Well fuck :(

This morning I was getting ready for graduate student recruitment. I was all dressed, everything necessary was printed out, and I was just waiting to leave at 11:30am. At 11 I decided I should make sure my car had gas, since I was going to be driving recruits around in it all day. I hadn’t driven it in a couple of weeks (like usual), so I couldn’t remember how full the tank was. I wandered down to the side street next to my apartment where my parking spot was.

I opened the door, and the first thing I see is disgusting standing water filling the floor of the driver’s side. I blink for a second and then zoom out, looking around the car.

Everything is covered in mold. Everything.

The seats and seat belts had a fine film covering them. The windows were grimy. A lone old coffee cup I had been meaning to throw out was completely decomposed. I had some scraps of paper under my seat that were soaked through, a couple of books on the back seat that were soggy and disgusting. Even my trunk was damp and moldy. For a split second the biologist in me noted that there were probably at least four different species in there, but then I snapped back. Everything was wet and moldy.

I stared in disbelief. Part of my brain couldn’t comprehend the destruction of my car, since I was more concerned that I had to drive people in it in a half hour. I desperately started throwing things into the dumpster, thinking maybe I could frantically clean it. I muttered “fuck” repeatedly as a homeless person who had been dumpster diving nearby gave me a wary look and scooted away. I soon realized there’s no way I could clean this sucker, and contacted a fellow grad student working on recruitment. He picked me up and let me borrow his car, so recruitment went on without a hitch.

But now that I’m back home, it’s sinking it. I’m still wondering how the hell this happened. My car is a 2003 Camry in practically perfect condition and has never ever had sealing problems. I never have even a drop of condensation forming in my car. I’m wondering if the melting snow from “Snowpacalyse” is to blame, but I’m still skeptical – this car has survived feet of Indiana snow melting on it just as rapidly. A friend wondered if it was vandals who somehow got a hose in my car. I have no clue. I mean, this stuff happens to cars that have been abandoned for years – but parked for a couple of weeks? I’ve left it alone that long tons of times. At least my car still started, so the water didn’t damage the engine or something.

If anyone has advice as to what to do, it would be much appreciated. Where the hell do I take this kind of mess to be cleaned? Is it going to have to be re-upholstered? How much of a financial hit should I expect? My auto insurance covers flood/vandalism etc, but has a $500 deductible.

Sigh :(


  1. says

    I can’t offer advice, but I can offer sympathy! That really is shitty, and as another grad student, I know unexpected expenses like that can be brutal. Good luck with getting it fixed up.

  2. says

    Wow. You’ll need to get it completely re-upholstered, mold can be bad for your health if you breath it in a lot. Not to mention it will smell bad and could interfere with your car’s electrical systems.

    Were any of your windows down? Maybe you have a leak somewhere which allowed the water in.

    I would recommend getting an insurance assessment to see if you’re covered for this. After that I would consider a thorough tune up.

  3. says

    I’ll have to check for any potential sites the water could get in. I was freaking out at the time, and now it’s dark. I don’t usually ever roll my windows down.

  4. says

    I am so sorry to learn that this happened. However, at this point, your best bet – short of fumigating the interior of your vehicle – may be to take it for detailing AND to a garage to determine where the leak is. Call your insurer and ask; sometimes they offer good answers. If you indeed have to pay for the detailing, I’d suggest – from my experience as a dirt-poor postdoc – that you quickly enroll your email address with Groupon, Google Saves, Eversave and so forth. These would often send coupons for reduced price detailing services. Good luck.

  5. Another Matt says

    Aw, that sucks.

    You’ll need to see about mold in the air system, too, which could be a show stopper. If it were me I would ask around about a good body shop and call, or take it in for assessment. I doubt it will be cheap. =o(

  6. Pteryxx says

    I’d contact your insurance, and ask THEM to find you a cleaner who can maybe diagnose what happened. I’ve never heard of a situation like this but someone whose job it is probably has.

  7. says

    Anywhere you take it to get reupholstered should also check it for leaks and damage given the situation. Most of the places that do that here in California also do weather sealing and such. The best place to look for suggestions would either be a forum dedicated to car detailing that has a lot of users in your area or, possibly, asking the mechanics at your nearest dealership (not the sales people – the mechanics. They’ll know who does good work, most of the time).

    If that doesn’t work, look for a modern import place and look them up on the different ratings list sites (there’s one I’m trying to remember, Amy’s List or something like that. Not Craig’s List). While non-import reupholsters may be able to do it, import places will usually have trained technicians from the import companies around that’ll know the differences between domestic engineering and import engineering. And yeah, there’s still a lot of engineering differences in upholstery, such as how the chairs bolt into the car, where bolts go and what kind of fabrics need to be near them, as well as what kind of sealing the car was designed to use. It’ll avoid problems such as water gutters in the doors and roof from being installed incorrectly.

