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My car flooded this morning! What should I do?

Flash flooding damaged roads and snarled traffic Monday in Arlington, Va.
Flash flooding damaged roads and snarled traffic Monday in Arlington, Va. (Amy Gardner/The Washington Post)
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If your car was one of the many trapped by floodwaters on or below street level Monday, you should resist the urge to start it up once the waters recede.

“Have it towed out of the garage,” said John Townsend, director of public affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “You don’t want to drive it because the electrical system could short out — maybe not today, but down the road and in traffic.”

The best option, Townsend said, is to tow the vehicle to a reputable mechanic who can certify whether there is any damage to the many electronic components in modern cars and trucks.

The heavy rains that deluged much of the Washington area Monday morning flooded numerous parking lots, garages, buildings and homes.

Washington region hammered by heavy rains, flooding

The American Property Casualty Insurance Association, which represents almost 60 percent of the industry, advises insurance customers to report claims as soon as possible. Standard homeowner policies do not cover flooding, and those who buy policies through the National Flood Insurance Program typically must wait 30 days before they take effect.

If you think your policy will cover the damage to your property, file a claim and document the damage with photos before you start cleaning up. Keep receipts, and set aside any large, expensive items to show your adjuster. It helps to have a home inventory, which should include photographs or videos, receipts and descriptions, said Chris Hackett, ­APCIA’s senior director of personal lines policy.

“You may be really surprised to find out how much you own when you go room to room, closet to closet, drawer to drawer,” he said. If you had not created a home inventory before weather-related damage, you can do it afterward.

Hackett said flood victims should try to prevent or lessen further damage by covering holes in roofs with a tarp or clearing storm drains. Sweep or mop out standing water, and remove or vacuum carpeting to reduce the chance of mold.

Flood damage is typically included under the “comprehensive” portion of vehicle insurance policies and should cover towing and repair, Townsend said. Geico and State Farm spokeswomen said customers should contact their agents as soon as possible.

Capital Weather Gang: Between 3 and 4 inches of rain fell in an hour

State Farm’s website has tips on how to check a vehicle for flood damage: Avoid starting a flooded car because ignition will cause more damage if there’s water in the engine; start drying out your vehicle as soon as possible, using a wet-dry vacuum, fans or dehumidifiers and cloths to absorb moisture in the seats. A mechanic will know to check the oil dipstick for water droplets, look for water-damaged cylinders, and change the oil and transmission fluid, among other things.

Those who think they can skip the expense and hassle of towing should “use your . . . senses” to determine how much water got into the vehicle and whether it rose above the floor boards, AAA’s Townsend said. Look, smell and feel for damage, and check the floor mats and carpets for indications that water seeped in.

“If you suspect it was flooded, the best thing to do is have your mechanic inspect it,” Townsend said. “It probably will start, in all likelihood, but problems will show up in subsequent days.”

Read the latest Capital Weather Gang Updates on Monday’s storm

Water rescues, snarled traffic as Washington region hammered by rain

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