What to do if you have a flood damaged car

October 21, 2022 by

Don’t be wet behind the ears: find out all you need to know about flood-damaged cars

Inclement weather patterns are becoming more common around the world. In the UK, where we already have rainy weather, this phenomenon is likely to result in increased incidences of flooding. 

More rains mean a higher likelihood of flood damage to your vehicle. In this article we investigate what flooding does to a car and what to do if it happens to you.

What damage does flooding do to my car?

Water can get into every nook and cranny of your vehicle, damaging numerous components in the process. Common areas that can get damaged are:

  • Engine internals – water can enter the cylinders resulting in hydrolock (see below)
  • Rubber seals – excessive time spent in water can rot door seals 
  • Interior trim and panels – waterlogged door cards and soaked carpeting can rot
  • Electrical system – Shorting of electrical circuits or burned-out wiring can wreak havoc on a car’s electrical system
  • Braking system – water ingress into the brake fluid will reduce braking efficiency and corrode pipes
  • Fuel system – water in the petrol tank or fuel lines can damage the fuel injectors and fuel pump
  • Suspension – rust and water ingress into the ball joints will require new suspension components
  • Exhaust system – waterlogged catalytic converters or silencers immersed in water can get damaged very easily

The extent of the damage depends on how long the car has been exposed to water and whether it was running at the time. Driving through a flooded section of road may damage the engine, but leaving a car in a flooded parking lot may be more damaging to the interior and electrical system.

Is a flooded car automatically a write-off?

Not necessarily. There are various write-off categories based on the extent of damage your car has incurred.

The only written-off cars you should see for sale are Category N and S, or C and D. Categories N (short for non-structural damage) and S (short for structural damage) replaced Categories D and C respectively in 2017.

Category Repair Status Vehicle Use
A Unrepairable Vehicle unusable – needs to be crushed
B Unrepairable Vehicle unusable – needs to be crushed
C Repair would cost would be more than vehicle value Useable once repaired
D Total repair cost (including transport) would be more than vehicle value Useable once repaired
N Non- structural damage – repairable Useable once repaired
S Structural damage -repairable Useable once repaired

The first thing you will need to do is contact your insurance company to get the vehicle assessed. If it falls into category A or B, then it will be a total write-off.

If it falls into category C, D, N or S and you want to repair the vehicle, then your insurance company will pay you out and sell the vehicle back to you. 

If it falls into category C or S and you decide to have the vehicle repaired, then you will need to send the logbook to your insurance company and apply for a free duplicate logbook. 

Repairing a car privately that is deemed to be economically unfeasible by the insurance company is not always a good idea. You may want to do so for sentimental reasons, but its value will always be less than an undamaged car and selling it may also be difficult.

Car driving through a flooded road in East Devon

Can a flooded car be repaired?

Just about any car can be repaired, some high-value classic cars can be brought back from the brink of extinction through a painstaking and pricey restoration process. The real question is how much will repairing a flooded car cost?

The answer to that lies in the extent of the damage. Replacing a few rubber seals and footwell carpeting after driving through a deep puddle will be far less expensive than resurrecting a car that has sat up to its side mirrors in water for a day.

Will flood damage be covered by my car insurance?

Most comprehensive insurance policies account for flood damage, however, there are caveats that may invalidate a claim. If the flood damage is found to be avoidable, such as ignoring warning signs and driving through a flooded area – you may not be paid out. 

If you have a third party fire and theft policy, then you will usually only be covered for causing damage to someone else’s property, if your car catches fire or if it is stolen. Flood damage is unlikely to be covered.

What should I do if I discover my car has been flooded?

If you happen upon your car gently bobbing up and down in a carpark:

  • In this extreme situation the car is likely to be a complete write-off 
  • Have the car recovered 
  • Contact your insurer to file a claim

Finding your car sitting in a foot of standing water:

  • This is slightly less dire. Open the bonnet, doors and boot and let the car dry out. Take out the carpets.
  • Do not attempt to start the car, water could enter the engine and cause more damage
  • Check the oil for signs of water contamination
  • Make sure there is no water in the fuse box or soaking any electrical wiring. If it’s dry, check the electrical system by turning the ignition to the ‘On’ position and trying the headlights, indicators, wipers and radio.
  • Only attempt to start your car if you are certain that water has not entered any critical engine components. If in doubt, have the car towed.
  • File a claim with your insurance company and have the car professionally assessed for damage

Driving through a flooded section of road:

  • If you are forced to drive through deep water, try to keep the engine running
  • If you stall, then do not attempt to restart the car – rather get it towed
  • Once clear, stop in a safe area and dry the car out
  • Only drive the vehicle if you are certain no water has entered the engine or electrical system
  • File a claim with your insurance company and get the car checked over by a professional – water ingress can often cause further damage over time

Should I buy a flood-damaged car?

Buying a flood-damaged car can save you money, but you need to make sure that you know exactly what sort of damage the car incurred before it was repaired.

You should never purchase a category A or B vehicle; it is illegal to repair them. Structurally damaged Category S vehicles are repairable but damage to the structure of a car from flooding is unlikely.

Category C and D cars (repairable but uneconomical to do so) are likely to have incurred more damage than a Category N car (ones that have not suffered structural damage and are economical to repair). We recommend that you have a professional look over any potential purchase and make sure that the asking price reflects the fact that it is a repaired vehicle.

Flooded car FAQs

Should I try and start the engine of a flooded car?

No. Attempting to do so may suck water into the engine, causing further damage. Hydrolocking can occur – this is when water gets into the engine’s cylinder chambers, and the pistons try to compress the water. Because water can’t be compressed, engine parts get compressed instead (think mangled, fractured metal), resulting in catastrophic damage.

Is salt-water flood damage worse than fresh-water?

Salt water is more damaging than fresh water as the salt will more readily corrode body panels, electrical connectors and any other metal components of your car. Salt water is also much more conductive than fresh water, abd this means that your electrical system could suffer additional damage.

How do I get water out of a car?

The first thing you should do is open the bonnet, doors and boot. Remove all carpets and any loose items. Ensure that the drainage holes (usually found under the door sills and undercarriage) are not blocked with dirt or mud. 

If the car has been in very deep water, check the engine bay for evidence of water in the oil (check the dipstick or remove the oil filler cap) and in the air filter. Removing seats and door cards will make it easier to check for damage and allow for the interior to dry out quicker.

How much does it cost to repair a flood damaged car?

Assessing the repair costs of a flood damaged car requires a thorough assessment of what components have been damaged. Repairs can range from a few hundred pounds to replace rubber seals and footwell carpets, to many thousands of pounds of the engine, electrical system or suspension components have been badly damaged.

Change cars online with carwow

Looking for an easy way to change your car? Then carwow is the place to go. You can sell your old car for a great price, and get the best deals on a new one. All through our network of trusted dealers and all from the comfort of your home. Tap the button below to get started today.