Driving During Storms and Flooding

With Hurricane Harvey fresh in everyone’s mind, it seems like a good time for some reminders about the safety issues of driving through storms and flood water.  We’ll also briefly discuss what car insurance covers flood damage to your vehicle.

It isn’t just a matter of hurricanes.  Heavy rains and flash floods are serious hazards.  That’s because it’s hard to judge the depth of flooding, and because the risks of entrapment and drowning are higher than most people think. In fact 2 out of every 3 flooding deaths occur in motor vehicles, not buildings (https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/8/25/16202636/hurricane-harvey-flooding-driving).

5 Tips to Stay Safe in Storms

If at all possible, stay put and don’t drive!  It’s just not worth the chance of suddenly submerging in a washed-out road that with water that looked just a few inches higher than the regular pavement.  If you simply must go out, allow plenty of time, slow down, pay attention, and assume the worst in every situation you come upon.

Here are a few tips for driving through flood water.

  1. Go slowly, only a few miles per hour.  Just a few inches of standing water can cause you to loose control or skid. When you drive into a flooded area there’s a strong and sudden braking effect, just like the end of a log flume ride.
  2. At a depth of round 6 inches water reaches the bottom of your vehicle, making control more difficult.  Just 4 inches of moving water can cause problems.  And 12 inches floats and easily moves a car.  Water can interfere with the exhaust, enter the air intake, and short out the ignition or electrical system.  Any of these can leave you stalled and stranded.
  3. Just a little murky water can hide a collapsed roadway or fallen debris.
  4. After driving through water your brakes will be wet and much less effective.
  5. Don’t forget you also need to be alert for fallen trees and other debris, strong winds, landslides, and the onset of hail.

Recovery and Insurance

If your vehicle is flooded or experiences water damage, it may be recoverable if it’s dried out quickly enough.  That’s not just the carpet and seats.  It’s the electrical system, engine compartment, brakes, suspension… the entire vehicle.  Don’t try to start it before drying, as that can lead to further damage.  Your best bet is to have it towed as soon as possible to a body shop for professional care.  If you’ll be filing an insurance claim make lots of photos and notes. You may want to choose one of your insurers preferred body shops.  And call in your claim immediately.

Does Car Insurance Cover Flood Damage?

Standard auto insurance policies (liability and collision) do not cover flood damage.  But comprehensive coverage does. In the Houston area about 85% of private vehicles are insured, but only 3/4 of those included comprehensive (https://www.wired.com/story/harvey-houston-cars-ruined/). If you’re among those, your repair or replacement costs as well as a temporary rental are likely to be covered (minus your deductible).

Is My Car Totaled?

Wired.com also reports that Harvey affected some 1 million cars, and around 3/4 of those were a total loss.  A car is considered totaled if it can’t be safely repaired or repairs are too expensive.  So what’s too expensive?  Most car insurance companies use similar formulas that consider the cost of repairs, the salvage & cash values (based on damage, mileage, and general condition), and the cost of replacement.  In most states a vehicle qualifies for a totaled-vehicle replacement claim if repair costs are 75% of the value. But in Texas that’s 100%. In other words it would have to cost more in repairs than the vehicle is worth. (From http:/www.carinsurance.com/kb/claims-how-do-insurers-determine-to-total-flood-damaged-car.)


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