Dear Tom and Ray:
Can you help my sister's family? They were victims of Hurricane Sandy this fall, and although their cars are running, they did get saltwater up to the electrical system in both vehicles. Their mechanic said the cars are totaled, and there's nothing to be done. Is he correct, or can you help? Big thanks! — Sue
Tom: If what you mean by "up to the electrical system" is up to the fuse box at the top of the engine compartment, he probably is correct.
Ray: Water can do a tremendous amount of damage to a car. It can wreak havoc on computers and safety and electrical systems. It can lead to early corrosion and rust inside the engine and among the relays and wiring under the dashboard. It can result in a mold odor so vicious that even my brother would notice it.
Ray: That's why insurance companies often total flooded cars. Replacing all of the waterlogged parts simply costs more than replacing the whole vehicle.
Tom: We wrote an article about dealing with, and avoiding, flooded cars after the hurricane. You can read it at our website, www.cartalk.com.
Ray: Your relatives should call their insurance company and report the incident right away. You want the adjuster to come out and look at the cars while the fish are still swimming in them. If he agrees that the cars are not worth repairing, he'll declare them totaled and offer a settlement. Like $14.
Tom: But they can refuse that and negotiate what they think are reasonable values for the cars after researching the prices of similar cars on used-car shopping sites.
Ray: If they don't have comprehensive insurance, then I suppose they can keep driving the cars for now, as long as the cars' basic mechanical components and safety systems are working. But at some point, they're going to be driven out of the cars by an endless series of electrical failures and the smell. So buy them a crate of Lysol Citrus Meadows Scent and wish them luck for us.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)