Floods are the most common natural disasters in the U.S. In many areas—including the Midwest, Northeast, and Mississippi River Valley—floods are becoming more frequent, and coastal flooding has doubled in recent decades. Along with securing proper insurance for your home, it’s important to protect your vehicle before the next hurricane happens. Does car insurance cover flood damage? What should you do if your car gets flooded, and how do you make sure you get a fair settlement for your car flood insurance claim? We talked with Penny Gusner, consumer analyst for Insurance.com and Insure.com, for the lowdown on car flood insurance. Here’s what you need to know.

Does car insurance cover flood damage?

Yes, but you will need comprehensive auto coverage if you want your insurance company to pay you for damage to your flooded vehicle. According to Insure.com, the average rate for comprehensive coverage is $189 per year, which you’ll pay in addition to collision, which averages $523.

Does car insurance cover hurricane damage? Yes, again as long as you have comprehensive coverage on your policy.

When you lease or finance a vehicle, you’re required to have comprehensive insurance. But even if your situation doesn’t mandate it, it’s probably a good idea. “If your car is newer than 10 years old, I would always say keep it,” Gusner said. “I say keep comprehensive on it until your car is so old that the cost of the coverage is more than your car’s worth.”

If you don’t have comprehensive coverage and your car gets flooded, you’re likely out of luck. Home insurance doesn’t cover flood damage, and even if you have a flood insurance policy tacked on, it will only cover damage to personal belongings in your car. There is one recourse, though. In the event of a natural disaster, you may be eligible for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the form of a low-cost loan.

Consider other forms of coverage, too

Other forms of coverage that may help you in the event of a flood include towing insurance, which is usually pretty inexpensive to add to your policy. “If your car’s in a flooded area and you’re told to get it to higher ground, some insurers will pay that themselves,” Gusner said. “Other ones will make you pay unless you have the towing coverage on your car.”

Rental reimbursement insurance may also be helpful; it will pay for a rental car that you can drive after your car has been flooded. If you have a second car, however, you may choose to skip it.

Take pictures—they’ll help with your car flood insurance claim

To make sure you get a fair payout from the insurance company, you’ll need to thoroughly document what has happened to your car. That means taking pictures and video from all angles of the car so the insurance company can see how high the water has reached. “Knowing the highest level of water exposure to the car can make a difference on if they’ve got to total it or not,” Gusner said. “Any kind of pictures you can take of how the car is, at probably its worst moment, if possible.” The National Auto Dealers Association recommends taking steps to dry the vehicle as much as possible and removing moisture from the car if the interior is wet.

Submit your car flood insurance claim early

Once you’ve taken pictures and video, call the insurance company quickly. If a big hurricane has occurred, you can bet a lot of other people are submitting claims, too.

Insurance companies are now using mobile response units to expedite the claims process, but there is still a limited number of insurance adjusters. “The sooner you get your claim in, the sooner you’re going to get your settlement,” Gusner advised. It’s important to take notes throughout the claims process, writing down the names of the people you talk to, the time and date, and the details of the discussion.

Check for hidden damage

When it’s time for your car to go to the shop, determine whether or not there is damage that can’t be seen with the naked eye. “Have good communication with the body shops and mechanic, so you can find out how thorough they’re inspecting it, how much damage there is. Make sure you’re asking.” This step is key, because it could make a difference on whether the car will be repaired or declared a total loss.

What if your flood damaged car is a total loss?

It’s likely your insurance company will declare your vehicle a total loss. This happens if the car is so damaged that it cannot be safely repaired, or if the repairs would cost more than the car is worth. Or if the cost of repairs is too high according to state regulations or the insurer’s guidelines for a total loss. In some states, a certain damage threshold must be exceeded for the car to be declared totaled. In Michigan, for example, the repair costs have to be greater than 75 percent of the car’s value. It’s 80 percent in Florida, and 100 percent in Texas. Insurance companies may have their own guidelines as long as it’s a lower threshold than the state. When the company declares your vehicle a total loss, you will get a payout equivalent to the value of the vehicle the moment before the loss occurred (minus your deductible).

What if it’s not totaled?

In this case, you’re entitled to getting your car repaired to the same condition it was before the incident. Of course, many people have health and safety concerns about keeping a car that has been in a flood. And when you sell it, it’s not going to be worth as much if it hadn’t been flooded.

In this situation, you may want to look into making a diminished value claim. This will allow you to recover the difference between the car’s pre-accident value and its new value after repairs. Some states allow this, others don’t. And don’t expect it to be an easy process.

Some insurers will use a formula the state has prepared to determine the diminished value.
“Otherwise you might have to do some legwork yourself,” Gusner said, advising people to research their car’s value on consumer sites. “Look at the value of your car and then call dealerships and say, ‘Hey this car, what would it be worth in pristine condition? OK, what would it be worth now that I have water damage?’ You figure out sort of what you expect to get for your diminished value.” There are also companies that can help you write a report and recover the money, Gusner points out.

Will your insurance rates go up?

Rates usually don’t increase because of a comprehensive claim. Of course, there are exceptions. “Let’s say this is your third claim in two years, then your rates might go up due to the amount of claims you had, but not because of the type of claim,” Gusner said.

But above all else, stay safe during a flood

The most important thing you can do in a flood is stay safe! If you have a chance to move your car out of harm’s way before flood damage occurs then you should try as long as conditions are safe to do so. If it’s already flooded, don’t try and move it. You might cause more damage and put yourself in unnecessary danger. Vehicles can be replaced after a flood. Your life cannot.

Source: CarInsurance.com (1, 2), Insure.com, NRDC, ValuePenguin

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