Complaints spike about insurance companies and flooded cars

Complaints spike about insurance companies and flooded cars
Flood waters from Hurricane Matthew devastated parts of southeastern NC. (Source: Victoria George)

BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WECT) - It's a good thing to have insurance if your car is flooded during a severe storm, but many insurance companies have deemed cars damaged during Hurricane Matthew a total loss.

A man in Bladen County says his insurance company is trying to repair his flooded car instead.

National General Insurance has already spent thousands of dollars trying to repair Antonio Baldwin's car. Two months later, it still isn't running right.

Baldwin and his new wife, Sandra, were on their way to their own wedding when Hurricane Matthew ruined their plans. They'd turned around and were heading back home to Clarkton when floodwaters swept over the road.

"The water started rushing up. And it came up to the hood, and some of it started coming up into the bottom of the vehicle. I guess by God's grace, it stalled out, and I kept patting the gas and it started up and [we] got out the water," Baldwin said of his experience in the floodwaters.

While they survived unscathed, the 2011 Chevy Malibu they were driving did not. An insurance adjustor put them in a rental car, while a Columbus County auto repair shop tried to fix the water damage to Baldwin's Malibu. He estimates his car is worth about $8,500.

Weeks later, after the first repair attempt, his Malibu still wasn't running right, and Baldwin said the insurance adjustor stopped returning his calls. He had to contact the adjustor's supervisor to get them to address the continued issues with the car.

"The sensor lights were still on. It sounded like a tractor when I started it up. It was putting everywhere," Baldwin said of his car when he went to pick it up after the repair attempt.

Wilmington auto repair expert Carl Brewer says he isn't surprised the ongoing attempts to repair the water damage have been unsuccessful.

"If it was my car, and I had one submerged, I would be pushing the insurance companies to total it," Brewer said of the inherent difficulties of repairing water damage to a car. He explained that almost everything on modern cars is computerized, and when those computers get wet, a lot of things can go wrong.

Trying to pinpoint and fix the problem can be more of a hassle than it's worth.

"The biggest problem I see with these cars is it's not cost effective, because by the time you fix them, you've got more in the repair than the car is worth," Brewer said.

National General Insurance did not call us back, but did send a one line response saying they are working on a plan to resolve this with their customer.

The North Carolina Insurance Commissioner's office says they've seen a spike in complaints about insurance companies refusing to total flooded cars. In November alone, they received 39 Hurricane Matthew-related complaints. At least 20 of those were auto related, with the majority involving complaints from consumers that insurance companies wanted to repair their car rather than total it.

The Insurance Commissioner's office says insurance policies vary, but if you feel like your insurance company is not honoring your policy, you should call the commissioner's office to file a complaint. The number is 855-408-1212.

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