Is a Flooded Car Junk?

As East Coast residents recover from Hurricane Sandy, they'll be surveying their businesses, homes and cars and trying to decide what's salvageable.

Here are some tips from Car Talk hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi about whether that flooded car is junk:

  • If water gets access to one of the engine's cylinders — either through the air intake or the exhaust system — that cylinder can fill with water. Then, when the engine is started, that cylinder will hydrolock (water can't be compressed like air can), and everything connected to the cylinder will break or bend. 
  • Even if the water is pushed out safely before the car is started, that cylinder has already had water sitting in it for days. Those cylinder walls and rings are probably already rusting, so that engine's going to burn oil like crazy and run unevenly.
  • Water also can get into the transmission through the transmission fluid dipstick hole. If that happens, you'll be lubricating the transmission with transmission fluid and water.
  • Inside the car, lots of manufacturers now put electronic components — like computers — under the seats or under the dashboard. Even if only a modest amount of water was sloshing around the floor of the car, you may need a new computer — or several new computers, depending on your car — which can cost $1,000 each.
  • If water gets a little higher up, it can wreak havoc on electronic seat controls, electric windows, ignition switches and airbags. More and more cars now have seat belt pretensioners, which use pyrotechnic devices housed where the seat belt attaches to the bottom of the door pillar. They won't work if they've come in contact with water.
  • When a car is filled with water and then closed up and baked in the sun for days, you've got mold-spore heaven. That's not only a health hazard, but it's also nearly impossible to fix.

Bottom line: If water got any further than the car's floor, it's junk.

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Managing Editor/News Jennifer Newman is a certified car-seat technician. A mom of two, she owns a 2013 Subaru Outback crammed with sports gear.  Email Jennifer