Up to 10,000 vehicles may be written off after recent floods

The recent catastrophic floods in the Auckland region may have caused more vehicle damage than any other single event in this country’s history, says the car review website dogandlemon.

Editor Clive Matthew-Wilson says:

“As of last Friday, about 4000 vehicles had been written off by insurers and sent for auction. Many commentators expect that figure to at least double.”

“Many vehicles have not yet been processed by insurers. For example, in a single house in Auckland’s Grey Lynn, there are currently two trashed vehicles in the driveway and a third parked on the street outside. There are thousands of other vehicles like these ones: completely wrecked and destined for the wrecking yard.”

Matthew-Wilson adds that, in addition to insurance write-offs, there are an “unknown but significant” number of private cars that have been flood-damaged but may not show up in any official records.

“In poor areas such as South Auckland, there are tens of thousands of vehicles that may not officially exist. Many have no insurance and are often neither registered nor warranted. For example, it was recently estimated that there are 400,000 cars driving on New Zealand roads without WOFs. How many of these vehicles were affected by recent floods? We don’t know, but you can be sure that many owners of uninsured vehicles probably aren’t going to reveal that their car has been through deep water. They’re likely to sell their flood-damaged vehicles for whatever they can get. If the water damage has not been registered with the government, then the next owner of these vehicles may end up buying a complete lemon.”

Matthew-Wilson says that modern cars are exceedingly vulnerable to water damage.*

“We have always recommended a full, independent inspection of any used car. Now this is doubly important.”

Matthew-Wilson wants the government to get tougher with damaged vehicle registrations:

"If a previously written-off vehicle is later re-registered and offered for sale, it should be compulsory for any potential buyer to be informed of that vehicle’s history. It shouldn’t be the buyers’ job to find this information out.”

“It’s vital that car buyers use an online data service such as Carjam, which will give you all available information about a vehicle’s history. But remember, services like Carjam use information supplied by the government. If the government records aren’t complete or up to date, then neither will an online data check such as Carjam. That’s why it’s really important that you get an independent vehicle inspection before you buy any used car."


* Water-damaged vehicles


If you drive through flood water, there’s a high chance of your car sucking water into the engine. That will wreck the engine instantly. But it’s damage to electronics that has wrecked most cars. Once water has been through a car, it’s a write-off. The car may fail immediately, or it may fail at some random time in the future. There’s no way of knowing, so the insurance companies almost invariably write these vehicles off.

Matthew-Wilson says electric cars are generally okay in the wet, but are at risk from major battery fires.

“The good news is that the weight of an electric car’s batteries helps to keep it from being washed away in floods. If the electric car has four-wheel drive, this will also help it stay stable in floodwater.”

“However, electric and hybrid car batteries carry a huge amount of energy. Electric cars are usually fine on wet roads, because they’re sealed against ordinary moisture. However, once floodwater (especially sea water) gets into an electric or hybrid car battery system, there’s a high chance of a serious fire. So, you’re probably not going to be electrocuted, but the car may catch fire.”

“There were multiple serious fires in Tesla cars following the recent floods in Florida. Fresh water is bad enough for vehicle electronics, but salt water is diabolical. Even if the battery doesn’t fail immediately, the salt may cause internal corrosion that may trigger a sudden battery fire, days, weeks or months later.”