September 26, 2009 was a day tha changed the way most residents in the capital live. Ondoy swept through the country, leaving a trail of destruction and loss in its wake.
The effects of that fateful day can still be seen now. We're more reluctant to venture out to places where the catastrophe struck, but it's also made us more aware and prepared for heavy rains.
Some may not have noticed it, but it's even changed the vehicles we drive, and how we buy them.
1. The Acts of God clause
About 14,000 vehicles were left crippled by Ondoy when it left the country. At the time, Acts of God insurance wasn't really a thing for those who bought cars, with only a small percentage of new car owners at the time ticking that option.
Fast forward a decade and just about everyone is adding it on for their insurance, be it houses, properties, and yes, cars. According to the Philippine Insurers and Reinsurers Association (PIRA), Acts of God insurance went from having just a 20 percent uptake prior to Ondoy, it has shot up to about 70 percent in a report from 2017.
While some insurers still leave it as an option, some dealers started offering it as standard when they sell off a new car.
2. The shift to SUVs, crossovers, and pick-ups
In the years after Ondoy, there was a marked increase in the sales of crossovers, SUVs, and pick-up trucks. And at the same time, sales of compact cars and midsize saloons dropped.
Ground clearance became big deal, and anything with more than 200 millimeters of it was good enough to be passed off as an SUV. Just look at the way the Honda BR-V, Mitsubishi Xpander (technically an MPV-type), and Toyota Rush are marketed. All of them mention their clearance and the trio all have more than 200 mm (about 8 inches) of it.
Fortuners and Montero Sports didn't just become cars to aspire to; people believed that they're now a need. With floods still being a persistent problem even to this day, ground clearance has become one of the things to note when buying a new car, more so a family car.
And now, there are loads of them from just about every price point. You can get yourself a vehicle with reasonable ground clearance for under a million pesos these days, and you're pretty much spoiled for choices.
3. Water wading became a major marketing tool
Before Ondoy, we didn't see a vehicle's water wading depth being talked about as often as today. We'd usually see them at the back of the brochure, buried in the spec sheet. Some brochures didn't even show ground clearance, but times have changed.
These days, you have SUVs boasting about their water wading capacities, something that wasn't even printed on spec sheets that much back in the day. Ford was among the first to do this locally with, of all cars, the EcoSport. They claimed that the small, Fiesta-based crossover can charge into floods that are up to 550 mm deep, which is about 1.8 feet.
Of course, EcoSports aren't dunked in about two feet of water on a regular basis, but it was reassuring to know that it can. Ford then followed that up with the Everest with its 800 mm water wading capacity. Soon, all the Everest's competitors were printing their stats as well.
Today, every SUV manufacturer wants to prove that their vehicle can cope with heavy floods, and are more than eager to publish and highlight the capabilities they have when water is in the way.
4. The rise in popularity of off-road mods
Apart from the sharp increase in the popularity of high-riding vehicles like SUVs and pick-ups, another thing we also noticed was the spike in popularity of off-road modifications.
4x4 shops reaped the benefits of vehicle owners wanting to raise their vehicles as high as they can rather than sedan owners wanting to drop their cars as low as they can. Popular accessories included lift kits, full suspension upgrades, bigger all terrain tires, steel bumpers, and all other equipment that was intended for off-road use. Even snorkels became a popular addition to most SUVs and pick-ups as it allowed the engine to breathe at a depth that would leave standard air intakes choking on water.
Perhaps the best indicator of this growth in 4x4 popularity is the presence of a large number of 4x4-type vehicles at shows like the Manila Auto Salon (MAS) and Trans Sport Show (TSS), and later on the Sport Truck Show. The popularity was so evident, that some observers have jokingly referred MAS as the Manila Off-Road Salon.
5. More cautious second-hand buyers
Then, there's the matter of buying a second-hand car. The buyers of today simply won't take someone's word of 'flood free' on face value. We became more discerning when it comes to buying pre-loved cars, poking around and digging deeper for any signs of water or mud damage. Several articles were even written about spotting these flood damaged cars, us included.
Unfortunately, hiding this sort of thing became a past time for unscrupulous and shady dealers finding contrived ways to make a quick buck. But still, with people giving continuous advice on how to spot such a car, we're hoping that there's less and less people getting scammed out of their hard-earned cash.
6. Location, location, location
During periods of heavy rain, motorists tend to avoid certain roads or cities altogether. Any locale that has a tendency for these urban flash floods. Governments of affected areas are also working to keep drainage lines clear of debris, which is why we see a lot of open manholes being cleared of obstruction very regularly.
Even places where a vehicle is being sold from has become one of factors in looking for a used car. Admit it, if you saw Marikina, Valenzuela, Pasig, or Cainta as the location of the seller, you'd have second thoughts about checking it out. While not all places in in those heavily affected areas were affected, the unfortunate stigma still lingers on to this day.
Let's not forget the hundreds and thousands of lives changed by Ondoy. In one way or another, we have friends and loved ones we lost or were affected by this tragedy. Sure, some of us lost our cars that day, but there are those who lost so much more.
But if there's some glimmer of positive news to get from all this, it's that we've become more prepared to handle these situations. We also saw the spirit of being triumphant over adversity, as well as people helping others get themselves up from such a difficult time. Hopefully, we won't have to witness a disaster of that scale to see that again.