Work directly with your own insurance company to handle the claim. Besides helping you understand your coverage, the insurance company can also point you toward reputable contractors.

The Property Casualty Insurance Association of America (PCI) provides a list of toll-free claims numbers for many insurance companies on its website.

3. Get at least three estimates for repair work

Compare the bids, and check whether complaints have been filed against the contractors with the Better Business Bureau, PCI says.

4. Check contractor licensing, insurance and references

Verify that the contractor is properly insured and licensed. Contact your state or local licensing agencies. Ask the contractor for a list of references, and call them.

5. Get everything in writing

A contract for the work should state everything the contractor will do, including labor and materials prices, scheduling and cleanup procedures, PCI says. Don't sign anything with blank spaces, which a shady contractor could fill in later.

6. Never pay for a lot of work upfront

Most contractors will want a reasonable down payment, PCI says, but don't pay in full until the work is completed and inspected, and don't fork over any money until the contract has been signed. AARP New York says deposits or upfront fees should not total more than 25 percent of the estimate, and you should pay them only after materials reach your home and work begins.

7. Check a used car's history before buying

After any major flood, some cars that were totaled by insurers are sold through auto-salvage auctions, shipped away and cleaned up to look almost new. Lurking under those shiny exteriors are all sorts of engine and electrical problems.

Here's how to spot flood-damaged cars.

Unscrupulous salvage operators and dealers try to sell the damaged vehicles to unwary buyers, warns the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Make sure you check a used car's history before buying.