How to Complete Auto Flood Claim Inspections & Estimates

How to Complete Auto Flood Claim Inspections & Estimates

How to Handle Auto Flood Claims

(this is anexcerpt from my book the “Auto Adjuster’s Playbook) 

This chapter will help you if you are dealing with vehicles that have suffered a saltwater flood, fresh water flood, brackish (combo of salt and fresh) water flood, or even the common scenario of a vehicle driving through a deep puddle and then stalled.

Flood vehicles can present interesting challenges to you as an IA. It is likely that a vehicle will be a total loss if submerged in water, but as appraisers and adjusters can’t simply “total loss” a car. We must prove what is damaged and make a compelling case for making a vehicle go away.

The key is knowing what to look for and documenting what the damage is. Even if you can’t total loss the vehicle properly documenting on an original inspection can help you with any supplements in the future.

Engine Damage

I always hated trying to figure out if a vehicle had engine damage from a flood. It stressed me out, I’ve never been a mechanic, and I felt incompetent to make that determination.

Good news is I talked with different experts in the industry and created a best practice so whether you are a mechanic or not can determine if an engine has damage from a flood… or not.

  • Check for milky oil (if milky replace engine)
  • Check for water in the air intake 
  • If owner states it acts “locked” or won’t turn over, replace the engine (and oil is milky or water in intake)

Take good photos documenting the milky oil. You’ll want to show that the oil doesn’t look black or a beautiful rich gold color, but if it is milky it will look more like chocolate milk.

For the air intake take a photo of the air filter itself. Is it wet? Are there water droplets inside the airbox? If so this typically causes a hydro-locked engine.

A hydro-locked engine occurs when an engine suffers damage from the force of the pistons moving upward causing a connecting rod to bend, a crack in the crankshaft, or fractures in the cylinder walls. It can also blow out the oil seals which allows water to get into the oil (thus the milky water)

I’ve seen broken rods break through an engine block and according to IA’s who handle WAY more flood than me, 90% of all vehicles that have a flood loss description (whether driving through a big puddle or not) end up being total lossed once it arrives at the shop.

The biggest mistake IA’s make is not documenting the milky oil or water in the air intake.

Flood Levels

You’ll hear talk of what level was the car flooded too. Flood levels is a scale that is commonly used to indicate how submerged a vehicle was in the water.

There are typically four flood levels that tell what the highest point that the water reached was,

  • Level 1 – Up to the Rocker Panel (not inside the vehicle)
  • Level 2 – Inside the Vehicle (on the floor)
  • Level 3 – Up to the Seats
  • Level 4 – To the Dash

You can probably figure out on your own from this scale that determining how high the water got on the vehicle is a TOP priority with flooded vehicles.

If a vehicle suffered a freshwater level 3 and beyond, ALWAYS recommend a total loss.

If the vehicle suffered saltwater or brackish level 2 and beyond ALWAYS recommend a total loss

Water Lines

As discussed in other parts of this book, our job as auto damage appraisers and adjusters is to DOCUMENT THE DAMAGE. Showing in a photograph how high the water was is mission critical on a flood vehicle.

If this vehicle drove through a large puddle and sucked up water into the engine, it may not have a water line, but in most cases, it will.

You’ll be looking for a line of dirt or debris on the vehicle. See the example below for an easy example of a flood line during hurricane Sandy.

If the vehicle you are inspecting is NOT this obvious of a flood line, look at the door jambs. Many times this will give you a good indication of how high the water was.

Showing where the water reached on the vehicle is important because water does crazy things to a vehicle.

  • It can ruin electrical components and connectors
  • Mold and mildew the interior
  • Create a biohazard from the dirty water
  • Cause safety systems to fail

Flood Template

Below is a flood template I created during Hurricane Harvey. The flood template makes it easy for you to use as a scope sheet during your flood loss. Select how high the water level was and ALWAYS document the option of the vehicle to make sure you can properly complete a valuation form and the total loss process.



Common Operations Per Flood Level

During hurricane Harvey and Irma, I looked at more than ten guidelines from insurance companies and IA Firm as to what they wanted to be performed on the different flood levels to determine a best practice for you as an IA.

You may be instructed to write different items, and that is OK, but this will help you write a good initial estimate and will make you look like you are a seasoned flood appraiser.

Always follow your company guidelines, if you are not given specific operations, this is a general guide for you to use.

Level 1 – Rocker Panel (Not in Vehicle)

  • Oil Change/Service – Sublet $35.00
  • Transmission Service – Sublet $150
  • Check Air Filter – Sublet $35
  • Clean/Lube Brakes – Sublet $100
  • Clean CV Joints – Sublet $75
  • Re-Pack Bearings – Sublet $300 (optional)
  • Axle Service – Sublet $100
  • Dry Electrical Parts- Sublet $225
  • Clean Exterior – Sublet $70

Level 2 – Floor (in Vehicle)

  • Everything in Level 1 +
  • Clean/Dry Carpet – Sublet $325
  • Clean Seat Belts – Sublet $35
  • Clean Trim- Sublet $95
  • Disinfect Interior – Sublet $75
  • Chk Control Mods – Sublet $75


Level 3 – Seats

Many companies Total Vehicles Once Flood Reaches Level 3

  • Everything in Level 1 & 2 +
  • Seat Covers – Sublet $120
  • Clean Seats – Sublet $100
  • Dry Door Panels – Sublet $120
  • Lube Seat Tracks- Sublet $35
  • Lube Window Tracks – Sublet $35


Level 4 – Dash

A Vehicle Will ALWAYS Be a Total Loss Once Flood Reaches Level 4


  • Everything in Level 1, 2, & 3+
  • Flood Level 4 – Sublet $0.01
  • OBVIOUS TOTAL LOSS – Sublet $0.01

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