flood damaged car – a guide

16 December 2015 | Bruce Compton

The UK has been experiencing increasing numbers and deeper floods each year, some figures estimate the AA has rescued more than 3,000 cars from floods since last December.

flood damaged car

This guide covers the following topics::

 What should I do if my car has been damaged by a flood?

Modern vehicles are designed these days to withstand a wide range of conditions, however, a general rule of thumb would be…if the flood water has reached the doors of your car then don’t drive it until it has been checked over by a qualified mechanic.

What damage can occur in flood-damaged vehicles?

Flood-damaged vehicles could suffer many different faults depending on the water levels, how long the car was submerged and how severe the flow of water was.

  • Water in the engine bay can damage transmission components and pollute the oils leading to more extensive damage.  Contaminated oil can lead to further costly mechanical failure.
  • Water which seeps into the car interior can damage electrical and control systems such as engine management.
  • If the water level rises enough, fuel tanks can be affected.  Contaminated fuel if it doesn’t stop the vehicle running altogether, can affect the cars filter systems and cause further damage
  • If the water is flowing and there is a strong current, debris can become lodged under the car.  This can damage mechanical components and clog cooling systems causing the vehicle to overheat.

Advice if your car has been damaged by a flood.

If your car has been damaged by flood and the water has exceeded the bottom of door level, do not drive it until it has been looked at by a qualified mechanic.  Make sure that key safety components such as brakes and steering have not been affected and are working as they should.

Before using the vehicle again, replace any fluids that could have been contaminated.

How to drive in floods.

The best advice is to try and not drive through the water at all, however, if you must then the IAM ( Institute of Advanced Motorists) suggests “slipping the clutch” (when the clutch is not fully engaged) all the time you are in the water to keep the revs high and help stop engine problems. Never take your foot off the accelerator either, and make sure the car keeps moving at all times so you don’t get stuck. Clear the brakes of water by lightly applying them after you exit the water.

How can I tell if the car I am purchasing is a flood-damaged car?

A large proportion of flood damaged vehicles are ‘written off’  by the insurance company ( deemed uneconomical to repair based on dealer prices).  These vehicles destined for the salvage yard are often sold as damaged repairable vehicles for sale.  A reputable and accountable salvage facility will declare the flood damage to the vehicle when selling it.  With flooding on the increase, however, some drivers could be selling flood-damaged vehicles which still run instead of claiming on their insurance and risking higher premiums.  The extent of the damage may not have been recognised or repaired. It is always best to get a qualified mechanic to check the car over first.  If you are looking over it yourself.  watch out for the following indicators.  There will often be more than 1;

  • Mud or silt in obscure places which may have been overlooked when cleaning – under seats, glove box, ashtray, air filter element and housing.
  • Rusty tools under the spare wheel or in the tool pouch in the boot.
  • Corrosion in footwells, under seats or the boot cavity.
  • Water damage to paperwork which may have been kept in the car – log book, manuals.
  • Depending on the length of time since the car has been exposed to flooding, the seats could still be damp (although this could equally be from cleaning).  A damp smell, however, or strong fragrances used to mask odours in combination with any of the other indicators could look suspicious.

Note:  Saltwater exposure will show as white, powdery corrosion on alloy components.  Saltwater flooding is more aggressive.
Look for green, powdery corrosion in electrical connectors.

If you are buying a car from a flood-affected area after a period of flooding, be cautious.


I am thinking of buying a flood-damaged car as a damaged repairable car, what should I look out for?

If you are only looking to use the car for a short term, then a flood-damaged car may be an economical solution.  Likewise, if you are an experienced or qualified mechanic and could carry out the repairs yourself then buying a flood-damaged car as a damaged repairable car could be a good way of saving yourself a tidy penny by rebuilding and repairing it yourself with salvage parts.

Bear in mind that flood-damaged vehicles which have been written off will have a much lower resale value and may well increase your insurance premiums to boot.

A significant problem with a flood-damaged car is with the electrical system and even once the parts have been dried out, there can be residual damage which can surface at a later date.  The reason that insurance companies often write off flood-damaged vehicles is that once these components are damaged, often the whole system and its components need to be replaced completely which can be costly.

Can I get insurance for a flood-damaged car?

It is possible to get insurance on a flood-damaged vehicle, whether it is your own which has been repaired or a flood-damaged car which you have purchased from a salvage yard and repaired.  Make sure that you can provide details of the damage caused by the original claim if possible and receipts to show the repairs carried out.

Some insurers may offer increased premiums and be aware that if you need to make a claim at a later date, the market value of the vehicle may be less as it will be on record that this was a written off flood-damaged car and was purchased at a lower price.  For a more detailed guide to insuring salvage vehicles take a look at our guide.

Not all flood-damaged vehicles have extensive damage and many can be repaired using salvage parts quite economically if you have the necessary know-how.  Be aware and always buy flood-damaged cars from an authorised car salvage company such as AFF Vehicle Services.