can happen when water reaches neck level or when the car is fully submerged. Once pressure is equalized, take a deep breath, open the door, and swim out, using the car to push off to the surface.

What should I do with my car after a flood?

After a flood subsides, you can expect damage to your vehicle if it was at all submerged in water.

“Flood damage to a car can be extensive and vary in severity. It can range from cosmetic damage like stained upholstery to mechanical issues like corroded electrical systems, engine failure and mold growth,” says Rex Bearden, managing director of Catalyze insurance consulting group in Houston.

Chantal Roberts, president of CMR Consulting – an insurance agency in Olathe, Kansas – who teaches risk management and insurance at the City University of New York, has handled many flood-damaged vehicle claims for syndicates at Lloyd’s of London, an insurance and reinsurance market in London.

“Flood water can seep into all parts of the vehicle – from the engine to the doors. Corrosion is a big concern with electrical and mechanical issues, and mold may start growing if the car seats and carpets were wet,” Roberts says.

After the flood recedes and you can safely access your vehicle, it will need to be carefully inspected. This evaluation should be done by an insurance professional or experienced mechanic.

How do you detect a flood-damaged car?

Whether it’s your own vehicle or one you’re interested in buying, detecting flood damage requires a thorough inspection.

“Look for water lines on the exterior, stains on the interior upholstery, carpets or under the dashboard, and moisture or debris beneath the seats or in the trunk,” Bearden says.

Todd Bialaszewski, a certified master mechanic with Junk Car Medics, a New York auto broker, says that water damage isn’t always obvious at first glance.

“Just a little smelly odor could be hiding some serious issues with electrical or mechanical parts that end up costing too much money to fix later on,” he says. “You need to check carefully under carpets for stains and padding that broke down. Look beneath the carpet in the airbox area for rust patterns. Take off panels and inspect for residue lines. Sniff inside plug holes for musty smells.”

Other signs of water harm include standing water/moisture in the headlights/taillights and silt in the crevices, per John Lin, owner of auto repair shop JB Motor Works in Philadelphia.

Can my car be fixed after a flood?

Assuming your vehicle isn’t a total loss, action steps are quickly needed following a flood.

“You need to try drying out a flood-damaged car, which involves removing all moisture ASAP and acting fast to prevent further damage,” Lin says.

Open all doors and windows to circulate air, remove all loose carpeting, mats and seats (all of which will need to be dried separately) and use a wet/dry vacuum to remove standing water. Use fans, dehumidifiers and moisture-absorbing products to dry out the interior.

For extensive damage, professional cleaning and drying are essential to prevent mold and electrical issues, Bearden says.

Minor flood damage could be repairable if addressed promptly. 

“However, severe flood damage, especially to critical components like the engine, electrical system or structural parts, often result in the car being considered totaled,” Amber Lynn Benka, a licensed agent with California Insurance Co., says.

In Roberts’ experience, a flood-damaged vehicle is usually deemed “totaled” if the water reaches the inside of the car

A detailed guide explains when to consider a car totaled from flood damage

What type of car insurance protects cars in a flood?

The good news is that flood damage to your car is covered if you have comprehensive insurance coverage. An insurance adjuster will assess your vehicle to decide if it can be repaired or, if it’s a total loss, in which case it can be replaced or you can be reimbursed.

“Comprehensive coverage usually includes repair or replacement costs up to the car’s actual cash value minus your deductible,” Benka says.

Will a flood insurance claim increase my insurance rates?

The truth is that filing any claim – including one for flood damage – can result in higher insurance premiums. But the impact will depend on your insurer’s policies and overall claims history, Benka says.

When will insurance decline to cover flood damage?

If you have comprehensive coverage, your flood damage claim should be covered. But your policy may not protect you under certain circumstances, such as if gradual water damage occurs resulting from poor car maintenance, you left your windows open during a severe storm, or pricey owner-installed gear like a car stereo system, computer, scanner, smartphone or GPS device was ruined.

If you lack comprehensive coverage, the price tag to repair your auto will be your out-of-pocket responsibility.

Keep in mind that homeowners insurance or renters insurance policies don’t cover damage to vehicles.

FAQ: Flooded vehicles

What happens if my car floats away?

If your vehicle is swept away during a flood, get to safety and notify your insurance company and local authorities immediately. They can guide you through the necessary steps to file a claim and recover your car, getting it towed to a secure location and inspected.

Can I dry my car out?

You can attempt to dry out your car by opening all windows and doors, removing all seats, mats and loose carpeting, and using a wet/dry vacuum, fans, dehumidifiers and moisture-absorbing products. But for personal safety and better results, these tasks are best left to a professional whom your insurance company can refer you to.

How do I file a claim for flood damage?

Following a flood that has damaged your car, contact your agent or carrier directly, indicate the time/date and location of the flood and explain what happened. Be ready to answer questions about the incident and the extent of the damage. 

Document the damage by providing photo and video evidence to your agent. Submit an official claim form when instructed to do so. Prepare for a visit from an insurance adjuster who will inspect the car, obtain repair estimates and communicate with you and your carrier on the next steps.

What should I do if my EV battery gets wet?

If your damaged vehicle is a hybrid, electric or plug-in hybrid, be careful not to touch the EV battery, as there’s a risk of shock or electrocution. Do not attempt to start or charge the vehicle or try to service or repair the EV battery yourself. 

Assuming your flood claim is covered, your insurance adjuster or agent can recommend where your car can be towed to have the EV battery inspected and repaired or replaced, if necessary.

Resources & Methodology

Sources

  1. American Safety Council. “How To Survive A Flash Flood In Your Car.” Accessed June 2024.
  2. Insurance Information Institute. “Flood cars: How to avoid purchasing a washed-up vehicle.” Accessed June  2024.
Laura Longero

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Laura Longero

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Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

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Contributing Researcher

Erik J. Martin is a Chicago area-based freelance writer whose articles have been published by AARP The Magazine, The Motley Fool, The Costco Connection, USAA, US Chamber of Commerce, Bankrate, The Chicago Tribune, and other publications. He often writes on topics related to insurance, real estate, personal finance, business, technology, health care, and entertainment. Erik also hosts a podcast and publishes several blogs, including Martinspiration.com and Cineversegroup.com.