Wildfires And Floods Destroy Cars, So Protecting Documents Is Vital

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In California, strong Santa Ana winds are raking wildfire across a desiccated California landscape, destroying countless acres of property and putting lives in danger. In the fire’s wake, there are twisted, blackened hulks, which until recently were beloved vintage cars and trucks. Property can be replaced, but when calamity strikes and a classic car enthusiast’s once-gleaming pride and joy is reduced to smoldering wreckage, it’s good to have ownership documentation handy when filing an insurance claim. Without proof of ownership, it can be more difficult to lay hands on much-needed, post-disaster insurance money.

Our friends at Hagerty say the best place to keep important documents, like a vehicle’s title, is in a fireproof safe or safe deposit box, not a glove box. It sounds simple, but many people consider the title as just another piece of paper like the car’s registration or insurance paperwork. Each state’s motor vehicle department handles lost or stolen titles differently; flood-damage procedures also vary.

Replacing a lost title in the Golden State is straightforward; the claimant simply applies for a new one. The legal owner must fill out a duplicate title application, sign it and have it notarized, and provide a California driver’s license number, valid address, and the vehicle’s license plate number. There is also a fee the amount depends upon the vehicle but it’s not a lot of money. Kacy Smith, Hagerty Total Loss and Rental Specialist, says Hagerty requires the title to ensure that the vehicle in question is free of liens before an insurance check can be sent.
Smith says Hagerty monitors disasters that are likely to destroy its customers’ cars. In the case of the California wildfires, company representatives reached out to the state’s department of motor vehicles for answers to questions that clients would likely ask once the dust settled.

“That way, when the claims started coming in, we could automatically send that information to customers,” Smith explains.

It has been a busy year for wildfires in western states. In many places, it was also one of the costliest. Fire has been part of the region’s ecology since pre-Colombian times, but the U.S. Forest Service says fire risk is up as development stretches further into wilderness areas. If you live where wildland vegetation poses a fire risk, taking precautions to preserve important documents is a must.

The same principal holds true for the Gulf and Atlantic coasts where residents have always faced the risk of flooding and wind damage from hurricanes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends storing important documents—not only vehicle titles and registration, but vital records, birth certificates, passports, financial and insurance documents, and military service identification—in a fireproof and waterproof container that can be grabbed quickly if you have to quickly leave your home.