My first encounter with a disaster zone took place in New Orleans. I first saw the damage Hurricane Katrina did to that city six months after the storm. I was shocked at the sight of piles and piles of flattened, flooded cars. They were stacked up to the bottom of highway overpasses, some at least twenty feet higher than the streets we were driving on.
The fate of flooded vehicles
In the Houston area alone Hurricane Harvey flooded an estimated one million vehicles. Teams of insurance adjusters, tow truck drivers, and auction representatives moved into the area almost before it quit raining. They got to work immediately to assess the damage of each vehicle. The insurance adjuster could assess the damage and write a check on the spot to either repair or replace the car, if the owner carried comprehensive insurance. Adjusters flew in from all over the country and went to work out of their rental cars or temporary field offices set up by their companies.
Car repair shops can sometimes salvage older cars via a comprehensive process developed in flood-prone areas. I learned about that back in the 80’s when I drove through high water trying to get home in one of Houston’s infamous downpours. We put our little Ford Tempo through that process. We drove it for several more years, but the car was never quite right after that event.
Newer cars present new problems
If the car is a newer model, the owner may be out of luck. So many features on newer models are computerized. Electronics and water mix about as well as oil and water. Cars deemed unsalvageable are handed over for auction. Auction salvage companies have salvage yards all over Houston, but after Harvey these quickly filled to capacity. So auction companies leased space wherever they could find it. Some vehicles ended up in farmer’s fields, like the one pictured here, sixty miles west of Houston. Others ended up in racetracks or wherever space was available to accommodate them.
Let the buyer beware
After the vehicle’s documentation is properly processed, firms set up auctions at the sites. Vehicles go to the highest bidders who come from salvage yards, used car dealerships, export firms, and companies that recycle car parts. Most vehicles are then stripped for salvageable parts and crushed.
However, some will be cleaned up and sold. Unscrupulous people doctor documents so you won’t know you’re purchasing a flooded vehicle. These flooded cars are often shipped to unaffected areas so buyers aren’t thinking about flooding as part of the vehicle’s past.
Personally, I wouldn’t purchase a used car without first having a mechanic I trust go over it from bumper to bumper. It is nearly impossible to hide a flood-compromised vehicle from a competent mechanic.