When disaster strikes, there’s often an inconceivable wake of destruction left in its path. Trying to rebuild your life in the aftermath of a catastrophe can be an overwhelming proposition for anyone, and reestablishing your daily routine is an important part of the process of rebuilding. If you’ve lost your car as a result of catastrophic hurricane floodwaters or a destructive wildfire, here’s what you need to know.

Document the damage

Once it’s safe to examine your car more closely, take pictures of the damage, including its interior and exterior. Be sure to also take pictures of the odometer, engine, and inside the trunk, if possible. This’ll be important in establishing the magnitude of the damage for your insurer. They may also require you to visit a designated inspection site to get an estimate for repairs.

See if you’re covered

If your car was damaged by a storm or other natural disaster, there’s a good chance that you’ll be covered if you have comprehensive coverage included in your auto insurance policy. This goes a step beyond collision coverage and would provide protection for a range of disaster-related damages. Take care to involve your insurer early on in this process, making sure you understand your coverage, their procedures for filing a claim, and their policies around coverage and other potential benefits, like car rental reimbursement.

File claims quickly

Claims are typically processed on a first-come-first served basis. And in the aftermath of a significant destructive event, insurers can quickly become backlogged with claims. So if you’re planning on making a claim, don’t delay filing. 

See if you’re eligible for disaster assistance

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers many different kinds of federal disaster assistance to individuals impacted by a natural disaster. To see if you qualify for FEMA coverage, and to begin the process for applying for assistance, visit their website.

Avoid buying a damaged vehicle

After a large destructive event, keep an eye out for dubious car listings that sound too good to be true. Shady sellers may be trying to unload cars with flood-damaged engines, for example. A musty interior, stained carpets or seat fabric, or unexplained electrical problems are all signs of a car that’s sustained significant water damage. So be wary, and do your research before signing on the dotted line. Instead, try looking for local car dealerships or manufacturers offering incentive programs for disaster victims who need to replace their vehicle. And always get a vehicle inspection report.

There’s no time to waste after a disaster. Check out our advice on disaster prep and recovery.

Safe and smart | Car safety


about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.