What to do if your car or home has flood damage

This condo suffered flooding and wind damage-- see what it looks like after the storm.

Back-to-back hurricanes Harvey and Irma ravaged parts of the United States in late August and early September, leaving billions of dollars in damages in their wake.

One of the biggest causes of property damage in the wake of hurricanes is flooding, often caused by storm surges that can drive water levels many feet higher than normal.

While there’s no way to prevent a flood, there are steps you can take to minimize the potential cost of damages. It starts with preparing for disaster by having insurance and then swinging into action once the storm passes.

Here are some tips on what you can do if your car or home has been damaged by floodwater.

Damage to Your Car

When it comes to damage to your car, comprehensive or full auto insurance coverage handles almost everything except incidents caused by collision.

An analysis by the Insurance Information Institute determined that nearly 80 percent of drivers have comprehensive coverage, which also covers flood-caused damage to a private-passenger vehicle, notes Janet Ruiz, California representative of the Insurance Information Institute.

Even if you have comprehensive coverage, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll replace your car without having to pay out of pocket. If your plan has a deductible, you’ll have to meet that expense first. Deductibles range from $250 to $1,000, according to Carinsurance.com. It’s best to contact your insurance agent as soon as possible. Coverage may differ depending on the insurer, but it is always better to file a claim sooner rather than later.

If your car has to be replaced completely, your insurer will pay you for the actual cash value of the car, less your deductible.

If your vehicle has damage, State Farm recommends that you don’t start your car. Instead, the insurer offers these tips:

  • Do your own inspection of water damage or ask a mechanic for an assessment. They can give you an estimate for the cost of repairs. Pay close attention to damage to electrical components as well.
  • If your car has been flooded by saltwater, you have to worry about corrosion. As soon as possible, move the car to higher ground and out of the saltwater.
  • Use a vacuum or drier to get as much moisture out of the car as you can.
  • Use a siphon to remove fuel from your tank. If you find that you’re also removing water with the fuel, you might want to drain the entire tank.

Damage to Your Home

If you have flood insurance...

If you have a flood insurance policy, your first step should be to file a claim with your insurer. Some insurers offer advance payments for flood damage even before the total inspection process has been completed. Ask your insurer about advance payments when you call to file your claim.

Once you file a claim, you should set up an appointment with an inspector.

To prepare for an inspection, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends these tips:

  • Shoot photos and videos of the outside and inside of your home or business and label them by room, before you remove any items. Don’t forget to take photos of the back of appliances and major items, such as TVs and computers, in order to have the serial number, make and model.
  • Then throw away items that are a potential health risk, such as saturated cushions or perishable food items.
  • Don’t overlook the carpet, drapes and wallpaper if they are damaged by the flood. Save portions of them for the inspection.
  • If your HVAC, water or electrical systems are damaged, contact a cleaning, remediation or maintenance service, but have a consultation with the adjuster before signing a contract or agreement for the work.

What about wind damage?

When it comes to damages from the harsh winds of a hurricane or tropical storm, your standard homeowners insurance should be sufficient. Because most mortgage lenders require homeowners insurance as part of the loan approval process, the vast majority of homeowners are already set.

If you don’t have flood insurance...

If you don’t have a flood policy, or your policy doesn’t cover all of the cost to repair damage to your property, FEMA provides small loans with low interest rates to those homeowners through the Small Business Administration.

To contact FEMA, call 800-621-3362 or click here to apply for assistance online.

FEMA also offers a handy tool where you can fill out some information and easily determine what type of aid, if any, you may qualify for.

Before you apply, make sure you have your Social Security number, insurance information, addresses and phone numbers, total annual income, and bank account and routing numbers.

A FEMA inspector will contact you to set up a time to assess the damage.

Households facing severe flood damage may qualify for Critical Needs Assistance or Transitional Shelter Assistance through FEMA, says Deanna Frazier, media relations manager at FEMA.

Critical Needs Assistance grants for qualifying individuals provide $500 to cover any immediate needs. Those facing uninhabitable or inaccessible homes due to the disaster can receive shelter through FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance.

MagnifyMoney is a price comparison and financial education website, founded by former bankers who use their knowledge of how the system works to help you save money.

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