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April 24, 2012 - Larry DeHays

If you will be here this summer with your car, you might want to know what you can do to protect the car in the event of a tropical storm or hurricane. If you left a car here while you went north, make sure your car insurance is paid up, and includes comprehensive coverage. If you live west of U.S. 41 you are probably in a flood zone. If that is the case, your main concern will be salt water flooding from the Gulf. Wind damage is possible of course, from falling trees and other debris, regardless of your elevation. If you value the car, you must have it stored in a safe place during the storm. If you will be here, remember that you can’t run from or dodge a hurricane. It can turn, speed up or stop at any time, so the thing to do is get yourself in a safe location in plenty of time and wait for it to pass. That means at an elevation higher than the expected flood level, and in a concrete building with a good roof. If you can’t get your car in a garage, at least get it higher than the expected flood level. Salt water is death to a vehicle. If salt water washes through your brakes while you are away, and you don’t do anything about it until you return, you will likely find your wheels will not turn. They will be stuck to the brakes. A wrecker will have to drag it out leaving four black skid marks where it was parked. If the water gets a little higher, say about a foot deep, the starter will be ruined. A little deeper and the floor boards will rust through and the springs begin to dissolve. Any higher and the wiring is toast. Water over the floor means the car is totaled. If you don’t know the elevation of your parking area, ask a neighbor how high the water came in your area during hurricane Charlie. That was about five feet above high tide on Fort Myers Beach. Knowing that, you can judge whether or not to keep a car at your elevation. We have had many storms with three feet and a few with five or six feet of flood water. If you are here during a storm, just take the car with you to higher ground inland if you can. If salt water does get to the car, even if it is only driving through it while evacuating, (ie; you waited too long) you may be able to save it if you can rinse it with fresh water quickly. That could mean using a hose, or a car wash facility, or even just driving through fresh water mud puddles. Fresh water will evaporate from the steel parts with little damage. When salt water dries, it leaves salt behind, which sticks to the steel, and continues to absorb moisture from the atmosphere. That keeps the metal wet and salty, and results in rapid corrosion of the metal. You have to get the salt off, or it will never dry. You will one day step into your car and your feet will go through to the ground. Like Fred Flintstone’s car. When hurricane Wilma hit Key West, many residents got their cars from safe areas and took them home after the first storm surge. Then another, bigger surge came in, and over ten thousand vehicles in that little town were totaled. Like Yogi Berra said, “it ain’t over till it’s over”. Don’t make me say “I told you so”. Stay safe.


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