    Kind of odd that this happened to you. Just last week my girlfriend had a problem with her trunk getting moss from a growler of beer breaking in it. Not nearly the same problem but an odd coincidence nonetheless.

  8. says

    If you have comprehensive, something should be covered. I don’t know if this would be covered like natural disasters, but read through your policy and then talk to the insurance company. There might not be something you can do as far as cleaning up/re-upholstering goes…when this kind of thing happens to homes, the damage/health hazards require they be knocked down and the debris properly disposed of…this might not be fixable.

  9. aurophobia says

    Wow, that’s horrible! But I’m glad you have that insurance. I expect the repairs will be way over $500.

    Might this be a good time for a friendly poor grad student car repair fund raiser. Where might we find a donate button?

  10. says

    I apologize for the following statement not being helpful. Burn it with fire! Sorry about that, I would think it would cost quite a bit if it is as bad as this led me to believe. I wish you luck and I hope it works out.

  11. fullyladenswallow says


    Damn. So sorry to hear this.

    If there’s no sign of forced entry and the doors were locked, it was most likely a failed seal around your windshield. It could also be that the drain (gutter) for your air intake vent could be clogged and allowing water to enter. The same thing happened to me a while back. I inherited my dad’s ’91 LSC and decided to replace the windshield since it was pitted. After about a year since it had been replaced and then storing it out in the open (I live down here in the Oregon rain), one weekend I noticed that my driver side carpet was soaked and squishy. This definitely sounds very odd though. I don’t think 2 weeks in the rain can produce that much damage.

    If you feel compelled to treat it yourself:
    If you can get hold of a wet/dry vacuum, you can suck most of the water out of the carpet and then peel it up in a couple of places and put some spacers under to allow it to air out. If you have to leave the car locked, windows up etc., you can get several boxes of baking soda with the tops cut off and set them on the floor. They make a great desiccant. You might have to replace them weekly a couple of times. If you have smooth (non-fabric)upholstery a gentle detergent will usually remove the moldy stuff with a little elbow grease. If you have fabric upholstery a hand-held steam cleaner will usually work. Once everything is dry enough you can lightly spray everything with Lysol disinfectant spray. It also helps if you start the car, turn on the fan/AC so that it’s drawing fresh air through the outside vent and spray some in the intake. The bigger concern is if the water and resulting gook has come in contact with any circuitry under the dash. The trunk is probably easy since you can pull the liner out, treat it and/or replace it.

    Else, find a local reputable detailer.

    However, depending on how much work is done and what has to be replaced, $500 deductible doesn’t sound too unreasonable.

  12. DaveyGTi says

    Firstly, if your car has a sunroof check the gutters (little tubes) that drain it aren’t blocked, run a bit of co-ax cable down them or something, it’s these that drain your sunroof rather than the seal, then you’ll need to dry the car out, one the standing water has gone a sock full of rice can speed up de-damping. Then see a good valeting firm, they should be able to deal with the mold and any minor water damage, in the uk might cost u a hundred quid or so, don’t know about across the pond though

  13. aurophobia says

    Oh, and if you’d like to find out more about what species are growing in your car, you can ask to Joe Ammiriti, the UW’s resident mycology expert.

  14. Anonymous Atheist says

    That’s terrible. :( It is possible to clean the mold without any reupholstering needed, though. I found some helpful links for you:





    If you don’t want to tackle it yourself, you’d need an experienced high-quality detailing service. These are generally in the neighborhood of $100-$300 for an interior detail, but I’d definitely expect them to charge extra for properly dealing with that much mold. I’m sure there’s multiple high-end detailing companies in Seattle; this one looks like an excellent candidate: http://www.metropolitandetail.com/ … they even say they’ll let you use a free loaner car while they clean up your car!

    Once you get this situation resolved, you might consider investing in a car cover, and using it whenever you think you might not be driving your car any time soon.

  15. says

    Cleaning it yourself would take a very long time, although it is doable. But to get mold to not keep regrowing would require the inside of the car completely dry out. You’d need a garage to store it in for a number of days while air blowers and/or heaters did their work. At some point, $500 is easier to spend, plus comes with a bit more guarantee of the solution lasting.

  16. Peter says

    I can’t offer anything new, but I do sympathize. I agree with the reader who suggested sucking the water out with a shop-vac and getting it detailed; car interiors are designed to tolerate a certain amount of water. If you know of a building you can put it in for a few days to let it dry out that will help. Check with your insurer–my $500 deductible is for collision, but a lot of stuff has a $100 deductible. Finding out how the water came in is critical.
    Life really does stink sometimes.

  17. Phillip IV says

    Yeah, that sucks.

