Should I fix my flooded car or should I just get a new one?
March 13, 2008 4:13 PM   Subscribe

Should I fix my flooded car or should I just get a new one?

I recently drove my 2002 Saturn SL2 (59,300 miles) into a puddle of water during a rainstorm; the car stalled and a couple of inches of water flooded onto the floor. I immediately pushed the car out and bailed out the water with a bucket the best I could. I towed the car to a mechanic the next morning, and after looking at it, they told me I needed a new engine (and possibly replacement carpeting -- my call). Luckily, this damage is covered by insurance.

Mechanic's damage estimate (incl. labor):
$3400 for new engine (subtract 500-600 for used one)
$575 for new carpet (subtract a couple hundred for cleaning flooded ones)
No electrical damage

My insurance company appraised the damage and wanted to total it, offering me around $6100. With that money, I could fix the car (insurance people told me it would not affect my ability for coverage) and keep the difference, minus the salvage value of $895.

Besides this massive screw-up, I had taken excellent care of the car, and I've had virtually no problems at all with it from the day I bought it. I had planned to own this car for a long time; probably whatever replacement car I get will not be as nice as what I had (sunroof, power everything, traction control, etc.).

Should I fix this car, or should I just take the money and buy a used car? (I don't have the money to just put this as a down payment on a new car, or one of significantly higher value than the $6100.) I loved this car and I want to keep it, but not if the car is just going to be a nightmare from now on.

Has anyone had experience fixing a flooded car? Was it worth it? Should I worry about future problems?
posted by kosmonaut to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The car will never cease to have electrical problems, and I would never buy a car that had a used engine in it. For $6100 you can buy a used Honda that will last longer than the Saturn would have. Time to call this one a wrap and move on.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 4:26 PM on March 13, 2008

I'm unsure why you need a new engine if it was a few inches of water - unless it was sucked into the engine and the so you have hydraulicly buggered the engine trying to run it full of water...

If there is no electrical damage, have you tried to start it?

As a potentially helpful sidenote - a guy I know has salvaged several flooded vehicles and fixed them up. Some of them have been flooded up to the windscreen. If there really was only two inches of water above the door sills, if you do a good job of emptying everything out and cleaning all the damage and ensuring no corrosion from pockets of water (ie do it soon) I see no reason why you can't salvage this one. I'd be worried about corrosion of the body, but also of any electrical terminals - if they get corroded you may have random electrical glitches later in the car's life.

But if you have plenty of time to do it right, and good sources of parts/interior carpets (crashed cars from auction?) it is worth it if you will save money. If it is as expensive to get a new/different car minus a few hundred, you've got to wonder how much your time is worth plus the peace of mind element.

Tot up the sums and see how much you'd actually save over a different car. It's doable, but involves a good amount of work.
posted by Brockles at 4:30 PM on March 13, 2008

Wazoo is right, $6100 dollars will buy you a pretty nice and reliable used car.
posted by pete0r at 4:30 PM on March 13, 2008

Response by poster: Brockles

Yes, the reason it needed to be replaced was that the water was sucked into the engine (I got unlucky on that one).

As for the electrical: before towing it to the shop, I tried to start it up. The starter motor revved, but the engine made a boom, like metal on metal. All the other electrical stuff inside seemed to be working, keyless entry was fine, lights were working. There was no sign of any immediate electrical problems.
posted by kosmonaut at 4:40 PM on March 13, 2008

I seem to be MeFi's resident Honda fanboi, and I'm going to second NewWazoo's suggestion. Write off the Saturn, and replace it with a used car that won't have the problems you'll surely see with this one sooner than you'd like.

Seems like your objections are mostly sentimental...bought it with bells and whistles because you intended to drive it until it died. But the fact is, if your insurance company is calling it dead (totaled), then you probably should, too.
posted by SlyBevel at 4:45 PM on March 13, 2008

if this wasn't a saturn, i might say to give it some work and keep it

but it's a saturn

so take your chance to get rid of it
posted by Salvatorparadise at 4:47 PM on March 13, 2008

This is a long shot and maybe too late, but before giving up on it could you remove the sparkplugs and run the starter for a few revs to squish out imbibed water. Park it in the sun with hood and doors open (plus large fan aimed at engine compartment) and let evaporation do its thing for a few days. Then try to start.

Maybe some "car-guys" would know of the practicality of such palliatives.
posted by Kevin S at 5:08 PM on March 13, 2008

Best answer: CarTalk: Is a flooded car junk? Look at the third part.
posted by dhartung at 5:45 PM on March 13, 2008

Response by poster: Kevin S

Unfortunately, I think it's too late for doing my own tune-ups. The insurance company wants to move things along quickly and also I might start getting charged a storage fee.
posted by kosmonaut at 6:28 PM on March 13, 2008

Best answer: but before giving up on it could you remove the sparkplugs and run the starter for a few revs to squish out imbibed water.

If it tried to run with water in it, the chances are some internal damage is evident - at least bent valves or perhaps even conrods. The fact that it stalled and then went CLANK when he tried to restart is, as they say, 'Bad' TM.
posted by Brockles at 8:25 PM on March 13, 2008

Also, that car junk link seems to be mainly referring to cars that were fully submerged, not one that 'got a bit wet' like this one did. Prolonged submersion is completely different from 'I drove into a puddle and pushed it straight back out'.

Although, I agree with those that are saying 'take the money and run'.
posted by Brockles at 8:27 PM on March 13, 2008

I once owned a Saturn--worst car ever--within the first 80,000 miles I had to replace the alternator twice--at 84,000 miles the transmission blew apart (3000 miles after the dealership "serviced" the transmission). Consider this manna from heaven, and take the money--buy yourself a nice used (non-Saturn) car.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 8:57 PM on March 13, 2008

Response by poster: Good point about the Car Talk link.

But, I guess you folks are all pretty swaying me in the direction of junking the car... but as I try to work this out, it's surprising how much sentimental attachment I am realizing I have!

Thanks for all the advice so far.
posted by kosmonaut at 9:11 PM on March 13, 2008

Look around to see if there's any similar used cars of the same model on the market that could be bought with the insurance money. Same car, but without the potential engine/electrical problems and hassle.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 4:53 AM on March 14, 2008

Best answer: If the car rev'ed for a while then stopped with a sudden CA-CHUNK you mostly likely have hydrolock, which means water is in the cylinders. And since water doesn't compress, your probably just bent some valves, pushrods (if you got them), and did all kinds of other permanent damage.

So, yeah the engine is mostly likely toast.

Plus, the water damage is probably going to cause all kinds of other weird electrical problems over the cars life. I'd take the money.
posted by sideshow at 11:26 AM on March 14, 2008

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