As we help customers get back on their feet in the midst of Hurricane Harvey, an influx of flood-damaged cars is expected. Obviously water and electronics (like water and oil) don’t mix. Water can be so damaging to vehicles, in fact, that during a previous hurricane we saw our number of total losses jump from an average of 20-22 percent to 60-70 percent with hurricane-related claims.

Insurance explained:
A vehicle is considered a total loss when the repair costs exceed the vehicle’s actual cash value.

That increase in total losses can be explained due to the size and strength of a hurricane and the amount of flooding the storm caused.

How much water damage will total a car

In order for a vehicle to be deemed an “obvious total loss” after being flooded with freshwater, the water has to have reached all the way to the dashboard. But if you replace that freshwater with seawater, it only needs to reach the rocker panel (the area beneath the door) to be considered an “obvious total loss.”

That means your vehicle could be completely destroyed by just 12 inches of seawater. And when you take into account the 13-foot surge that can accompany a hurricane, it’s easy to understand why the total loss rate for vehicles in that area is currently so high.

Why seawater is so hard on cars

Although water is generally a bad thing for your car, seawater is particularly bad because of its high salt content. If you’ve ever lived near the ocean, you know that salt speeds up the rust and corrosion processes.

That being said, however, the damage will not be immediate. A vehicle that’s been flooded will often look perfectly fine once the water is removed and the vehicle has dried out. But don’t be fooled. Water can wreak havoc on your vehicle’s electrical and mechanical systems.

Avoiding water-damaged cars

After an event like a hurricane, there will be many flood damaged cars for sale, and it’s important to know how to avoid ending up with one. Even if floods aren’t a cause for concern in your area, flood-damaged cars are sometimes resold on the opposite side of the country 6-12 months later.

If you’re in the market for a used car (or will be in the next year or so), the only way to really know the full story is to have a qualified mechanic inspect it. You can also run a check on the car’s title history through services like CARFAX. These investigations will help ensure that the car you’re interested in isn’t a flood-damaged lemon in disguise.

We’re always here to help in an event like Hurricane Harvey, but here are few tips on what to do when a storm hits.

Car insurance 101 | Getting there


about Heidi

Heidi brings 11 years’ experience to her role as Esurance’s copywriting manager. Writer, editor, and all around wordsy, she was content when content wasn’t cool. Also, she likes old-school country.