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Best takeaways from the oft-repeated problems on inundated vehicles

Best takeaways from the oft-repeated problems on inundated vehicles

Mikko David

When Typhoon Storm Ondoy wreaked havoc in Metro Manila 11 years ago, it was the first time in many years that we witnessed flooding of large parts of the metropolis and surrounding provinces. So much water flowed down from the mountains and were released from nearby dams because of the record-setting rainfall that inundated large areas of Camarines Norte, Metro ManilaBulacanBatangasLaguna, and Rizal. The flash flooding caused about US$1.09 billion  worth of damage in property. 

But the real trauma was felt by Metro Manila residents who were not used to a month’s rain falling in a mere six hours. The 20-foot floods that submerged their houses under water and mud and stranded people on rooftops was unheard of for many.

The devastation was all the more apparent with about 14,000 cars either submerged or were washed away by the raging flood waters. This even gave rise to the term, “na-Ondoy” which described a car that got flooded during the storm’s onslaught. Cars were found full of mud and tumbled over in many areas because of the strong current of the floods. It was a car owner’s worst nightmare. 

Dealerships had to schedule repairs due to the sheer volume of flooded vehicles. Smaller car mechanic shops made money from the repair of these damaged cars. And Insurance Companies suddenly saw an uptick to the tune of P1 billion for Acts of God coverage a year after.

With the devastating floods that once again hit Metro Manila and large parts of Luzon last Wednesday as Typhoon Ulysses crossed the country, we were once again faced with an overwhelming damage to property. Like with Ondoy, a large number of cars have fallen victim to flooding. 

If you have a Comprehensive Insurance policy with the Acts of God or Acts of Nature coverage included, you are better off than those who chose to bet on not being struck by the calamity. Even if declared a total loss by the insurer, it will at least allow you to get back a certain amount which you can use to buy a replacement vehicle. 

With today’s tough economic climate, and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic  however, buying a brand new car might not be a straightforward option. And unfortunately, some of the cars in the market in the next few months might be one of those that got flooded. 

In case your budget can only cover the cost of a second-hand vehicle, Jason Chuang, owner of JCRC Auto, a pre-owned car shop, suggests you thoroughly check a vehicle for tell-tale signs of flooding. 

“A foul smell inside the car is usually a sign that it has been flooded,” shares the businessman. He adds, “Buyers should also inspect exposed metal surfaces inside the car, such as seat mounting points or seatbelt anchor bolts for unusual rust formation. Checking the operation of power windows, light switches, radio and air conditioning controls is also recommended because flooded cars will usually have issues with its electronics.” With its inherent issues, cars with a history of flooding are shunned by honest car dealerships like Chuang’s. And buyers should too. “Hirap ibenta ang flooded (car). Babaratin ka din or hindi mo din mabebenta,” Chuang hastens. 

But for those who did not opt for comprehensive insurance coverage, they still do have two choices: have the car repaired by the dealership; or have it repaired by a trusted car mechanic. It goes without saying that without comprehensive car insurance, the cost of repair will be borne by the owner. 

Joel Pineda, an 23-year veteran automotive technician from a premium Japanese car brand, says that the extent and possibility of repair for a flood-damaged vehicle depends on how deep and how long the car was under water. 

“If you have been alert enough to disconnect the car battery from its terminals before the car was flooded, keep it that way. Do not reconnect the battery or attempt to start the car,” says Pineda. As a veteran casa-trained technician, he follows the manufacturer’s technical guidelines in reviving flooded cars. 

“If the car is flooded up to its floor, we normally remove the carpet and the seats and sidings so these can be washed and dried thoroughly,” adds Pineda. We also clean the electrical sockets of the fuse box inside the car and at the engine bay.”

Pineda further explains, “To know if an engine hasn’t been damaged by flood waters, we need to drain the oil and replace the oil filter too. We remove and replace the spark plugs of gasoline engines and then manually crank the engine to see if the internal movement is still smooth and not stuck up.”

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“We also replace all the fluids which include the Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) for automatics and transmission or gear oil for manuals along with the transmission filters. If the vehicle is a four-wheel drive, we also drain and replace the transfer case fluid at the front and rear differentials. Even the brake fluids have to be replaced and the brake system bled.” says Pineda.

“All harness connectors in the engine and interiors should be disconnected, inspected and cleaned with contact cleaner spray along with the ground connectors to the car’s chassis. Special attention should be given to cleaning the connectors of the Power Control Module (PCM) which is the brains of the car.”

“Only once all of these are done can we proceed to starting the car normally, if it starts at all,” shares Pineda. “And only then will we know if there are warning lights on the instrument cluster that need to be scanned by the dealership’s diagnostic equipment. This will tell us which modules of the car are not responding and if there are sensors, modules or components that need to be replaced.” And the whole process, according to Pineda, can take months to run because of the extent of the damage and the limited availability of replacement parts.

But Pineda has a more straightforward advice for owners of cars that were totally submerged, “If talagang flooded na at nababad nang ilang araw, inform na agad sa insurance para ma-declare na total loss.” And we are back to square one. 

Another typhoon, another spate of floodings. This seems to be the recurring theme every year as the rainy season comes in. And while we can point fingers as to who is to blame this time around with the calamitous effects of typhoon Ulysses, the reality is, typhoon-induced flooding is something we may have to live with and prepare for in the years to come. 

Like earthquakes, lightning storms, erupting volcanoes, landslides, or wild animal attacks, typhoons and flood damage may or may not happen to you. But having the foresight to invest in a comprehensive insurance policy with Acts of God coverage is perhaps the easiest, albeit one of the pricier options, to protect your car and investment from losing value due to a cruel twist of fate.