How to Restore & Repair a Vehicle With Minor Flood Damage
It doesn't take a massive disaster to cause flooding enough to damage your car; everything from a particularly nasty rainstorm to a broken water main just down the street can cause some troublesome damage to your car, inside and out. Even minor damage can go far beyond the upholstery and damage circuits and electronics, as well as seep inside important parts of your engine as well. But restoring a car with minor water damage is definitely possible, especially if you're handy with DIY projects.
Estimate Length of Submersion
If your car wasn't in flood waters for very long, there's less of a chance that serious engine damage was done and that you'll probably have to focus more on restoring the interior. If it was deep water for days, however, then the damage could be much more serious.
In either case, don't try to start the car or drive it. If there was flooding of any kind that reached the engine, it will need to be inspected and cleaned before you can drive it safely. Judging its time underwater is more helpful to figure out the possibility of long-term damage, not whether it's immediately able to use.
Some of the most integral parts to your engine that could have been damaged are your transmission, steering, brakes, axles and fuel system. During a flood, water can seep into these mechanisms and cause rust, but they can also contaminate the oils and fluids inside. If you try to start the engine while your engine fluids are contaminated, it could drastically reduce the life of your engine.
Your car's oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid, antifreeze and power-steering fluid should all be drained completely. Before you replace the fluids, flush the system with clean water to rinse out any contaminated flood water. It's important to remove not only the liquid, but any of the dirt that could have come with it. If the water was dirty enough, mud can get inside your engine and dry there, disrupting engine operation. Replace all the fluids when you think the engine is successfully clean.
While you're replacing fluids, inspect your engine from the hood and underneath your car. You may need to clean more dirt and mud off the engine and away from any caps or openings that could lead to vital fluid containers. If your gas tank cap was submerged, make sure that area is clean as well.
If water got inside your car, you don't have to worry too much unless it got up to the top of your dash. With most minor water damage, most of your primary electronics will be safe. The electronics that could be put in danger are door mechanisms like locks and power windows. You'll also need to examine your pedals and gear stick.
The difficulty with your car's electronic components is that many of them are placed behind areas that are difficult to disassemble, such as underneath your dash and inside doors. Apart from cleaning exterior dirt, flushing dirty components and setting it out to dry, you may not be able to do much to inspect it. If you want to be sure that your electronics can be restored, talk to a resource like All Care.
Your car's upholstery needs to first be dried as well as possible, then deep cleaned. You can rent a carpet shampooer to help with this process. Use a rag soaked with water and bleach to scrub non-upholstered areas like your dash and sides of the door, and use special cleaning solutions for leather or vinyl if necessary. Don't forget to push any seats down to reach underneath or reach other areas; back seats can usually be pushed down through your trunk or a hatchback.