Flash Flooding

A few days ago, my street experienced a flash flood over night. Many cars on my street sustained water damage. My 2007 Toyota Camry started in the morning, but water came out of the exhaust when I turned it on and continued to come out as the car ran for a few minutes. There was about an inch of water in certain areas of the car floor (front driver side). At first glance, there didn’t seem to be electrical damage to the car, and nothing was visibly damaged under the hood. However my seats were wet, and with the water that came out of the exhaust, I assume the car had water sitting in it for a short period of time (perhaps over an hour). Through insurance, my car was towed to a repair shop; the shop inspected the vehicle, changed the oil filter and lube, serviced the transmission, air dried the starter and alternator and removed and deodorized the upholstery & carpets. My car was not totaled. Everything that I have read says that cars face serious mechanical & electrical issues down the road with water damage like this. I am worried that the shop did not do enough to service the car and that there may be larger issues that are not being addressed. Any information about flash flooding & water damage would be helpful!

Mold and rust in areas that don’t normally get wet such as inside the doors and kick panels. If you know where the water line was you can look in the car for electronic components that were submerged, there’s a lot these days. Fuse boxes, air bag modules, amplifiers, seat belt pretensioners, all the plugs and harnesses, and many other modules could have been submerged. Although working now, the residue can crystalize and cause future malfunctions.

+1 to @ken green.

Your car wasn’t submerged long, run with water in the oil and transmission or allowed to mold up. BUT, keep an eye on the electronic stuff. Test everything now to make sure it works, make notes and if any electronics fail, talk to your insurance agent. They should make it right if you document well.

Some states by law total a car if had 1 inch of water on the floor. Also you should never start a car that’s been flooded and don’t even go near a any car that has a battery pack. Have it towed to a shop. Very bad things can happen. I see a lot of flooded cars in my job. I am a insurance adjuster that go’s to write damage after storms and floods. I have seen arms broke by air bags, seats that burned from switch’s that shorted out. Make sure your insurance company knows any future problems from this will be on them.

There’s also the issue of muddy water creeping into wheel bearings, brake components, steering and suspension components, etc.

If problems surface in those areas it can very have been caused by flooding.

I’ll echo the comment above – in case this ever happens again – about not trying to start a car where the water has come up much above the floor until it is been checked by a shop. Best just to tow it to the shop in that event. For example, if water has accumulated in the engine air intake system, attempting to start the engine can result in a condition called hydro-lock, where the cylinders fill with water, and can do serious damage to the engine.

In your case I think what happened is that water entered the exhaust pipe, and the water you saw coming out the exhaust pipe was just what had gone in before. That shouldn’t result in any serious damage.

If what you are asking is whether the car should have been totaled or not — hmm … well, the insurance company probably deals with this problem on a regular basis and they’ve found most of the time after proper de-flood treatment the cars remain reliable. It might be wise to write a letter to your agent describing your concern and ask he keep it on file in the event you start to experience electrical or rust problems later. But as long as it was fresh water – not sea water – I think you’ll be ok.

Apparently the flood subsided by the time you got to the car. To me, that means you probably did not sustain engine damage because water never entered through the air filter. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the car may have water damage to all the systems mentioned above. You need to leave the car where it is and have your auto insurer inspect it. They will estimate the damage repair costs and tell you whether they will pay to fix it or total it. I haven’t seen it so I don’t know whether it might be too much damage to repair.

One thing to remember when a vehicle has been flooded, the water level that’s left may not be the highest level it reached. I have seen less than a inch of water on the floor. Then looking closer, I found the water had been up to the bottom of the dash. With fresh water flooding it is sometimes hard to tell how it got.