What to do with a damaged car after a hurricane

The 2020 hurricane season officially ended Nov 30, and some experts are concerned that this season produced more named hurricanes in the Atlantic than any season since records began 170 years ago.

The busy hurricane season left many cars totaled or in need of extensive repairs, many of which are likely to show up in the used car market, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). But a car damaged by a hurricane doesn’t have to be a total loss; depending on the auto insurance policy and exactly how the damage occurs, insurance may cover the costs of repairing hurricane damage.

When hurricane damage is covered by car insurance:

If a hurricane has damaged your car, you’ll most likely need comprehensive auto coverage, which will cover almost any type of damage caused by a hurricane. While most states have a mandatory minimum requirement for collision auto insurance coverage, comprehensive coverage is not typically required by law, so it’s a good idea to look into purchasing it, especially for those who live in hurricane-prone areas.

Types of hurricane-related damage that are typically covered:

  • Falling objects
  • Flood
  • Hail
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Wind

How to deal with situations and problems caused by hurricanes

Hurricanes can cause a lot of damage to a car, from mild flooding to outright totaling it. Depending on how a car is damaged, there are a few different ways to handle it.

The car is totaled but insured

The first thing to think about is safety. Don’t approach a damaged vehicle if it’s dangerous. As long as it’s safe, a good first step is to document the scene, take photos of the damage and then contact the insurance company to start the claims process.

The car is totaled without insurance

If the vehicle is totaled by storm damage, but the owner doesn’t have comprehensive insurance, the damage will have to be paid for out of pocket. Sometimes disaster funds are available to help, so it might be a good idea to contact local government agencies to see if any financial relief is available.

The appraisal is too low

During natural disasters like hurricanes, insurance companies can get inundated with claims, and appraisers may be more prone to clerical errors. If the assessment on a vehicle comes back too low, the insured can dispute it. It’s also possible to bring in a third-party appraiser, but a good place to start is by talking with the insurance provider to see if a resolution can be reached.

The car is flooded but not totaled

Water damage in vehicles can be tricky and damage delicate instruments that are out of sight. The increasing use of computers in cars makes them even more susceptible to flood damage. Just because a car starts up shortly after a flood recedes doesn’t mean it will continue to run. It’s a good idea to document the damage and call the insurance company to immediately file a claim. It’s also wise to have it inspected by a professional mechanic.

The car is fixable but temporarily out of commission

If the vehicle is damaged but is being repaired, it may be necessary to rent a car until the repairs are completed. While many auto insurance policies cover the cost of a rental car, it is typically an addition to a standard policy and will only be covered if the insurance company is already handling the claim on the damaged vehicle.

How to minimize hurricane damage to your vehicle

While it’s important to know how to deal with a hurricane-totaled car, some steps can be taken to help prevent or minimize damage before a hurricane hits:

  • Park strategically. If possible, it’s best to park vehicles where they are at the least risk from flooding, wind, falling objects and debris. Sheltered, elevated terrain or an enclosed structure can be good options.
  • Remove valuables from the car. Personal belongings, especially valuable items, may not be covered by insurance if the car is damaged, so it’s best to remove anything personal from the vehicle when parked.
  • Document the vehicle’s condition before the storm hits. If it comes down to filing an insurance claim, the more documentation, the better. Having photographs of what the vehicle looked like shortly before the hurricane can highlight any damage caused by the hurricane and help expedite the claims process.
  • Tape the car windows. While it’s a myth that taping windows will prevent them from breaking, it can help keep the glass contained if it breaks. It can also help to keep water from seeping in through the window.
  • Cover the car. Help protect the car from scratches or dents by covering it. While custom car covers can be purchased, they may be expensive, but blankets, cardboard or anything soft and sturdy might help protect the car during a storm. Be sure to secure any covering, so it doesn’t blow away.
  • Keep vehicle documents safe. It’s best to keep any essential vehicle documents separate from the vehicle, but store them in watertight bags or containers if that isn’t possible.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best auto insurance company?

There is not one best company that fits all needs. It’s a good idea to shop around and compare rates from various insurance providers, then speak with a licensed insurance professional before purchasing.

How common are hurricanes?

Although the 2020 hurricane season was the most active since records began, according to weather.gov, an average of five hurricanes hit the United States every three years and can cause billions of dollars in damage.

Do all car insurance companies offer comprehensive insurance?

Most major insurance providers offer comprehensive auto coverage.

Which state experiences the most hurricane damage?

According to the National Hurricane Center, Florida experienced more direct hurricane strikes than any other state between 1851 and 2004. Florida also experienced the highest number of category five storms, which is the most severe hurricane category.

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