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Dealing With Car Damage Caused By Floods

By Kimberlea Buczeke, August 29, 2017

Flood-damaged cars are a potential nightmare. Having your vehicle become subjected to flood water or heavy storms can become expensive and dangerous, both for you and your car.

While many people believe that cars can simply overcome exposure to large amounts of water, or even drive through largely flooded streets and roads, this is definitely not the case. Water has the ability to affect your car in very detrimental ways, some that require repairs that may take a hunk of your savings out of your pocket. Here at RepairPal, we have made a list of things to check on your vehicle after exposure to water, and how you can help save your car from further damage.

FEMA Flood
Image Courtesy of FEMA

Your Safety Always Comes First

Avoiding the issue of flood damage is the easiest way to prevent the associated headaches. Anytime there are reports of flooding or standing water notices in your intended route, don’t take the risk of driving through. While avoiding the situation is ideal, it may not always be possible. If this happens to you, it's important to make sure that you get yourself to a safe location. While it is not good for your vehicle to drive through flooded roads, getting to a safe place is of much higher importance. If you drive your vehicle and it becomes stuck in the water, the last thing you should be concerned about is your car or truck. It is in your best interest to get to higher ground as quickly as you can, both for your safety and to avoid sustaining more damage to the vehicle. You are already not going to get to where you were going, so it is best that you see to your safety first. 

Floods And Engines Don't Mix

The engine of your vehicle is very susceptible to water damage. It only takes an average of 6 inches of water to reach the undercarriage of your car, and as water becomes deeper the risk to your engine increases. If water reaches the air filter housing, it may be sucked into the engine through the intake air tube. Once the engine sucks water into the cylinders, the engine will stop running, but the damage may already be done to internal engine components like connecting rods. The best way to avoid damage to the engine is to avoid driving through water that is deeper than the bottom of the front bumper. If you drive your car in flooded waters and it stalls, do not attempt to start the vehicle again, as that is the most common way to damage the engine. Once the vehicle is no longer submerged under water, disconnect the battery and have the vehicle towed to the intended service location. Before anything else is done, change the oil and oil filter and remove the air filter and spark plugs. The air filter housing should be cleared of water, the air filter replaced, and the spark plugs should be cleaned or replaced. The vehicle should be given a few days to dry out the electrical system before connecting the battery. Once reconnected, crank the engine over with the spark plugs removed. This will evacuate any water left in the engine. Once the engine has been running for several minutes, the engine oil and oil filter should be changed once more.

The Fuel Tank And Line In Flood Conditions

Water also has the ability to seep into your fuel line and fuel tank. Modern vehicle fuel systems are sealed as part of the evaporative emission control system (EVAP system), but even these may be susceptible to water intrusion. If water does enter the fueling system, the vehicle will either fail to start or run so poorly the vehicle cannot be driven. Even after draining and refilling the fuel system, the performance of your car may slowly decline due to corrosion in the fuel system. If the fuel system is suspected of water intrusion, drain the fuel tank and refill with fresh fuel. This will likely need to be done on all older vehicles.

interior flood
Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Flooding In The Interior Of The Vehicle

One of the most easily noticeable things flood waters can do to damage your car is in the interior of the vehicle. It's important to remove as much water, moisture, or even mud from the vehicle quickly. If water is left unattended in the vehicle, mold can begin to grow in the car, which can damage a wide variety of things. Beginning with the seats and carpets remove as much as possible and set aside so it can dry. Use dry rags to wipe down any wet areas of the car. You can even use fans or vacuums to help with the water removal process. Vehicles also have drain holes available underneath the carpet, but if these are used they must be resealed. It is also important to ensure that all windows are left halfway open, and the hood, trunk, and doors are left open for further ventilation. I'd bet our friends at USAA could provide you with some great info about how they go about handling these cars. 

The Electrical System And Water

The greatest issues arising from flood damage and water intrusion are electrical issues. The possible issues are not just strange, but they can occur after days or years. Instant issues are likely the result of residue and liquid water in electronic components and connectors, but corrosion is also likely to build up over time and cause issues down the road. This is the worst part of owning or driving a flood-damaged vehicle. To help identify electrical issues right away, go through all the electrical systems of the car: headlights, air conditioning, radio, turn signals, locks, windows, seats, etc. Also keep in mind that there are numerous electronic components buried behind trim panels, in the trunk, under the hood, and even under the seats. These components often suffer damage and can mimic issues with other systems, so even though it may be tempting to replace the part that does not function, that may not correct the issue. If you notice anything that is off about the car, go get it check by a mechanic to see if there is any electrical trouble.

Flood Damage And Your Braking Ability

A lot of people forget about this one! If you are driving through an area of flooded water, make sure to give your brakes a test before continuing or attempting to stop somewhere. The sediment in the water could cause momentary failure of the brakes, so it's important to make sure they are working properly. Also, if the water is deep enough to submerge the front wheels or master cylinder, it may be a good idea to flush the brakes. This is because water may enter the master cylinder brake fluid reservoir cap, and this will severely decrease braking efficiency. This is much less common, but it's better to check just in case. Better safe than sorry!

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