Repair a looded car


Our BMW 5 series wagonwhich is less than 2 year old, was damaged during the flood more than a month ago. We attempted to drive it out of an area that was flooding. Having driven a short distance, the engine died, and apparently some water seeped into the floor of the car while it remained stalled until we could push the vehicle out of the waters. At the time it was towed to a BMW service center, the electronics still worked. It was parked under sun for a couple of weeks in the lot. Eventually, the dealer told us it was totaled, flooded beyond repairable - engine hydro-locked, the car could not start and the interior of the car stints - and “you really don’t want us to repair this car” we were told. Apparently, our insurance company wanted it to be repaired. Despite their original determination for totaling the car, the dealer now suggests that it can be fully repaired by replacing “everything below the flood line that was affected,” and assures us the finished car will not have a flood record.

We understand that a truly flooded car is often not repairable, even after repairs seem to work, it can have a lot of problems down the road. We have mixed feelings about this. We love the car, but we absolutely don?t want to end up with a lemon. How do we get assurance that the dealer will repair it correctly so that it can function normally? And, will our car will not have a flood record as they suggested? Is there anything that we can do in such circumstances?


You REALLY don’t want them to repair this car. It should be considered a total loss. If, for some reason, the insurance company insists on repairing it, SELL IT as soon as you get it back, even if you take a loss.

You will have NOTHING BUT TROUBLE if you try to keep it and drive it.

I have a hard time believing it won’t be tagged as a flood car, which will make it nearly impossible to sell.

Fight the insurance company on this. You don’t want to keep this car, or any car damaged by flooding.


Thanks for you insight. Would this give you comfort if the dealer is willing to provide extended warranty, and that we will also have an independent mechanics make sure the car is fixed ok? We felt like that we are kept in the dark, as the dealer changes its story each time and it’s been dragging on. We are concerned to end up with a lemon.


There is NOTHING that would comfort me when there is a flood car involved. The dealer was correct the first time, when he said “you don’t want me to repair this car.”

They can replace everything they “think” was affected by the water, but flood water goes places no one can see, and it leaves things behind that you don’t know are there.

An extended warranty may help with the monetary problem, but if you have to take the car to the dealer for repair of weird little electrical glitches every other week, how much are you going to enjoy driving it?

BMWs are extremely complex vehicles, with multiple computers and thousands of electrical connections. The car was partially under water. There’s no way to know exactly what is damaged. It’s all guesswork, no matter who’s doing the repair.

We haven’t even touched the hydro-locked engine issue.

If this were my car I’d do everything I could to bail out on it.


I second the notion of you do not want this car. I understand why the insurance company would want the car repaired. It’s probably cheapest for them. But flood damaged cars can be prone to all kinds of weird issues that creep up at the most inopportune time. Heck, the smell alone will be almost impossible to remove unless the interior is completed gutted and replaced.

It wasn’t dried out properly and say for too long in the lot. Who knows what is growing in the vent system or under the carpeting. I’s start by trying to fight the insurance company since no matter what, you have diminished value even if it is repaired as you just can’t sell it like a non-flooded car.


This is not a dealer problem. They can only do the best they can for the amount authorized by the insurance company. You can’t expect them to warranty something that they already said they don’t think could be done.

I also question this bit about not having a flood damage record. How could they avoid that???

Your fight is with the insurance company. I don’t know what your policy says, but they are within their rights as long as they provide what the policy calls for.

Normally I suggest that repaired cars are not all that bad and I would not worry about it.  However there seem to be a lot of potential issues with this deal.  

See what you choices are with the insurance company or consider seeing a local attorney.


If the insurance company wants it repaired then tell them only if they give you something in writing up front that they are going to stand behind anything that crops up, no matter what it is; and that includes the future whether it is 6 months or 6 years.

Flood cars can be problematic and you never really know what’s going to happen.
Water in the transmission maybe and a year from now the expensive transmission drops dead.
Water can seep into wheel bearings and in the future the wheel bearings may go out.
Think of those boats you may see near a lake area sitting on the side of the road with a trailer wheel missing. Same thing.

They should total it and it could very well be turned in to CarFax or something as a flood car. Kiss any value at all goodbye.


As someone already hinted, they should have worked on the car right away. It still might have had lots of problems, but at least the inside would not have stunk. I wonder if it is really hydro-locked. Were you driving when the water seeped in? How fast were you driving when the engine stalled?

A few weeks ago we had some local flooding due to hard rain one Friday. I saw a guy powering his way across the parking lot that my office window overlooks. Water was shooting over the roof of his mid-sized car. I could not help but mouth ?Nooooooooo, stop.? I drove by my trusted auto shop on Monday and stopped in to see if they could change my plugs. The response was a very apologetic ?no, try us tomorrow? because they were scrambling to get cars dried out. These were probably mostly cars that were parked and had water rise around them and the owners were not at home. The oil, transmission fluid, and differential fluid was probably being changed, the carpets being taken out, and more. This kind of thing needs to be done right away, not two weeks later. Unless there is information missing, there is a real possibility that the dealer did you wrong. I would be asking why they waited two weeks to work on it.


