Flooded engines: Sandy soaked a lot of cars

Cars piled on top of each other at the entrance to a garage on South Willliam Street in Lower Manhattan Oct. 31, 2012 in New York as the city begins to clean up after Hurricane Sandy.

Well before Hurricane Sandy made landfall, insurance companies were preparing for huge numbers of insurance claims.

“We have five of the MCCs as we call them,  that’s our big RV,” said Justin Herndon, a spokesperson for Allstate insurance. Those MCCs, or mobile command center RVs, allow claim adjusters to get to customers as soon as they are allowed back into flooded areas. Right now, Allstate has about 1,100 adjusters out in the field looking at flooded cars and taking very detailed notes.

“We’re goint to try and repair the vehicle first,” Herndon said. “And if it’s not economically feasable to repair the vehicle, then we’re going to settle the auto as a total loss."

The distinction is a big one for consumers. An insurer may consider a car salvageable, but water damage can significantly lower its resale price.

“There could be water residue hiding to cause problems down the road,” said Alec Gutierrez, a senior analyst with Kelly Blue Book. “There’s just an untold number of problems that could arise down the road.”

According to Gutierrez, a car that’s been through a flood is given a rating of “poor,” which is so low that Blue Book doesn’t even give it a price. “They are going to have quite a hard time selling those vehicles for the fair market value that they are looking for,” he said.

That wasn’t the case a few years ago. Now it’s easy for customers to get a vehicle’s history -- repairs, accidents, water damage --  thanks to services like Carfax, which coincidently expanded to consumers the year after Hurricane Katrina.

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.

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