Heavy rainfall and flash floods can transform roads into rivers. Which is why it's important to have the right cover in place and know what to do if your car is a victim of flooding.
Does my car insurance cover flood damage?
The reassuring news is that if you have a fully comprehensive car insurance policy and your vehicle sustains flood damage, you might be covered.
If you’re unsure, it’s one of those occasions when you’d be wise to check your policy documents.
If you have a Third Party or Third Party, Fire and Theft policy this basic cover is unlikely to protect your car against flood damage.
If you live in an area prone to flooding, it’s probably a wise decision to choose a fully comprehensive policy.
And if you’re unsure whether or not you live in an area of high risk of flooding, these are some flood risk areas in England.
Avoidable vs unavoidable flood damage
Although it’s likely a fully comprehensive policy will cover you if your car is caught in a flood, there are caveats.
Most insurers will expect you to take precautions to safeguard your car.
So, when deciding whether or not to pay out for flood damage, an insurer will put your claim into one of two categories.
Most flood damage is no fault of the owner.
For example, if you parked your car at home, or elsewhere, and it was caught in a freak storm or torrential rain.
If damage occurred, this would be classified as “unavoidable flood damage”.
The second category is “avoidable flood damage”.
An example of this is if a driver left their car parked at the bottom of a harbour slipway.
If they came back later to find their car submerged by an incoming tide the insurer would be unlikely to pay out.
Similarly, driving though a section of flooded street and finding the water is deeper than anticipated, causing damage to your car.
This could be viewed by the insurer as “avoidable”.
Will my car insurance cover me if I drive during a red weather warning?
The short answer is “yes”.
Just because there is a red weather warning doesn’t mean your insurance is invalidated should you chose to drive through it.
However, if you ignore speed restrictions or drive dangerously and have a crash, this’ll influence any decision by the insurer to cover your claim.
So while bad weather itself can’t invalidate your insurance, driving recklessly can.
Which is why it's always best to drive safely in heavy rain and wind.
Flood safety precautions
Unless specifically engineered to do so (4x4s, pickup trucks, etc), most cars are not designed to deal with even low levels of standing water.
According to The AA, it takes just 60cm (2ft) of standing water to float a car.
If the water is flowing rapidly, then your car will float away on a mere 30cm.
If you’re driving through a flood in an urban area, The AA recommends judging the depth of the water before you attempt to drive through it.
You can do this by looking at the water relative to the kerb.
If you can’t see the kerb, the water is likely to be deeper than you anticipate and you should look for an alternative route.
Here’s a final, sobering statistic from The AA: a third (32%) of all flood-related deaths occur in vehicles.
What to do if your car is flooded
If you break down in torrential rain or in a flood area, what should you do?
The RAC says you should avoid opening the bonnet to prevent your car’s delicate electrical systems from getting soaked.
If your engine cuts out after driving through deep water, do not attempt to restart it, as engine damage may occur.
Instead, the RAC says to turn on the hazard lights, call your breakdown cover provider and have the vehicle professionally examined.
The AA advises that, if you do get stuck in flood water, it's usually best to wait in the car and call for help rather than try to get out.
Urban flood water can carry dangerous bacteria from drains and sewers that could cause disease.
Rural flood water is more likely to be contaminated by agricultural chemicals and animal waste, so it’s a good idea to stay put if you can.
What will happen to my car if it’s damaged in a flood?
If your car is flooded out and recovered from the scene by breakdown services, your next step is to call your insurer.
Here are some “Do’s & Don’ts”
DO tell your insurer the extent of flood damage to your car. Inform them if the damage is confined to the engine or if it includes the car’s interior as well. You could take photos too to be extra thorough.
DON’T worry that your assessment of your car’s damage isn’t finely detailed. Be as thorough as you can but bear in mind your car will be checked by a qualified mechanic to ascertain the full extent of any damage.
DO bear in mind you’ll have to pay the agreed excess on your policy on any repairs.
DON’T be tempted to dry the car out yourself before it’s been assessed by your insurer, as this requires professional expertise.
DO be mindful of the fact that any claim may reduce your no claims bonus and/or increase your premium when you renew your policy.
DON’T assume that, just because your vehicle has suffered extensive water damage that your car is an immediate write-off. Your insurer will inspect the car and assess whether it’s worth repairing or not.
What will the insurance policy cover?
If your provider insures you for floods, this might include damage to upholstery and entertainment systems.
It might also include any necessary repairs to the mechanics and electrics of the vehicle.
This does depend on the terms of your policy though.
If your personal possessions have been damaged, your car policy may also include contents cover.
If it doesn’t, it’s possible you may already have “contents outside the home cover” as part of your contents home insurance, so it’s worth checking.
Another aspect worth considering is if the finance owed on the car is far greater than the sum an insurer would pay out.
You can mitigate this with gap insurance.
Gap insurance is a stand-alone policy. It’s designed to bridge the ‘gap’ between the amount you paid for your car, and the amount your insurer would pay out in the event of a claim
How do I make a claim for flood damage?
First things first, contact your insurer as soon as possible.
They’ll usually arrange for an approved mechanic to visit and assess the damage caused.
Your insurer will then decide whether they'll repair the car or write it off.
There are a couple of things you’ll need to hand before you make the call:
- Your car registration
- Policy number
- Photos of the flood damage – it’s always a good idea to take some for your records
- Location of the incident – was it at home, work or somewhere else?
For more information, read our guide on making a claim on your car insurance.
What do insurance companies do with flooded cars?
Insurers classify a car that’s too expensive to repair a “write-off” and will pay an agreed amount to the vehicle's owner.
The insurance company then keeps the car to dispose of as it sees fit.
Write-offs are assessed by the insurance industry and classified into four categories, depending on the severity of the damages.
Flood-damaged cars are generally graded as “Cat N” (short for non-structural damage, which replaced the old Cat D classification in October 2017).
Even though the insurance company has judged it's too expensive for it to repair, Cat N cars can legally be put back on the road.
Insurance companies typically base their repair estimates for spare parts on manufacturer price lists, which tend to be on the expensive side.
It’s a common occurrence for garage owners to buy flood write-offs from insurance companies, repair them with generic spares and get them back on the road.
Usually for a fraction of the insurance company's estimated cost.
The automotive data specialist CAP HPI (of HPI Check fame) has warned about the dangers of buying flood and water damaged vehicles, despite their low prices.
HPI says if a flood-damaged car hasn't been repaired properly, it's likely to need entire engine components replaced so the car works properly and safely.