ē Q. Can you help my sisterís family? They were victims of Hurricane Sandy this fall, and although their cars are running, they did get saltwater up to the electrical system in both vehicles. Their mechanic said the cars are totaled, and thereís nothing to be done. Is he correct, or can you help? BIG thanks! ē
TOM: If what you mean by ďup to the electrical systemĒ is up to the fuse box at the top of the engine compartment, he probably IS correct.
RAY: Water can do a tremendous amount of damage to a car. It can wreak havoc on computers and safety and electrical systems. It can lead to early corrosion and rust inside the engine and among the relays and wiring under the dashboard. It can result in a mold odor so vicious that even my brother would notice it.
RAY: Thatís why insurance companies often total flooded cars. Replacing all of the waterlogged parts simply costs more than replacing the whole vehicle.
TOM: We wrote an article about dealing with, and avoiding, flooded cars after the hurricane. You can read it at our website, www.cartalk.com.
RAY: Your relatives should call their insurance company and report the incident right away. You want the adjuster to come out and look at the cars while the fish are still swimming in them. If he agrees that the cars are not worth repairing, heíll declare them totaled and offer a settlement. Like $14.
TOM: But they can refuse that and negotiate what they think are reasonable values for the cars after researching the prices of similar cars on used-car shopping sites.
RAY: If they donít have comprehensive insurance, then I suppose they can keep driving the cars for now, as long as the carsí basic mechanical components and safety systems are working. But at some point, theyíre going to be driven out of the cars by an endless series of electrical failures and the smell. So buy them a crate of Lysol Citrus Meadows Scent and wish them luck for us.
ē Q. I have a wonderful car, a í97 Saturn that gets great mileage and has been reliable all this time. But itís beginning to signal me that itís time for a replacement. Iíd like to get a Toyota Prius, but my curb cut is just steep enough that everyone I know who drives a Prius scrapes when they turn into my driveway. So, my questions are: (1) Would frequent scraping on the front of the car damage it? And (2) if the scraping would cause damage, can I have the car raised a couple of inches somehow so it doesnít contact the sidewalk every time I drive in and out? This probably sounds pretty stupid, but I really donít know anything about car bodies, so Iíd appreciate your advice. Thanks! ē
TOM: Frequent scraping certainly can cause damage. Ask anyone who spends a lot of time riding a bicycle.
RAY: It really depends on whatís being scraped. Lots of cars have a plastic wind deflector under the front bumper to improve mileage. If thatís all youíre scraping, it would be of no mechanical consequence ó until it fell off. And even then, it still might not be of much consequence.
TOM: But if you were scraping, say, the oil pan, that could cause problems. Then you could tear it open one day as you were backing out of the driveway, lose all of your oil, seize the engine and then have to go out and buy yourself a cheap replacement car, like a used í97 Saturn.
RAY: So this requires some specific investigation. Explain to your Toyota dealer that when you test-drive the new Prius, the route is going to have to include a trip up your driveway.
TOM: When you turn into your driveway (go very slowly), if you hear a scrape, you then can get out and watch and try to determine whatís scraping. Even if you canít tell by watching, you may be able to see telltale scrape marks on something under there.
RAY: The Prius is designed with mileage in mind, so my guess is that whatís scraping probably is some plastic shielding that improves airflow underneath the car. But since this car starts out low to the ground for aerodynamic purposes, you also could be risking a more important component. So my advice would be: If it scrapes, look for a different car.
TOM: Youíre not going to raise the car a few inches. Thatís impractical, and itís difficult to do. Plus, youíd change the carís handling and decrease its mileage. You might get half an inch out of larger tires, but if you need more than that, try something else.
RAY: There are several other Prius models now ó The Prius V and Prius C ó and you might find that one is better suited to your particular situation. If not, there are other great hybrids out there made by other companies, and youíll just have to consider one of those instead.
TOM: But before you buy any of them, make your driveway part of the test drive. You donít want to drive your brand-new car home for the first time only to discover that you now have to sell the house and move!
Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper, or email them by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.