Miami Beach

Best way to prevent cars’ floodwater damage? ‘Don’t drive’

Cars goes through a flood caused by heavy rains at North Bay Road and West 21st Street in Miami Beach on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017.
Cars goes through a flood caused by heavy rains at North Bay Road and West 21st Street in Miami Beach on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017. emichot@miamiherald.com

Tropical Storm Emily never actually hit South Florida — but it left its wet mark. Waters Tuesday afternoon rose to headlights of cars and even caused a manhole to pop off on a Miami Beach street.

“I’ve lived here since 1995,” Miami Beach resident Edison Farrow said after the bad weather. “I’ve never seen it that bad.”

Farrow was in New York watching a Facebook Live video when he saw his car flooded to just above the bottom of the doors.

He thought: “Oh my God — there’s my car. And here I am 1,000 miles away in New York.”

Farrow returned to Miami and discovered the interior carpeting damp, which was much less than during another flood in which Farrow used a wet vacuum to remove four inches of water.

His Volkswagen Jetta started, but two blocks later, it conked out. Farrow pushed it into a parking spot and planned to wait 24 hours in hopes that the car engine would dry out.

Farrow was one of many Miami-Dade County drivers left with water-damaged vehicles. By Wednesday afternoon, repair shops and insurance agents handled all types of damage, from destroyed engines to damaged interior carpeting to broken radio systems.

Often, water damage is obvious: The car won’t start or the interior carpeting is wet.

“If it does start, the damage would be very minimal,” said Mark Raybon, owner of Larry’s Service Center on Bay Road in Miami Beach. “If there’s any water in the car, the first step: Call your insurance company.”

By Wednesday night, Raybon’s shop had five water-damaged cars from Tuesday’s floods. Two engines were flooded, another was totaled. The other three were still being inspected by insurance companies.

Driving through deep puddles could flood the engine. Parked cars are at-risk, as well, he said.

If a car is parked at an angle with the deepest water near the front seats, where cars’ computer systems are often located, the electronics in the car may be damaged.

“It’s gonna short something out if they try to start it,” Raybon said.

He recommends owners have their cars towed if they’re unsure. That way, mechanics can determine the severity of water damage and whether the engine can be dried out or needs replacement.

Mechanics at Raybon’s shop also advise that car owners rinse their cars after floods — especially near Miami Beach, where floodwater can mix with saltwater from the ocean.

Once that happens, salt can deteriorate the paint on top and car parts underneath.

Green’s Garage in Miami hasn’t worked on any cars damaged in Tuesday’s flood, yet.

“Sometimes after a few days, people don’t realize, and then their cars will start to run rough,” said owner Orestes Triana Jr., who goes by J.R.

Triana said his “rule of thumb” is to call your insurance company if water rises to the seat-belt area. “That’s a serious situation.”

For less obvious water damage, car owners might eventually smell mold or mildew. And if drivers made it through a deep puddle and the “check-engine” light briefly turned on, they should still have their cars checked out, he said.

“If we catch it in time and we can prove that it was caused by water or water intrusion, in most cases your car insurance will cover it.”

Insurance companies fielded several claims calls from the floods. One Geico insurance adjuster received around eight calls related to Miami’s flooding, which he said was more than normal. Another agent from Allstate Insurance Company fielded 10 claims calls.

Most were for smaller cars.

“If the car’s low to the ground, you’re going to get a lot more damage than a utility vehicle,” said Joe Conway, whose Allstate office is located in South Beach.

The best prevention?

“If it’s flooded out there,” he said, “don’t drive.”

@sydneyp1234

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