Flooding is nearly always a death sentence for a car. As others have said, it is impossible to find everything that was compromised so that it can be fixed.

The dealer’s assertion that “it can be fully repaired by replacing ‘everything below the flood line that was affected’” is fatally flawed in two ways. First, everything below the flood line was affected, without exception. Second, many items above the flood line, especially electrical ones, were affected by the humidity while the car sat. None of interior can be saved.

About the only thing on the car that doesn’t have to be disassembled, cleaned and reassembled or outright replaced is the basic body shell. When this much work is done on a collectible classic or antique, it is called restoration and the cost will exceed the price of a new 5 series wagon.

I suggest you go back to your dealer and ask them to produce a repair estimate that includes everything they are not willing to guarantee in its present condition. Find a respectable, independent, BMW shop and ask them to do the same. Then, present both estimates to your insurance company with the warning that nothing less is acceptable.


We greatly appreciate you all for sharing opinions!

We will definitely try to avoid having it repaired, but if we cannot avoid it, then at least, we will try to make the best out of it. We were told the rule for when an insurance company must total a car is typically when the cost of repairing it is greater than x% of the value of the car (before damage). Apparently, the repair bill for our car is not expected to reach whatever is the threshold. And, that leaves the decision to repair or not to the discretion of our insurance company. We will obtain the dealer’s repair estimate, but then try to get a second opinion from an independent repair shop to see if really is as comprehensive as the dealer claims and whether additional repairs can be justified to the insurance company.

Also, the dealer confirmed that the repaired car will not carry a flood record, but it will indicate a major accident. The manufacturer’s warranty will continue for another two years, and we can purchase an extended warranty, at the same cost as other non-flooded cars.

In the worst case that we cannot convince our insurer, we are hopeful the car might be OK if the repair is done right although we understand that the odds are against us. Since the car was driving at a slow speed when the engine died, and no visible water ever got inside the car, the damages might not be as wide spread - we hope.

Many thanks! We will keep you posted.


In Oklahoma anyway, if the repair costs meet or exceed 60% of the vehicle’s actual value they generally total it.

I hope these people are taking things like wheel bearings, brakes, transmission vents, etc, into consideration when figuring the repair bill.

I do have a few problems with some of the things you’re being told by the dealer.
One is that the record will not show a flood car. That’s not up to the dealer; that falls onto the insurance company.

Warranty, even an extended warranty, on a flood car?
Just try to collect from warranty on an even vaguely related repair. The minute they find out it was in water you can bet they’re going to eyeball any claim real close, and probably deny it.

As a tech, I’ve been involved in a few of these waterlogged problems. Some outcomes were good and others were bad.


Ask the dealer
(1) what is the labor alone to rebuild engine, transmission, differential, the entire brake system and entire suspension, and
(2) what is the cost for the entire interior from the headliner to the carpets.

I suspect the sum of these two amounts is more than the insurance company expects to pay for the entire repair.

You can’t just do an oil change on the engine and transmission and hire a detail shop to clean the interior. Flood water isn’t distilled water; it is filthy soup. And will have left a residue inside everything.

Especially since the interior had time to mildew, it cannot be gotten perfectly clean again. During warm, humid weather, you will always be able to smell it.


Kendahl has a good point about mildew and the smell. If the carpet and the seats got wet then the only way to even try to salvage it would be if the seats and carpet are completely removed and shampooed to oblivion, same as the carpet.
The carpet underlayment should be thrown out and replaced with new.

My son slid his car into a creek during a snowstorm a few years back and we managed to salvage it, but it was labor intensive you better believe. The entire interior had to be gutted and scrubbed three times along with tossing out the carpet underlay.

Chances are all you’re going to get is a quick shampoo and an air freshener under the seat.
After a while the interior will smell like an Alaskan salmon cannery.

Consider things like brake caliper slides hanging up due to rust and dirt and needing a brake job 6 months later.

I realize the dealer and the ins. guy may act like it’s not a big deal but unless they put it in writing their words mean nothing.

Quick clean your car, send it down the road, problems develop a few weeks or months later, and neither of them will remember anything about what was said, except that it’s not caused by water and you’re the one going to pay.


The insurance company told us 75% of the car?s blue book value (before damage) is the threshold in Westchester NY where we live. We also received a list of proposed repairs and costs (including parts and labor), totaling about 50%. We did not see items such as transmission, wheel bearings and brake on the list. In addition, the only interior fix is to replace the carpets, since no other visible interior got wet.

We plan to have an independent mechanics (if we can find one who is experienced with flooded cars and willing to provide opinions) to provide a separate list and compare notes. And then what? How do we go about convincing the insurance company they should replace things such as transmission, wheel bearings, brake and the like although they seem to work now?

The insurance company also mentioned the car will carry a flood record. Nevertheless, the dealer confirmed they will provide extended warranty, 4 additional years after the remaining manufacture warranty expires in 2 years.