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'Comprehensive' insurance usually covers flooded cars

Herbert Scott, of Medford, sits atop his car

Herbert Scott, of Medford, sits atop his car on flooded Penataquit Avenue in Bay Shore on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. Credit: Ed Betz

Drivers whose cars were flooded during the historic rainfall Wednesday morning probably will be covered for losses by their auto insurance policies if they opted for "comprehensive" coverage.

About 75 percent of vehicle owners buy comprehensive, which covers almost anything not directly related to a car crash -- including floods -- according to the Insurance Information Institute, an industry organization based in Manhattan.

Comprehensive is relatively cheap, accounting for 10 or 15 cents of every premium dollar, said Michael F. Barry, a vice president at the institute. It usually is sold with a $100 to $300 deductible.

In most cases, the insurance company either will authorize repairs or declare the car a total loss if the cost of repairs exceeds the "book value" of the car. That is the value in a retail sale -- not the lower "trade-in" value -- and is calculated based on guidelines set by the state Department of Financial Services, said John Capuano, the department's principal insurance examiner.

Owners of older, high mileage cars with low value often drop their comprehensive coverage, said Gary Morris, chief executive of the Rampart Group, an insurance brokerage in Lake Success.

Of greatest concern when a car has been submerged is damage to the engine and engine-related electronics as well as to other electronics in the vehicle, Morris said.

Cars that have been declared total losses by insurers normally are stripped by dismantlers for their usable parts. Those that are salvaged and repaired for resale are required by state laws to have the words "salvage" or "flood" in their titles.

But the National Automobile Dealers Association warned after superstorm Sandy that some storm-totaled cars can find their way onto the used car market with "clean" titles.

For car owners, homeowners and business people with insurance questions, the state Department of Financial Services mobile command center is scheduled to be at the Islip Town parking lot at 401 Main St. Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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