    As for the source of the problem, if there are no other obvious points at which the water might have come in, there is a Toyota Technical Service Bulletin from Feb. 2006 that could be relevant. It concerns Camrys built from 2002-2006 in Kentucky, and the problem is described as:

    Some customers might experience a water leak at the front floor area. Water may be entering the body due to a body sealer void on the engine compartment rear wall, near the upper door hinge.

    If you took the car for service anytime after Feb. 2006, they should normally have sealed that void at that occasion, but if that didn’t happen it could be the source of the current disaster.

  18. Jannie says

    You might call the local auto-mechanic school and see if they have any student repair program ( where the students at the school use your car to learn from) that could help with the parts that you can’t do yourself. Getting work done there might be cheaper and the students are supervised by a professional instructor.

  19. says

    That totally sucks, and it sounds like the kind of random auto misfortune that has dogged me all my life. Examples: A hood latch gave out on my little red Chevette over the Mississippi, causing the hood to fly up and cover the windshield, with nowhere to pull over. I turned the key on my 91 Prism and got an electric shock that would have thrown me, except I was strapped in. Spiders inhabited my 74 Volkswagon Beetle, so I’d be just driving around with them hanging in the back seat, and sometimes one would crawl over my hands while driving. Some kind of wasps built a nest in my rarely driven Geo Metro, making it a driving hazard.

    I could go on, but you get the idea.

  20. says

    This is the sort of thing that means that Toyota might be able to fix the damage as part of the missed-recall process. It’s worth a call to them. (Also your insurance, also a detailing company, etc – as others here have mentioned.)

    There’s potential here for an option of detailing the car, selling it used (with lots of air fresheners) and getting a new/used car to replace it.

    Jen, you also get hugs and moral support. Sometimes being a grown up means things go horribly wrong and you don’t know what to do, but you figure it out and often it’s not as bad as you think it will be. Hang in there!

  21. Al Stefanelli says

    As unusual as this might sound, Jen, I’ve got a lot of experience with shit like this. My only advice to you is to bitch, whine, moan, complain, scream, screech and otherwise throw a tantrum until the insurance company totals the car and buys you a new one.

    Water damage can and often does result in a mold problem that can never be removed unless the seats are swapped out (not reupholstered), the carpeting is removed and replaced, as well as the door panels, headliner and anything else porous that can attract and hold mold, which, as a biologist, you know full well can cause long-term health issues, up to and including death.

    There is a reason why cars that have water damage cannot be resold. Sorry, it sucks, but it would probably cost more to replace all of this than the car is worth.

  22. says

    Jen, I live in the tropics and mold is my mortal foe. I am nearly certain that re-upholstering will not help you. Mold is not restricted to superficial surfaces. It is likely to also have spread into the cushions, the underside of the carpeting on the floor, and all other hidden surfaces. And the air conditioning ducts.

    You might want to check if the mold has spread into such surfaces. If so, instead of drying your car (which will only make those hidden molds go dormant and be resistant to moldicides…they will re-appear every humid day), you should soak it in chlorine solution. This will destroy the mold but unfortunately will also remove all coloring…

    Maybe if your car is well-enough sealed, some mold-killing gas left for a very long time might do the trick. I have no experience with that.

    Cinnamon oil mixed with alcohol is a nice natural mold killer which could be useful after the industrial treatment with chlorine. This smells so nice that I do it just for fun sometimes…

  23. says

    Al’s comment above crossed mine in cyberspace, and he is certainly right. The insurance company should total it. My solutions are a last resort if the insurance company will not total it.

  24. F says

    It is just possible that your heater core took a dump. Is most of the standing water in the front floor pans?

  25. valis says

    I suggest you call up one of those specialist crime scene cleaners. They could at least advise you if it is cleanable in the first place.

    I still wouldn’t drive it without breathing gear though :P Al and Lou are right, the car needs to be totalled, sorry to say.

  26. Auto engineer says

    I had a similar experience on a Mercury Sable, except it was the front passenger footwell that got soaked and I caught the problem early enough that nothing else got damaged. The water in my car seeped in past a broken plastic diverter in the fresh air intake, so that’s something your shop should check in addition to the window seals and the sun roof seals. My shop was able to clean the carpet and replace the jute pad underneath it, and the water level was low enough that the floor pan wiring didn’t get wet and start corroding. For your sake I hope that your Camry’s wiring didn’t get damaged, as replacing wiring harnesses gets very expensive very quickly. :-(

    +1 on the other posters’ suggestions to talk to your insurance agent. Odds are they’ve dealt with flooded car interiors before and can help you decide on the best course of action.

  27. LTFT says

    Not to be glib because that sucks, but if you’re looking for a silver lining your story might be interesting enough to get you on Car Talk.

