If we’re lucky, we can avoid disaster, but it’s best not to rule it out. Despite advanced engineering and building technology, floods, fires and earthquakes do occasionally get the best of us. Obviously, the most important concern is health and safety, but after that? Property damage.
Frequent flooding and wildfires over the past few years have reduced many once-gleaming classic cars and trucks to smoldering or sodden wreckage. What’s more, many car owners lost important documents by way of the same calamities that claimed their beloved motor vehicles. But Hagerty’s total loss specialists say that keeping proof-of-ownership papers and other important documents in a safe place is important. Without them, it can be difficult to get hold of post-disaster insurance payments.
Each state has its own policy regarding title and registration replacement. California, where wildfire destroyed hundreds of vehicles within the last couple of years, allows DMV customers to apply for new documents. The legal owner of the vehicle in question simply submits a signed, notarized application along with a driver’s license and a small fee. In New York, you can apply for a replacement title online.
But other documents – such as original build sheets and historical documents used to show provenance – are irreplaceable. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends keeping important papers – not only vehicle-related documents, but birth certificates, social security cards, passports and home insurance records – in fireproof and waterproof containers to keep them safe in the event of a flood or fire. Portable document cases are preferable, as they can be grabbed quickly in the event of an emergency. It’s a simple thing to do, but something easily overlooked.
Protecting a vehicle from natural or manmade disasters is more challenging. Flooding can impact many people, even those that don’t live near a river or the coast. According to FEMA, more people applied for post-hurricane relief in 2017 than during the previous 10 years combined. Major floods are on the rise, too, and at a time when the American Society of Civil Engineers says flood protection levies and dams across the country are in worse shape than ever. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than 200 million Americans are at risk for flooding, with about 13 million facing the risk of major inundation. For perspective, there are nearly 330 million people living in the US.
Looking at historic flood maps, topographical data and post-disaster relief maps can give someone an idea about the level of risk they face. Obviously, keeping the garage in which a vehicle is housed in good repair is helpful, as is addressing persistent moisture issues. Michelle Ayers, Hagerty’s senior claims manager, said keeping the area where the car is stored clear of debris and loose items reduces the chances that something could fall on the car and damage it during and earthquake, high winds, or some other disaster.
Out West, wildfires have become more frequent, and as more people move deeper into forested areas, they have also become more costly. FEMA statistics show a 12-percent rise in losses – $23 billion in 2017 alone – over the last decade. Classic car owners should have a good understanding of the local fire risk, as well as how to create defensible space around buildings. A garage surrounded with scrap lumber and dry brush is a lot more likely to catch fire that one that’s clear. Ayers noted that during the Paradise Fire in California, many of the cars that survived the conflagration were parked away from burning structures. She also pointed out that fire is very unpredictable.
Whatever the physical conditions surrounding a classic car and its garage, Hagerty recommends keeping each vehicle’s Guaranteed Value® (agreed-upon value) up to date. If someone bought a $10,000 policy, then upgraded the vehicle, it’s a good idea to increase coverage to reflect the rise in value. The premiums may cost a little extra, but the extra protection brings peace of mind.