After the ‘Flood’

What to do when your car is submerged in a flood


AP photo

Thanks to the recent typhoons, the reality of flooded streets and highways are once again upon us. As with everything, prevention is the best medicine. Monitor weather conditions and follow advice from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration and local authorities. Avoid driving in such a bad weather.

But let’s say you were caught in a flash flood and somehow ended up on the wrong side of the deluge, your vehicle already deep in it. What should you do next?

First, don’t attempt to start a vehicle in standing water unless the water level is below the door opening, never rising higher than it. Starting a vehicle that is submerged in water or exposed to water could severely damage the engine, because water might have entered the combustion chambers through the air intake. Starting a vehicle in damp conditions could also damage the car’s onboard computers and electronics. A short circuit in the electrical system can cause a shock or even a fire.

If the water never rose above the door opening and the interior is dry, start the car and drive safely, if possible. Drive slowly and be aware that wet brakes will not bite as effectively; stopping distance will be much greater than when the brakes were dry. After bringing the car to a safe place and, as soon as possible, have the car’s undercarriage washed to remove any debris, including dirt, mud, and other contaminants that might have been in the floodwater. Have the brakes inspected, too. Change the engine oil and transmission fluid to avoid the possibility of contamination.

If the vehicle has been submerged past the door opening and the vehicle’s interior is wet, don’t start it. Have it towed or transported to a safe place. After that, have the car professionally and thoroughly inspected and cleaned, before attempting to start it. The higher the water level the car has been exposed to, the greater the potential damage.

Watch out for these potential problems:

• Rust and mold if the vehicle interior and undercarriage are not thoroughly dried

• Cosmetic damage to the car’s upholstery and carpeting

• Electrical and electronic component failure—these include computers, sensor instruments, entertainment and navigation system

• Long-term electronic issues due to the corrosion of components and connectors

• Mechanical damage due to fluid contamination or water entry

• Damage in the engine, transmission, final drive and differential, fuel system, brake system, power steering system

What you should ask your  mechanic to do:

• Inspect all mechanical components and systems that contain fluids andl check for water contamination

• Drain floodwater from contaminated components and systems. Flush and refill with clean fluids of the proper types

• Inspect, clean and dry all electrical system components and connections

• Inspect the fuel tank especially if the refill cap is compromised

The vehicle interior and upholstery should be inspected by a professional detailer. If the interior has been water-damaged, then a strip-down and replacement of the affected parts may have to be conducted. Cars with multiple motors such as those in power seats and steering wheel will be more vulnerable to damage.

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