  28. says

    My heart sure goes out to you. I hate cars, but there’s nothing I hate more than a “learning experience,” and I prefer reading about other people’s to having one of my own.

    My only advice is that trying to get this settled as quickly as possible may work against you. When it comes to dealing with insurance companies, patience equals leverage. Let’s hope they don’t try to complicate matters for their own benefit.

    Another educational tidbit: before today I had never heard the term “growler of beer.”

  29. plutosdad says

    The same thing happened to me. I ended up having to have my windshield taken out and resealed back in place. It was about $75 I think. There is a leak somewhere, wherever it is they’ll find it.

    Another time my windshield cracked, a brand new windshield put in place was only $125.

    So if it’s something like that, I wouldn’t worry too much about astronomical costs.

  30. plutosdad says

    OH sorry I was only thinking of patching the leak. The cleaning and the mold is a different problem. :(

  31. chriskg says


    Contact a local “fire and restoration” company. They deal with homes that have been flooded because of fire supression and flood damaged items; including cars. Damaged vehicles are often left in the garage during a flood or fire fighting. They also have mold prevention and remedial supplies. Your insurance may cover it and they can help with that too.

    Hope that helps.


  32. Erik says

    What a horrible experience; I feel for you. I can’t offer any advice as this has never happened to me, but I agree with the suggestion I read about taking up a collection. Students should not have to worry about reasonable expenses!

  33. spdoyle17 says

    Re-upholstering to totalling will probably be necessary. Toyota might be able to provide you a replacement part for what leaked, but I’m not sure what else to tell you on top of what’s already been said. Hopefully it isn’t totalled.

  34. Beth says

    This was my thought too. “Call Car Talk!” if nothing else they might help you find something to laugh about.

    I think the car is probably ruined, though. Mold is nasty and pernicious and you would probably need to get a body shop to detail and replace most of the inside of the car. Better to yell at your insurance company until they help you replace it. ):

  35. says

    As much as I usually appreciate people throwing money at me, I don’t want to go begging for money just yet. I have no clue what this is going to end up costing me until I talk to my insurance and people who could potentially fix this. And if it’s just the $500 deductible, that will blow but won’t break the bank. I’ve been putting enough away in savings that it won’t affect my ability to eat/pay bills/etc. Honestly the thing that makes me saddest is the time suck of having to deal with this before my first committee meeting :(

  36. A. says

    Wow, that sucks, I’m really sorry.
    Well, I just donated – go spend it on beer and have fun with the new students :-)

  37. Zugswang says

    I’m going to echo Al’s advice. Remember that Mythbuster’s episode where they left a dead pig in a Corvette and tried to restore it, and they ended up having to sell it for scrap because no matter what they did they couldn’t get rid of the smell? Mold is like that, and given the extent and time it’s had to settle in to all the little nooks and crannies in that car, you’re better off just getting a new vehicle.

    This won’t help you now, but it may at least satisfy your curiosity for why your car is flooded, and maybe help if the insurance company agrees to replace your car with a similar model. Does your Camry have a sunroof? And was the hood of your car facing uphill or downhill when you found it like that?

    The reason I ask is because Camry sunroofs have four drains that run down the front and rear of the car, emptying out at the bottom. These drains are what keep the water that leaks into the sunroof from emptying all over the inside of your car. You should see two little rubber spouts under the front bumper, vertical to the headlights, and two under the rear bumper, vertical to the taillights; that’s where the water should empty out. However, if these spouts become plugged with ice, mud, etc. it can cause the draining water to back up and flood the interior of the vehicle.

  38. Marvin says

    Wow you really don’t like mould in the US do you?
    I would second the advice of seeing if the heater radiator has broken, also check your antifreeze in case it was the cold weather that caused the water to freeze in there and bust the radiator.
    Then clean up the mould as best you can and keep driving, I have spent a life time driving old cars in the UK and most of them were mouldy most of my bedrooms have also been mouldy come to think of it. Mould causes very few problems to those with sufficiently eccentric teeth to properly filter it. That’s why we Brits have teeth like ours natural selection.

  39. Snapp says

    Your lifestyle sounds disgusting. I don’t know where in the UK you’re from, but mould I’ve encountered has only been acceptable by slobs in dilapidated houses.

  40. says

    That is very unfair. In very humid areas, mold is almost impossible to control. Many people in such areas are not very sensitive to mold smells (precisely because it is so widespread) and may be under the delusion that there is no mold in most places.

  41. Snapp says

    If it’s Malaysia or Calcutta, I can see that being a valid excuse. I can’t think of anywhere in the UK humid enough for rampant mould growth to be excusable. The only people I’ve seen living in mouldy conditions, at least in the UK, have been slobs who don’t clean their houses properly.

