What to do with a water damaged car - Professional Carwashing & Detailing

What to do with a water damaged car

To fix water damage permanently, without worry of a “come back,” you must remove everything related to the leak.

There are great perks that come with running a detailing business. You sometimes drive (well, maybe a few feet) the cars you daydreamed about in high school: Ferrari, Lamborghini, GT-R, etc. Good fun. But for every “cherry” project there’s just as many “dogs”: Flood damage, water leaks, mold, vomit, pet urine, fire damage, etc. Your task isn’t to make the car beautiful … it’s to make the car USEABLE.


To fix water damage permanently without worry of a “come back,” you must remove everything related to the leak. The process:

  1. Dismantle. Work from top to bottom. If the headliner is water logged … it comes out. If door panels are water damaged…they come out too. Trunk liner wet? It comes out. In almost every case you will be removing the seats and carpet. If there’s mold…wear a respirator.
  2. Dry. Crack all windows about 4 inches. Place two oscillating fans inside the car for around 12 hours. Everything must be bone dry.
  3. Track and seal the leak. One tech in the car with a flashlight. One outside with a water hose. Look for drips and seal them with 3M sealant from an auto parts store. Once the sealant is dry, test test test the repair with a hose or even a pressure washer.
  4. Check for mold. Treat with a mildewcide per directions. We recommend Steri-Fab.
  5. Shampoo and dry everything that got wet. It helps to hang carpets and even seats so the water drips out. Thoroughly vacuum the “edge” where gravity takes the water to.
  6. Replace carpet padding. Most jobs will involve wet, moldy padding. Padding is cheap and can be bought and patched in from any carpet supply store.
  7. Completely reassemble. Check that EVERYTHING WORKS: Seat heaters, controls, window switches and sunroof…because your customers will.

Why bother with sweaty, ugly work? Because you can DOUBLE your hourly rate. If on average you’re charging $45 for detailing, charge $90 for water damage repair. Most shops turn this work away. In fact, you’re usually bidding against body shops and mechanics with big overhead, so you’re not in a scrap with that wholesale detail shop down the street.

Easier than it looks.

With some basic tools and some time, you can do these jobs right. There’s nothing technically complicated about them. One big tip: schedule a lot of time for water damage repairs. On average: 5 days. A lot of time is spent waiting for seats and carpet to dry out. The number one thing that got me in trouble on my first water repairs was missing deadlines because the car wasn’t dry yet.

Have a look at water damage DONE RIGHT.

Carpool Detail is a Richmond, VA, water damage car specialist. Be sure to look at their photos and note how thoroughly they dismantle their cars.

The dirtier the job…the more the profit.

Don’t run from the ugly work. If you’re a pro, you’re in this to make a living, and you owe it to yourself to pursue maximum profit.


Robert Keppel is president of Applied Colors, a Portland, OR, reconditioning equipment supplier. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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