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Car insurance and flood damage: what you need to know

Sarah Tooze
Written by  Sarah Tooze
5 min read
Updated: 06 Mar 2024

Scientists are warning that the UK could experience more extreme floods as a result of climate change, which means an increased risk not only to homes and businesses but to vehicles. So what happens if your car is damaged in a flood - will your insurer pay out?

Each year breakdown providers rescue thousands of vehicles which have been driven through or are stuck in flood water.  

A car can be moved away with just 30cm of flowing water and about a third (32%) of flood-related deaths are in vehicles, according to The AA.  

In 2020 it rescued almost 9,000 vehicles which had entered flood water, with an estimated insurance bill of more than £34 million.  

Does my car insurance cover flood damage? 

Whether your insurer will cover the cost of damage to your car as a result of flooding depends on the level of cover you have and the circumstances.  

If you have basic third party insurance or third party fire and theft you’re unlikely to be covered. Fully comprehensive insurance, on the other hand, should include flood damage but it’s important to check the terms and conditions of your policy carefully. 

Insurers tend to categorise flood damage as unavoidable (for example, your car was parked in your driveway when a flash flood happened) or avoidable (for example, if you drove through floodwater and found it was deeper than you expected). 

To make a claim for flood damage you should contact your insurer as soon as possible. If you can, take photos of the scene and any flood damage to the interior and exterior of your car as evidence.  

They’ll advise you on the next steps but they will usually send an approved mechanic to assess the damage.  

flood damage

What damage can flood water do to a car? 

Your car’s electrical system, brakes and engine could all be damaged by flood water.   

Significant damage to your vehicle can occur from just an egg cup full of water being sucked into your engine, according to The AA.  

The engine’s air intake is often low down, which makes it susceptible to water damage.   

If you can’t start your car or it starts briefly and stops again it might have water in it. Other signs to look out for are a strong smell of petrol, especially near the exhaust pipe and a fast cranking sound or whirring when you turn the key in the ignition, The AA says.  

If you’ve driven through flood water and suspect it has caused damage it’s best to get a mechanic to look at it, if it’s not being assessed by your insurer.  

You should also avoid drying the car out yourself before a professional has looked at it.  

Will my car be written-off if it has flood damage? 

If your car has flood damage it’s not an automatic write-off, it depends on whether water got into the engine and how much.  

If your insurer does class it as a write-off then the pay-out you receive will usually be based on the market value of your vehicle before it was written off, unless you have taken out new for old car insurance that pays you the amount you would need to buy a new version of the same make and model. 

Unhappy with what your insurer has offered? You can dispute the amount by finding other similar cars being sold for a higher price.  

Alternatively, if you have GAP insurance, the pay-out from that could be used to pay off any outstanding finance on your car.  

Fully comprehensive insurance may also cover the child car seats and, if you have personal possessions cover, any belongings which have been damaged too.  

How to drive safely in heavy rain and through flood water  

If there’s heavy rain or a flood warning it’s best not to travel but if you have no choice there are steps you can take to deal with difficult driving conditions. 

Firstly, turn your headlights on to improve visibility and keep your air conditioning on to stop your windows from misting up.  

Drive at an appropriate speed and remember to increase your stopping distance to at least double because your tyres will have less grip on a wet road.  

If you feel your car aquaplaning avoid slamming on the brakes and ease off the accelerator to slow down gently instead.  

If you see flood water ahead it’s best to turn around and take a different route, if possible. Otherwise, you need to assess how deep it is. If it’s more than 10cm (four inches) deep or the water is moving you shouldn’t enter it, The AA says.   

Even if the water appears shallow enough to drive through there could be potholes or dips in the road so take extra care. 

It’s best to drive in the middle of the road as this is the highest point.  

Keep your car in first gear and drive slowly, about 1-2mph as you enter the water and then accelerate to around 3-4mph. Keep the engine revs higher than usual.  

After you exit the water, test your brakes by lightly pressing them. 

If your car stalls after driving through flood water, don’t restart it in case you cause further damage. If you break down you also shouldn’t open the bonnet as you risk water getting into the electrics. 

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