  42. chicago dyke says


    i’m shouting because you’re a prominent, atheist, feminist blogger and back in the day when i was blogging as much as you, scary things like death threats and destructive pranks were part of my life. the haters don’t believe in fair debate, and some of them really are crazy and dangerous. if you live alone, as your neighbors to keep an eye out on your place when you’re away. try to walk in public with friends. and be paranoid for a little while.

    one of them once was stalking me, and even came to my house. this is a real scare and i hope you take it very, very seriously. meanwhile, your insurance may be able to cover the costs of damage, and if repair isn’t possible, have an estimator come by and write you up so you can get payment for a replacement vehicle. but please, be careful.

  43. chicago dyke says


    i’m shouting because you’re a prominent, atheist, feminist blogger and back in the day when i was blogging as much as you, scary things like death threats and destructive pranks were part of my life. the haters don’t believe in fair debate, and some of them really are crazy and dangerous. if you live alone, as your neighbors to keep an eye out on your place when you’re away. try to walk in public with friends. and be paranoid for a little while.

    one of them once was stalking me, and even came to my house. this is a real scare and i hope you take it very, very seriously. meanwhile, your insurance may be able to cover the costs of damage, and if repair isn’t possible, have an estimator come by and write you up so you can get payment for a replacement vehicle. but please, be careful.

    i don’t know if it’s my mistake or what, but if this is a dupe my apologies, the commenting system is being quirky.

  44. evilDoug says

    I haven’t read all the comments, so maybe this has already be said.

    My two-bits worth:

    If you have any intent of filing an insurance claim, do it immediately and do NOTHING to your car on your own without approval from the insurance company. Impress upon them that any delay could result in greater damage. If you spend any money without “permission”, you may find you can’t recover the money.
    If vandalism is suspected, call the police.
    My guess is that the cost for restoration will be vastly higher than your deductable – to the extent that the car may be “written off”. This may or may not be to your advantage. If the insurer wants to write off the car, they will probably make “an offer”. If you don’t like the amount, howl loudly. It may get you nowhere, but it may get a better offer.

    And my sympathies! Go hug a warm fuzzy kitten.

  45. smhlle says

    Since the car is so completely soaked, before you dry it, do a little experimenting with a gentle flow of water to see if you can identify the region that is leaking. I don’t think you can hurt anything at this point.

    There was a lot of stuff written about fixing wet cars after Katrina, including warnings about buying used cars that year.

  46. timpayne says

    All this wailing and gnashing of teeth! First find out where your problem is – not all that hard to do. With a cold engine, check the radiator. If you can see fluid it’s safe to start, if not it probably means your heater core is blown. If you have fluid, start the engine and turn your defroster on high (fan and temp.) If your windshield fogs up, again it’s the heater core. Once you’ve established it’s not coolant, take your car with a friend in the back seat to an automatic car wash. One of you should spot the leak pretty quickly.

    Once the leak’s dealt with, probably not by you, I’d just borrow a friends heated garage, and leave a dehumidifier running inside the car until it’s bone dry, then go after it with windex, upholstery, and carpet cleaner. Unless the heater needs replacing, this can all be more an aggravation than a huge expense.

  47. timpayne says

    By the way, if you don’t care for the advice above, you can turn your problem into something of an adventure by calling Click and Clack @ 888-CAR-TALK. When they’re through torturing you, they’ll probably say about the same thing.

  48. 24fps says

    As Al Stefanelli said above, you are more than likely looking at a total loss on the vehicle. You would have to replace seats and seat belts ( even from a salvage place, this will be expensive) and if the water has been standing, even if you clean it out and dry it up, rusting of the floor will have started to take place. If your insurance will allow you to replace the car, go for it. You don’t need the grief of trying to reclaim it and it will never be the same, there will always be underlying damage.

    I had a lovely little sports car in my single days , and one day we had a freakishly heavy downpour. The street where the car was parked flooded – even though we got to it right away and the upholstery wasn’t molded or anything, the car soon showed the after-effects. Broke my heart, but I had to get rid of it. Hated seeing her go to a junkyard.

  49. otrame says

    We aren’t talking about mold that is really visible and more or less easy to clean, Snapp. Mold is in EVERYTHING. Whether it is clean to your standards or not.

    I guarantee you have mold growing in your house. And in your car. Old houses and cars are going to have quite a bit, unless you live in a desert (and keep your house and car open to the environment–even then, you will have some). The problem is when there is so much that you can smell it, when the particulate count is high, which causes people like me to have sinus issues and/or asthma attacks. What happened to Jen is very likely to result in that, and the problem may very well be intractable because we keep our cars closed up to protect them from theft and rain. I would not be at all surprised if her insurance company totals the car. And trust me, from her description, she keeps her car pretty clean.

