The Detail: Water Leaks – A Case Study

Replacing Carpet, Mold, Water DamageThe paradigm that resides in any old car is the eventual breaking down of parts. The turn of phrase comes to mind, “Once one thing goes, everything goes.” You can only hope that when something goes wrong, it’s not going to leave you on the side of the road stranded waiting for a tow truck. Unidentified smells and mold damage is a close second behind that.

Recently we inspected a car where the owner had complained of a “nasty” smell inside of his car. Naturally he wanted to know why. We were quick to determine that the source of the smell was stale water underneath the carpet. It took a couple hours to determine the source of the water was due to a leaky door seal.  Because we know that leaky seals are not a new problem, like the Tesla fires being investigated by the Feds. We’re here to give you an overview of what to look for and what you can do yourself.

We don’t know how long the water was leaking, but we did find that the metal underneath the seats was rusted and bacteria was growing causing the smell the owner was complaining about.

STEP 1: Determine the Source

Whatever the reason may be, whether it’s a leaky door seal or improper repairs from body damage, you can clean the carpets all you want, but the smell and problem will continue.  Water Damage, Replacing Carpet, Smell, Mold, Bacteria

In this particular case, the leaky door seal was causing water to accumulate under the carpets which was causing mold and thus the smell. So the plastic trim around the doors had to be removed, the seats removed, and the carpet taken out. This particular process is tedious and can be difficult depending on how many electronics are incorporated.  We recommend taking pictures as you go so you have a visual to recall on when putting the car back together.

Note: Do not turn on the car once you have removed the driver’s side seat. The electronic clip there for the seasons needs to be plugged in. If the clip is not attached, when the car turns on, a light will appear on the dash forcing you to go to a mechanic or dealership to get the light removed.

The test for the broken seals were again confirmed when we inspected the seals inside the vehicle while using a hose to water the car.

STEP 2: Fix the Problem

After identifying the problem, replacing the broken seals was the next course of action. Since we were replacing one, replacing the other 3 old seals was good for preventative care.  Water Damage, Replacing Carpet, Smell, Mold, Bacteria

Replacing a leaky seal doesn’t require a mechanic, it will save you a lot of money if you do decide to do it yourself.

STEP 3: Fix the Damage

This could be a little more difficult depending on where you’re living. We’re in Chicago, so trying to dry out the carpet is a bit of an adventure when it’s 35 degrees outside and 95% humidity.  We hung the carpet outside for 3 days, had fans blowing on it, and then moved it over a heater to finish.

It is absolutely crucial that the carpet is 100% dry before replacing. If it isn’t then it will continue to grow bacteria and smell over time.

In a step to kill the smell and help the cleaning process, we sprayed a specialized enzyme formula that is made to stop bacteria growth. This along with the sun and hanging the carpet will combine to kill the bacteria and properly clean it.

Note: In the case of liquid damage of something other than water, such as milk, large amounts of coffee or others, special precautions must be made to ensure that the bacteria is killed. This includes bleaching the metal frame when the carpets have been removed.

STEP 4: Test the Fix

Once the seals are replaced and the carpet is airing out, it’s always a good idea to get back inside the car and inspect the new seal before returning everything back into place.

Fixing Water Damage_12   Note: The seal can be properly replaced and still leak if it is tilted in the wrong position. Sometimes seals require the plastic trip to keep it in at the proper working angle to prevent leakage.  So for the sake of the test, hold the seal upright and see if it’s functioning properly.

STEP 5: Replace Car Contents

This part of the process is just to make sure everything returns to place properly and that it all fits.  Recall back to those images you took so that you can see exactly where everything goes and your car should be working and smelling great from here on out.


Although this process does take a bit of knowhow, it’s possible to be done on your own. Review the images below of the Black Jeep that we worked on.