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Took a dip in Baltimore's Inner Harbor

My 2003 manual transmission Hyundai Accent spent a few hours in about two feet of water on Saturday night after the major storms on the East Coast flooded Baltimore’s Inner Harbor onto the neighborhood streets.

Because I backed into the space, the engine stayed mostly above the water, but the inside of my car flooded up to about three inches above the front car seats. It didn’t get high enough to hit the tape player or the dash board, but it did flood the fuse box and cigarette lighter area.

I waited until the streets dried off and tested the car by first checking the oil. I noticed that the lights on the dash board lit appropriately when I opened the door, as did the dome light. I tried starting the car and it worked fine.

I had the car shop vacuumed and shampooed, although I’m aware that it will remain musty for some time. I’ve noticed a couple electrical problems – Air Bag light stays on, rear defroster won’t work. But so far everything seems to be running ok. I even drove the car to Pennsylvania for work.

I notice that the fuse box is still damp – it even looks a little corroded.

I have an appointment through my insurance company to have the car assessed, but in the meantime – thoughts on the damage? Since the car is running and I only seem to be experiencing mild electrical problems, probably related to shorted fuses – is there anything else I should be expecting coming around the corner?

All of the wiring connectors that were submerged in salt water will badly corrode and fail…The brakes, the same thing…You will see accelerated corrosion on all the submerged metal parts and panels…The carpet underlayment is still soaked in salt water…

You most likely have yourself a never ending headache with this car. Do yourself a favor and insist that the car be totaled so you can get something that wasn’t flooded. Your air bag light is probably on because the module was submerged in water and ruined. That alone may be enough to total the car. A flooded car will become a nightmare, so get away from it as soon as possible.

Suspension components and wheel bearings will also absorb a bit of water. This means that down the road at some point you may have trouble with any or all of those on top of potential electrical problems.

As Caddyman mentioned, vaccuming and shampooing the carpet will do nothing for the underlayment.
Properly done, the carpet needs to come out for a start.

If you plan on keeping this car I would advise that you don’t stray far from home with it and I agree with mark9207 it may be best to total this thing out.
Fresh water is bad enough but salt water makes it much worse.

Why was your first move to check the oil?

Because the Chesapeake Bay, of which the Inner Harbor is a part, doesn’t meet the ocean until Virginia Beach, you’re probably looking at a lot less salt exposure than some would have you think. You can research it here:

Don’t forget the transmission. I would have the oil and transmission fluids changed immediately if you’re keeping the car. It doesn’t take a lot of water to cause serious damage.

One of my first cars was a late 60s MG Midget. It was a flood car that I got cheap. Guess why? I learned to fix just about everything on this car, as everything broke, worn out, failed, whatever. Was it just because it was a British sports car? Partly. But I attribute most of the problems to the flooding. Rust was awful. Musty smell forever. All types of mechanical problems. Electrical nightmares. My advice, even if it seems OK, even if you get a clean bill of health from your insurance company, even if a good mechanic tells you it will be OK . . . is to get rid of it sooner than later. Cut your losses and move on. Rocketman

If you have Comprehensive coverage, just have the car declared a total loss, and move on with life. Trying to fix this car, and prevent it from becoming either a rolling death trap, or a health hazard are just not worth it in the long run.

If you don’t have comprehensive coverage, then here’s what I would do:

Rip out the entire interior, and throw it out.
Find a recently junked car identical to yours, and buy the entire interior, and install that.
While the interior is out of the car, follow every bit of wiring that you can to the connectors, disconnect them, clean them, and fill them with dielectric grease to prevent them from corroding again in the future. Do this in the trunk, and under the hood, too.

Have the brake fluid flushed immediately.
Have the drum braked cleaned and lubricated.
Replace the transmission fluid.
I would go as far as replacing all the wheel hubs, front and rear.
Have every suspension joint on the car taken apart and lubricated.

If it sounds like a lot of money and work, that’s because it is.
Your car was ruined by being flooded.
This is the minimum you should do.


Did you happen to take any pictures of it when it was in the water? The insurance adjuster should see those, if you do.

For all of that great advice just above, let the insurance total it out. I lived in Florida for a few years, and every vehicle that got water damaged like this has been written off without hesitation. You’re looking at a cars-life worth of hassle if you try and keep it.

All of the above,
You’ve already done the worst thing, if you ever expected the car to work right again.

You tried to operate flooded systems ! - you turned the dang thing ON :frowning:

What should have taken place FIRST was the dry out and clean.
And I mean all the way down to disassembling components.
The seats and carpet come OUT, down to the metal.
The fuse box, abs module, window & lock motors, lights, and all other submerged electronics get removed and disassembled down to their circuit boards being out on the table to be cleaned and dried.

In the 90’s, we got a couple horribly expensive boxes back from the Coast Guard.They had dropped them off the dock and wanted us to fix them. After extensive evaluation, we concluded there was no way those boxes could ever be certified for flight use. These were standard boxes, not the sealed ones I worked on in the 60’s, and it was assumed they got wet inside.

Even one intermittent relay put the plane at risk. Ditto for one cable connection. And, the box was filled with both. We told them we simply would not certify the boxes under any conditions.

This is an older car, and while I agree with others that you will have nothing but headaches forever with this car, if you have no insurance to pay for it, and funds are an issue, it’s your neck. Do check out the brakes, as stated, drain and flush, and look at the mechanicals. And, start saving for another car.