    Compared to mine. 8-)

  50. Leni says

    My brother had this happen to him in Miami (very wet, humid and hot climate for those of you who might not know).

    Although the cause of his “leak” was smashed windows from the teenagers who stole it and left it to rot in a swamp.

    The insurance company tried to save it. Had it detailed, reupholstered and, I believe, had new seats put in. But even then they couldn’t get the mold stink out. (Brand new Lexus. Apparently that was cheaper than replacing it.)

    I agree with Al, though. It may be easier to just scrap it.

  51. Utakata, pink pigtailed Gnome of death says

    I almost lost my vinyl collection this way.

    In my case it was moving everything down to the storage room in an emrgency, because the fumigators where going the nail the entire apartment floor after an apparent acute outbreak of bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) a year ago. The problem was while they where supposed to secure, the storage room in question sprung a leak without my knowledge. A few weeks laters after wanting to moving everthing back into my apartement, I found a pool of water sitting on everything with the over powering smell of sprouting mushrooms. Thankfullly my records where sealed enough that only the top edges of the covers where slightly effected. Carefully sunning them out, they are now safely back in my apartment and good as new….

    …can’t say much for my other stuff. With rare posters and other valuables are all now slated for the landfill. Life, bed bugs and mould can really suck sometimes when you least expect it.

  52. ayla says

    Gotta agree with this, and maybe can offer some perspective. I’m an American but I’ve been living in Ireland for the last ~5 years… and in that time, I’ve developed a whole new relationship to damp and mold indoors. The issue is that a lot of houses here aren’t insulated the same way, or to the same standards, that American houses are. For example, I’d never encountered condensation on indoor walls and ceilings (that aren’t in a bathroom) until I moved here. My current apartment isn’t too damp, as far as flats here in the West of Ireland go, and still I get condensation on the ceiling in my bedroom pretty much constantly in the winter. With conditions like these, how can you avoid mold? Not to say that there are fuzzy patches all over my house, but you know it’s there anyway.

    And in a SHOCKING TWIST, I developed allergies within a year of moving to this country. Coincidence?

  53. Snapp says

    This isn’t a jab at Jen. It’s not clear how that happened to the car, and I’m not familiar with the local climate. I’m just contesting the claim that British people tolerate a life in mouldy filth.

  54. ayla says

    Oh, sorry Snapp, I just noticed that you’re from the U.K. (The spelling of “mouldy” tipped me off. :-P) Well, even though my comment was aimed at Americans, it still stands. Though I do imagine that Britain is at least marginally less damp than Ireland.

  55. shac says

    found mushrooms growing in my car once. Maybe you could get a grant to sequence all the organizims in your car?

  56. klen dool says

    This is totally fixable, probably take a day or even a weekend. A drill, spanner and screw driver should be all you need. Drill a small hole in the floor, under the carpets in the foot wells for a start. This should prevent this from happening again. Remove the carpets and seats and inside door panels (google looks like they have a tiny bit of material trim) and put them through the wash or scrub the shit out of them. Wipe down all hard surfaces, perhaps with bleach if it doesn’t discolour the plastic. The only hard part might be the interior roof, if there is material on that.

    I would then somehow put a heater in it for half an hour to dry it out.

    Insurance probably won’t cover it since its not sudden and accidental, but I am not an insurance expert so grain of salt and all that. Also, I am not a car expert, so take my advice with a grain of salt too :) I have done this before, albeit on a much much smaller scale.

  57. says

    I haven’t read all the comments but wanted to throw in some stuff. This happened to our Mini. Sunroof drains came apart. The last time was over the winter caused by snow. Freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw, small leaks appear, open car and nearly pass out. The mold was everywhere. Cost us a pretty penny to get the carpets pulled and replaced and the car cleaned out. What I haven’t seen mentioned is that there is a crap load of electronics under your carpet. If those have been soaked, it’s all over and the car is scrap. I did save the floor mats by leaving them in the bright sun.

  58. jimmy60 says

    Your biggest concern isn’t necessarily the mold. It’s whether your electrical system was effected, particularly electrical that manages safety systems (like air bags). You’ll want to go through your insurance adjuster. If they feel that any systems like this have been compromised they will want to write it off because it won’t be considered safe anymore. An unexpected air bag deployment is a bad thing.

    I don’t know how bad the flooding is so I can’t say whether this will be an issue but it should be a concern until someone experienced assesses the damage.

  59. eigenperson says

    I’d have thought that as a biology student, you’d know how to deal with this sort of thing.

    Obviously, you just have to find a large enough autoclave :)

    (Seriously, file a claim with the insurance company right away.)

  60. Quatguy says

    Hi Jen;

    Don’t mess with mould. My advice is to push your insurance company to scrap it and buy a new car.

  61. says

    I haven’t read all of the comments, but thought I should chime in with some relevant experience.

