As cleanup operations begin in Houston after Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain on the city the process of dealing with all the damaged cars, trucks and machinery has already begun.
All reports are pointing to this being the biggest U.S. auto-salvage operation on record after with Cox Automotive, owner of the Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, estimating that up to 500,000 vehicles were severely damaged or destroyed.
Insurance adjusters and tow truck drivers are already hard at work extracting vehicles and assessing claims. The assessor’s job is a tough one, locating the vehicle and gaining access can be a real challenge in many cases. Once assessed, and in most cases declared a total loss, they will be picked up by one of the 1000’s of tow truck driver now in Houston and transferred to an auction facility.
The major auctioneers handling flood-damaged and salvage auctions in Houston are Copart Inc, Manheim Houston, and IAA. These IAA and Copart have set up extra storage facilities to handle the massive volume of vehicles that will need to be auctioned off. Auctions will be held on-site and online with bidders including salvage yards and metal recyclers.
But not all these cars will be recycled for scrap and parts, some will undoubtedly end up back on the roads. Used car dealers and individuals will be scouring these sales for cheap flood damaged cars that can be easily repaired, put back on the road, and sold for a profit.
They’ll be looking for cars that have had minimal water ingress and can quickly be cleaned and with some minor mechanical servicing become a driveable vehicle again.
Under federal law, auctioneers are obligated to report flood damaged vehicles to the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) when the insurer lodges the vehicle with them and also when they sell the vehicle.
For people purchasing a used car post Harvey and wanting to know whether it was involved in the floods can use free services offered by National Insurance Crime Bureau here and VehicleHistory.com. But of course, that’s only helpful if the vehicle has been through the insurance system. Many flood and storm damaged vehicles that don’t have insurance can be cleaned up and put back on the market without any record of flood damage.
Can flood-damaged vehicles be restored?
After decades working in a garage I can tell you that water is no friend of the motor vehicle. It causes havoc with electronics and electrical connections, and if the vehicle is left sitting in water for an extended period it destroys interior finishing beyond being reclaimed. Not to mention water entering mechanical components such as bearings which will fail well short of their normal lifespan. It gets worse if the vehicle was attempted to be started and driven post flooding, electrics will short and the water that’s entered all the mechanical componentry will dimish the function of grease and oils leading to fast and permanent damage.
That being said, if you can find a vehicle, which I have done on many occasion, that has had minimal water entry, hasn’t been started post flooding, and you can strip that vehicle out, clear all the electrical connections, drain all oils and regrease bearings where possible, rapidly dry and remove moisture from any interior components then you may have a chance. Another important point to consider is air bags which may be required to be replaced.