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What to do with a damaged car after a hurricane

A tree has fallen down into the street between two black cars.
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The 2021 hurricane season, which officially ended on November 30, made history for being the third-busiest hurricane season on record, exhausting the named storm list before the end of the season. Hurricane Ida alone, the most damaging hurricane this season and the sixth-costliest on record, caused more than $65 billion in damage.

If your vehicle is damaged in a hurricane, you may be able to call on your auto insurer for help. Depending on how the damage occurs, your auto insurance policy may cover the costs of repairs or replacement to avoid you paying for repairs entirely out of pocket.

When hurricane damage is covered by car insurance:

If you don’t already have auto insurance, you may not be able to purchase it prior to a hurricane. Insurance companies may institute a moratorium that prevents residents of certain ZIP codes from purchasing insurance policies ahead of a potential natural disaster. Moratoriums can also prevent policyholders who have insurance from adjusting their existing coverage. For example, suppose you already have an auto insurance policy. In that case, you may not be able to decrease your comprehensive insurance deductible (or add the coverage type), which covers certain damages caused by hurricanes, if a named storm is on its way to your residence.

Comprehensive coverage typically covers damages caused by the following hurricane-related concerns:

  • Falling objects
  • Flood
  • Hail
  • Wind

How to deal with situations and problems caused by hurricanes

Your car could experience significant internal flood damage, or mild exterior damage from debris during a hurricane. Regardless of the level of damage your vehicle experiences, the following tips may help you handle the aftermath.

The car is totaled but insured

Once the storm passes and the surrounding area is safe, you may want to contact your insurance company as soon as possible to begin the claims process. Documenting your vehicle’s damage by taking notes and capturing photos is typically helpful, but make sure you watch out for broken glass and debris during the process.

The car is totaled without insurance

If your vehicle is totaled by storm damage, but you don’t have comprehensive insurance, you will likely have to pay for repairs out of pocket. Sometimes disaster funds are available to help, so it might be worth contacting government agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or nonprofits to see if any financial relief is available.

The appraisal is too low

During natural disasters like hurricanes, insurance companies may be inundated with claims, and appraisers may be more prone to clerical errors. If you think your vehicle’s value has been miscalculated, you can dispute it. It’s also possible to bring in a third-party appraiser, but you may want to start by speaking with the insurance provider to see if a resolution can be reached.

The car is flooded but not totaled

If your car sustained water damage after heavy rain, the effects might be delayed. If you’re able to start up your vehicle after a flood recedes, it may not continue to run. Delicate internal instruments and computers may be damaged, so you may want a professional mechanic to take a look at it. You may want to call your insurance company and immediately document the vehicle’s damage and file a claim.

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 offer rental car coverage, 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

The following steps may help you mitigate damage to your vehicle during a hurricane.

  • 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 in your vehicle may fall under a personal property insurance policy or, in rare cases, under an auto policy. Whether or not you have insurance for these items, you may want to remove them from your vehicle, especially any valuables, to mitigate the risk of those items being damaged.
  • Tape the car windows. While it’s a myth that taping windows will prevent them from breaking, it may help keep the glass contained if it breaks. Taping your windows may also help keep water from seeping through a broken window.
  • Cover the vehicle. Covering your vehicle can help protect it from scratches or dents caused by flying debris. While custom car covers can be purchased, they may be expensive. Blankets, cardboard or any fabric you have on hand may help protect your vehicle during a storm. Be sure to secure any covering so it doesn’t blow away.
  • Keep vehicle documents safe. You may want to keep any essential vehicle documents inside, separate from the vehicle. If keeping documents inside isn’t possible, storing them in watertight bags or containers may help protect them against possible damage.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best auto insurance company?

The best auto insurance company depends on your individual policy needs and preferences. If you care most about getting the lowest price, you may want to obtain car insurance quotes from the cheapest car insurance companies. If you care most about top-notch customer service, financial strength and digital experience, you may want to get quotes from the best car insurance companies in your area. A licensed auto insurance agent may be able to help you nail down the best company for you by pointing you to the companies that carry your preferred coverage options at rates that work with your budget.

How common are hurricanes?

The typical Atlantic hurricane season contains 12 named storms, including six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. Researchers are finding that warming global temperatures are causing a higher proportion of category three, four and five storms, with higher winds and more rain, spread out over a longer amount of time.

Which state experiences the most hurricane damage?

More hurricanes hit Florida than any other state, according to weather data gathered between 1851 and 2017. During this period, 117 hurricanes hit Florida. Florida is especially vulnerable to these storms due to its proximity to the tropics, where most hurricanes form. Florida’s long coastline and warm waters also make it vulnerable, whereas the storms typically weaken as they reach the cold waters of the Northeast.

What is a salvage title?

A salvage title is a vehicle that has been considered a total loss by the car insurance company. These vehicles are valued at a lower dollar amount than the total amount of repairs needed to fix the vehicle. Severe weather-related incidents, including flooding, often can total a vehicle.

Written by
Joshua Cox-Steib
Insurance Contributor
Joshua Cox-Steib has two years of experience in writing for insurance domains such as Bankrate, Coverage.com, The Simple Dollar, Reviews.com, and more. His work has also been featured on such sites as MSN and BBB (Better Business Bureau). His insurance writing career has spanned across multiple product lines, with a primary focus on auto insurance, life insurance, and home insurance.
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