    I have a Nissan Maxima station wagon that has had a roof leak for several years (now patched with caulk until I can really fix it), and while there have been several occasions where I opened it up after several weeks of disuse to find the floors and at least one seat soaked, I have *never* experienced the thorough moldy nastiness that you’re describing, Jen… and we live in NC, where it is often hot and humid (mildew loves us here)…

    …so something is fishy about this. I suppose it’s remotely possible that the weather in WA has just been That Severe, but… but….

    It doesn’t sound like “just a roof leak”, in any case. Something else happened. I don’t know what.

    (That’s just a pat diagnosis made without first obtaining your full service history, however.)

  62. Art says

    Odds are, I’ve seen more minor versions of this sort of automotive flooding, that this is one of those cases where the snow on top melts before the stuff farther down. The dam effect forces seals that are good enough to stop falling water to be under water. Under water they are not nearly as effective. As the snow and ice melts, possibly driven by windows facing the sun, acting as a greenhouse, and heating the underside of the roof, it hits that dam of still frozen ice, pools, and flows inside. Once inside, and still working as greenhouse, the steamy environment becomes a two-ton petri dish.

    There are all sorts of mold treatments and strategies ranging from innovative chemical applications, and/or some combination of reupholstery, replacemnt of the seats and carpets. But people who I trust tell me it is almost always more effective, sometimes cheaper, to replace the car. Post-Katrina a lot of people tried the less drastic strategies with partially flooded cars, and a few even claimed success, but once the mold sets in anything short of replacing everything that can absorb water leaves you open to mold coming back. Half measures are frequently counterproductive.

    Extremely high humidity and the biological activity can also play cob with electrical gear. Corroded joints, contacts, even decomposition of the insulation is not impossible. This sort of decomposition can show up months, years, later as nagging intermittent electrical problems that can be difficult and costly to fix. Replacement of major sections of the wiring harness is often recommended.

    It all adds up. Replacement parts cost several times what they do in an assembly plant and labor ain’t cheap. Cars are designed to be assembled, not easily repaired.

    New car time.

  63. M Bruner says

    Fortunately those safety systems – ABS, airbags, etc – have built in diagnostics that will tell you if they have failed. Generally that’s why all those lights come on when you start the vehicle, and then go out after a few seconds. It means they passed the tests. Consult your manual, if it’s not too moldy!

  64. sithrazer says

    If it is on the windows, I’d be worried about it also being deep in the vents and on the heater core or squirrel cage. I don’t know if I could personally ever use the heat/ac again with an real peace of mind.

    ‘Squirrel cage’ being another name for the fan wheel on a centrifugal fan. It occurred to me after typing it that everyone might not be familiar with that term.

  65. TommyB says

    Do you have water in your trunk too? Surrounding the trunk opening should be a channel and gasket. This channel diverts water running down your back window around the sides of the trunk opening and down the rear of the car. On my car the trunk lid does not make a proper seal with the gasket. If the car is parked, pointed downhill in the rain, water collects in the channel near the base of the rear window and the poor gasket seal lets this water spill into my trunk. And that’s just on a slight grade. Took me a while to figure that one out. Enough water or enough downhill grade I imagine that the water could have also flowed to the front of the car.

  66. evilDoug says

    While I have much sympathy for Jen, I always find it gratifying when nature kills off some of the car population rather than the far too common converse.

  67. Rumtopf says

    It’s not always down to being a slob. It can be due to deteriorating older properties(my last rental was an old terraced, built in 1890) and sometimes occupants don’t have a choice if they don’t own the place(oh my ex landlady was naaaasty, tried to steal the deposit too!) or can’t afford the extensive work it takes to sort out an established mould/damp problem.

  68. redleg says

    Totally agree. Same thing happened to me in grad school at Oregon State in the mid-90’s. Car survived northern/central MN winters/summers without incident, but the rain in the PNW was too much. Look for a drain plug in the trunk, where the spare tire is. Remove it, and put it in the glove box. It should allow that part of the car to drain. Won’t help the footwells, though. Also remove every stitch of upholstery that isn’t permanently attached and bring it someplace warm and dry.

    After fungiciding the car, i moved back to MN and the mold never reappeared over the year I had the car (before trading it in and never mentioning it to the dealer). Another MN friend of mine in Portland had the same thing happen. It’s not you – it’s just too wet there…

    Are the washing machines double price and dryers free where you do laundry (like it was in Corvallis)? This told me that drying things out in that climate was damn near impossible. I loved Oregon, but detested the climate. Best of luck to you.

  69. redleg says

    Note that this is a different kind of flooding than Katrina or an actual flood. When exposed to persistent wet weather, cars leak and mold grows. In an actual flood, the contamination is due to materials carried by the floodwater and then mold grows as a bonus (of sorts). So Jen’s situation, while quite bad, isn’t flood/storm surge bad.

