Can your flooded car be saved?

Hurricane Irma leaves hundreds of thousands of storm-damaged vehicles

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After Hurricane Irma dumped billions of gallons of water on the Jacksonville area, hundreds of thousands of storm-damaged vehicles are being examined to determine whether the cars are salvageable or a total loss.

Insurance companies are overwhelmed with claims from the owners of vehicles that took on water during the hurricane. 

Despite popular belief, some cars can be saved and refurbished, but the majority of them don't stand a chance -- even though some of those vehicles might end up back on the car market soon. 

James McConnell, a driver with R&J Towing, said towing companies are working overtime, trying to clear the questionable cars and trucks from the roads. 

"I've got cars that are inaccessible on streets,” McConnell said. “We're doing the best we can to get them out and get them to the insurance company."

Local mechanic Aaron Nelson said nine times out of 10, a vehicle that has been flooded will never be the same, particularly if computer elements in the car get wet.

He said the only cars that can survive water intrusion are older vehicles that don't have computer systems or vehicles with computers installed higher up in areas such as the dashboard. 

Nelson said newer model cars typically come with more than one computer, and unfortunately, they're installed in places water can easily reach. 

“Some of these new cars can have as many as eight or 10 computers now, maybe more, depending on the automobile,” Nelson said. “The problem is the engines are set low in the floorboards or the engine compartments to keep them cool, so if they flood (they get damaged)." 

Nelson said he's concerned the used car market will soon see an influx of flooded cars from hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

"If you're going to buy one, buy it now. Don't wait,” Nelson said. “My concern is that people (who wait) are going to get bit; they are going to buy a used car and have problems." 

Nelson said it can take more than six months for a CarFax report to reveal that a vehicle has suffered water damage. 

To spot water damage yourself, Nelson suggested looking for corrosion on electrical wiring or on the interior of the car's body. But the safest best is to get it looked at by a licensed mechanic, because the mechanic would know where to look for white corrosion on some of the vehicle's small connections.

Nelson said to also trust your nose. If the car smells like an old sock, then it's probably suffered some water damage. 

He said the people trying to sell previously flooded-out vehicles typically ship them out of state and sometimes create bogus documentation for the vehicles.

He urged buyers to purchase a warranty for any used car and to consider the purchase carefully before buying.

About the Author:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.