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What to do if your car is damaged in a storm

Consumer Reports News: November 01, 2012 04:08 PM

If you find your car has been damaged, flooded, or are otherwise rendered inoperable by Superstorm Sandy, there are steps that need to be taken immediately.

Assess the damage. If the car is parked in a flooded situation, or stalled in deep water, turning it on can do serious engine damage. Plus, water in the electrical system could cause a fire. Take photos of the vehicle and context, showing the area around the car. Having visual evidence of how the damaged occurred may help with processing the claim.

Button it up. If a window was cracked or knocked out in the storm, be sure to cover it and seal it tight to prevent further water intrusion and damage. A tarp and packing tape should do the job.

Read up on your insurance policy. If you have comprehensive coverage, your vehicle is covered for a variety of accidents and natural occurrences. However, if you only have liability insurance, then damage to your car is not covered. When in doubt, call your insurance company to get the details and start the claim process.

Determine whether you can salvage or need to trash your car.
If the vehicle is not operable, you will need to have it assessed. You may find a local, certified mechanic who could give the car a quick driveway inspection and advise on next steps. Otherwise, you may need to have it towed to a repair shop where the vehicle can be inspected top to bottom, looking for potential damage and water intrusion, and making sure the electronics and airbags are functional.

Avoid stinky-car syndrome. Flooded cars eventually smell moldy and musty, especially if water soaked the carpet and fabrics. Removing those odors is a tall task, without replacing the saturated materials. (See our report on car odors.) Another concern for trapped moisture is that parts may begin to rust, which could compromise the structure and cause significant damage. It is key to dry out the car quickly, cleaning it thoroughly, and potentially replacing carpet or other materials.

A truly flooded car can be repaired, but at a high price. You will need to weigh the cost of fixing it and risk of dependability with the price of buying a new or used car. Of course, your insurance coverage may guide this decision.

If you need to take the car to the junkyard, make sure the next car you buy performs well in Consumer Reports tests, is reliable and safe. See our vehicle model pages for more.

Car repair estimator
Guide to car maintenance
Driving after a storm
Get your car ready for bad weather
How to drive safely in heavy rain and wind
In Sandy's wake, roll up your sleeves--for possible fight with your home insurer
Finding clean water after a flood

Liza Barth

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