  70. Allie says


    Long before I was a lowly grad student, I was an auto insurance adjuster. As many commenters are saying, the car is likely a total loss. Contact your insurance asap. They probably won’t give you much for it (most policy’s pay market value, not Blue Book) but it should be enough for a down payment on a new vehicle or maybe enough to buy a used one outright.

  71. ischemgeek says

    Oh, shit. Never heard of that happening to a car before. A cousin had it happen to a camper trailer, and it had to be written off completely. All I can offer is emotional support. I’m a grad student too so I know how tight money is for us.

    I second what others are saying about not messing with mold. As I’m sure you know, mycotoxins can fuck your shit up so don’t risk it.

    Best of luck. I hope your insurance company doesn’t have asshole policies about this sort of thing.

  72. jimmy60 says

    You’re right, those systems do a self diagnosis every start up. The problem with water damage and electrical is that it can take time for corrosion to do it’s thing. They may test fine now but can still eventually fail. I know that around here insurance tends to want to write off cars with such damage, whether the car seems fine or not. The criteria seems to be whether these electrical systems were submerged or heavily soaked not whether the lights go out this time.

  73. Paddy says

    Please note: a ball of mould, no matter how fuzzy, is not a kitten. It probably wouldn’t be all that warm, either.

  74. Paddy says

    Arg, where’s the “delete” button? That was funnier and less insensitive in my tired and slightly messed-up head :(

    Seriously now: my sympathy and apologies. Now go get that hug, whether from a nice person, kitten, puppy, or whatever.

  75. RW Ahrens says

    You, sir/madam, owe me a new monitor! You shouldn’t say such hilarious stuff without warning! Now it’s got coffee all over it!

  76. edj says

    It’s probably too late for you to move the car to a sketchy neighborhood, accidentially left running with the doors unlocked late at night.

  77. M Bruner says

    My immediate point was that, while the car may be a mess, having the brakes suddenly fail or airbag go off unexpectedly is one thing Ms. McCreight probably doesn’t need to worry about. So much doom and gloom here …

    The funny part is that while the car my be totaled, these parts are pretty robust, and valuable. They may be some of the few bits that live on. If they seem to work, they will probably end up as a repair part at some dealership. Who knows, you could have atheist ABS in your car right now.

  78. Art says

    The value in the market is in good used cars. A truly new car is something everyone should experience once but in terms of reliable transportation delivered for dollars spent a good used car is what you want.

    Find a trustworthy mechanic who can advise you on your choice of any used car and help you avoid the lemons. A few hundred in inspection and testing can save thousands later on.

    He/she can also advise as to what can be done to increase reliability. Replacing secondary parts: battery, alternator, water pump, radiator, starter, fuel pump, vacuum lines and hoses, filters and fluids, a complete brake job, can cost several thousand dollars (there is a substantial discount if done all at once) but can pretty much guarantee reliability for another 50,000 miles. A few thousand dollars is a small fraction of the cost of a new car.

    A used car bought outright, not financed, is remarkable for what it doesn’t come with. You don’t have payments, interest, late fees, or demands you carry more insurance than what you really need.

    If you do need to fiance check with your local credit union for fewer gimmicks and better value.

  79. carolw says

    My previous car had a leaky back windshield. There was usually a puddle under the spare tire. I kept a turkey baster in the back to bail it out and put dryer sheets (smelly anti-static sheets) under the seats to fight the moldy odor. Obviously, this was an old beater that I wasn’t going to drive for much longer, so these were band-aid measures.

  80. Caelan Aegana says

    Yowch! Initially I was going to suggest you drive it over here to the east side of the state, where the humidity is on average -20%.(Okay, not really, but for someone with chronic dehydration, it seems that way. I wish I was back in Seattle, mold and all.)

    But everyone else is probably right about the mold just going dormant if you just try to dry everything out. Short of a lot of time/effort/money, it’s probably borked. I’m so sorry!

    Potential for leaks is one of the reasons I was always told never to let snow accumulate on my car for very long. Damage to the paint job is really a secondary concern. It also is a signal to potential criminals that you’re not paying very good attention and may not notice in time if they break in/steal/sabotage it.

  81. Marvin says

    It has mainly been due to a combination of poverty and rental accommodation rather than out and out slobbery. I now have my own house but even that is mould prone due to a poor joint between the flat and sloping roof sections. I admit I don’t tend to spend all weekend washing down the emulsion on my walls but tend to deal with it when its visible. The house was built pre damp proof membranes and is in Cumbria it would be a miracle if there wasn’t some mould. I have never paid more than £400.00 for a car so they tend to not be the most water tight.

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