Napier flood has turned hundreds of modern cars into write-offs

Of the hundreds cars written off because of last month’s flooding in Napier, an unexpected trend is starting to emerge.

Torrential rain on November 9 caught many drivers in the city heading home from work unawares. Cars were trapped by water, and began floating. Some drivers were forced to abandon their prized possessions, some found themselves in trouble while going out to help others.

Two months on, it’s become clear, if you took a new-model car out at the height of the flood, it’s not just almost certainly a write-off, it’s also potentially a ticking time bomb.

Greenmeadows Panel & Paint owner and manager Tony Carson said they had had about 30 flood-damaged cars through their shop, and newer ones were more likely to be deemed unfixable.

He said while every car would be assessed individually, most insurance companies had sent notice that if water had entered the cabin of a car, there was a 90 per cent chance it would have to be written off.

“We’ve been having to lift all the trim out, all the carpet out and have a good inspection underneath,” Carson said.

He said modern cars had significant wiring and electronics housed under the carpet, including for air bags, safety belts and engine control units.

“If it’s wet [underneath, the insurers] basically didn’t want to know too much about it, they just wanted to write them straight off,” Carson said.

He said storing all the electronics under the carpet had been standard practice for a while, but more and more things were being crammed into newer vehicles.

“It’s all inside the cabin, that’s the best place for it, it’s nice and dry, or supposed to be,” Carson said.

There are still written off cars sitting at Greenmeadows Panel & Paint because storage yards in Hawke’s Bay remain too full for them to be taken away.

Carson said his mechanics try to start them up and park them nearby to free up space, but different issues cropped up every day.

“Lots of them are having new faults that they never came in with.”

Hawke’s Bay Towing transport manager Mark Naylor said his firm had dealt with somewhere in the ballpark of 500 or 600 flood-damaged cars.

“It’s probably triple the workload we would normally have for this time of year,” he said.

Naylor agreed that under-carpet electrics were a major element of the vehicles being written off by insurers.

“It’s a big risk to take for a vehicle that might be okay at the time, but then six months later it could be having issues associated with that water damage,” he said.

Airbags were just one example.

“If there are electronics that have been damaged, and they’re going to make those airbags go off [unprompted], or not go off in an accident.”

Hawke’s Bay Towing is the local agent for Manheim Auctions, which is contracted by insurance company IAG in turn to dispose of written-off vehicles.

Naylor said once the cars came into their yard to store, they sent photos of them to Manheim for salvage auctions, the cars were sold and taken away again in a week or two.

He said new cars were still coming before Christmas in at a rate of 20 a day.

Naylor said he thought Hawke’s Bay Towing would be done bringing vehicles in by mid-January, and it would be another month or so after that before all the flood-damaged cars were gone and their workload would be back to normal.

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