FLORISSANT — A blue Toyota Yaris landed at Danmark Tire & Auto this week. The driver was on a bridge trying to cross Coldwater Creek when rising waters on Tuesday halted his progress. A line on the car showed the water had reached about 4 feet to the side.
Shop owner Richard Cox looked at the car and shook his head. This has been totaled.
“I’ve always had bad experiences with cars that have been flooded. All the wiring will rust. Everything in the car will rust,” he said.
The case of the Yaris was particularly sad, as the driver may also have been living in the car – the car was full of clothes and other items. Mud covered the ground and the upholstery was still wet on Wednesday.
Hundreds of cars were submerged in flash floods that hit the St. Louis area after record rainfall on Tuesday, and again after heavy downpours on Thursday. They were among the most poignant images of the week – water up to the windows, or higher. But after the water recedes, what then?
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A flood doesn’t necessarily mean an auto trip to the junkyard, owners of auto repair shops in the area said. But cars and large amounts of water don’t mix.
A handful of flooded vehicles were brought to Sparks Tire & Auto in St. Charles. The flooding was so severe that it was all total, including a medium-duty truck that had water almost to its roof, said Greg Damon, company director and host of the “KMOX Auto Show “.
Damon said most vehicles will only be free of damage if the water doesn’t reach more than about halfway up the tire.
“When it gets a little higher than that, you’re going to start getting water into your cabin. Most of the time that can be cleaned up and restored,” he said.
“As you go higher it starts to destroy the electronics – under the dash, under the seats, in the heating and air conditioning, the computer, a number of things.”
At this point, he said, repairing the vehicle becomes expensive. And if water gets into the engine or fuel system, the engine will need to be rebuilt. In most cases, this would cost more than the value of the car.
Sometimes people try to sell cars that have been flooded to unsuspecting customers. Danmark’s Cox said a good way to tell is if the carpet in the trunk shows a water line.
At Tactical Towing & Recovery in Belleville, Tuesday was an exhausting day. Calls were coming in so fast all day that owner Brian Seiber said he couldn’t make an outgoing call.
“I’ve been towing for 18 years. I’ve never seen it this bad. The closest thing I’ve ever seen to that is when we had really bad snow,” Seiber said, who estimated that his crews went on 35 calls from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. — and they had to turn down business because they didn’t have enough trucks and drivers.
After the tow drivers got the cars out of the water, or at the repair shop after they were towed there, the owners would try to start the car.
“As soon as he spits and water comes out of the tailpipe, we say, ‘Time to call your insurance company. It’s total,'” Seiber said.
But Seiber said there are ways to improve your chances that your car won’t be destroyed if it gets into water. If the driver shuts down the engine before the water gets too high, they have a chance of surviving the situation.
He said about one in three or four cars that are turned off during floods can later start and run.
But even if the vehicle is drivable, warned Damon of Sparks Tire & Auto, that doesn’t mean it won’t be affected by water. Mold can grow, he said, and under-dash wiring and sensors can corrode.
“It could take a few weeks, it could take a year” before the problems start, he said.
Anyone whose car has been in water should have it professionally checked before driving it, he said.
Cox had better advice: “Don’t drive through any kind of water. You don’t know how fast it might go.”