Breaking News

First Aid For Flooded Cars

First Aid For Flooded Cars

Apocryphal tales of drivers taking on deep water abound in pubs and works canteens. Did you hear of the woman who drove her brand new BMW into floodwater? Apparently the thermal shock of cold water on the hot engine caused the engine block to crack. If true, this was a very expensive error of judgment, but it is very easy to find factual references to thermal shock damaging catalytic converters in similar circumstances.

I was talking to a friend this week, whilst researching these pages, who told me of when he drove his Mk2 Escort into a flood. He was taking the recommended precautions, of keeping in second gear with the revs up to stop sucking water into the exhaust and staying slow to prevent a bow wave flooding his air intake at the front, all good stuff… until he lost the steering: the water had become deep enough to float the car. He was lucky the water was flowing in his direction of travel: eventually the tyres made contact and he drove out. A lucky escape, but the water had gone over the sills and soaked the carpets.

Drivers in Essex may be familiar with Buttsbury Wash, a river crossing near Billericay, which claimed 3 overly optimistic drivers who drove into the ford without realising the water was way too deep, on one particularly rainy weekend. Fire Brigade statistics show it to be the worst location of its kind in the country and are asking the local authority to put in depth gauges to give local drivers a chance to decide whether it is safe to use or not!

Driving through something labelled as a ford is one thing, at least you are expecting it. Most of us who drive regularly have experienced the other situation; you are driving along, radio on, and windscreen wipers going, when you round a bend and you register a change in the road surface ahead. Perhaps the centre line has disappeared or the colour of the road has changed. Stopping quickly seems like a good idea, and it probably is, though can feel perilous if a big bloke hunched into the Ford Ka behind is close on your tail (voice of experience here), but assessing the situation rather than simply ploughing on always feels best to me, and if Big bloke wants to have a go then let him; at least you will see how deep it is at no cost to yourself and your car. In this instance I watched and he did make it, but he sent a 2ft bow wave across the neighbouring fields and I did not want to risk damaging my much loved, low slung, VW Passat estate sports. I bet his carpets got wet.

Another thing is that the etiquette in these situations is not always immediately apparent, but I think that if you have to drive on the other side of the road to avoid the worst of the flood then that’s OK, as long as you give way to the traffic that belongs there. After that it is best to go one car at a time, exercising patience and a cheerful “all in this together” approach to fellow drivers.

But enough of this because if you Google on “driving in floods you will get lots of links to expert advice on how to manage this situation if you meet it, but what if the worst happens, and for whatever reason your car gets very wet on the inside; perhaps because of a flood, a tidal wave or because you left the top down? Well if you Google on “flooded cars” you will get lots of pages about hurricane Katrina in the US, and also, more helpfully we think, a link to our web site at Clean Image showing how we go about expertly diagnosing and planning a course of action to deal with a flood damaged vehicle .

You may think that my use of the word diagnosing is over the top in this instance, but half an hour with the floods specialist will soon disabuse you of this. The first thing to ascertain is what type of water the car has been flooded with; was it mains water, river water, sewer water or sea water – or a mix? Mains water and river water can be dealt with fairly straightforwardly with decontamination, cleaning and drying techniques and is usually within insurance company tolerances, so do not be surprised if your car is not written off. Similarly, cars flooded by sewage water can be decontaminated and cleaned, just as one might a flooded house, but it will depend on the level of contamination and the value of the car as to whether this is cost effective. If a car has been flooded by sea water then the damage is likely to be irreversible, because of the corrosive effects of the salt, so prepare yourself for bigger premiums.

Whatever has happened to your car, first aid is essential. If your car has been flooded, DO NOT DELAY as the damage is still being done even though the car has been removed from the water. It is more important to get the car decontaminated than to get any mechanical work done. We can recommend various specialized products that you can use to pre-treat the car to deter bacteria and mould. This is the only way to prevent long-term problems with smells, and insurance companies do not always realise this – so you may need to insist. We often get cars that have begun to rot while sitting around having mechanical work or while an insurance company decides what to do with them.

Later in our workshop, we will strip out the carpets, door trims, and seats. We then clean every piece and every inch of the floor under the carpet with high pressure and high temperature jet wash and use decontaminants to break down the bacteria that cause the bad smells. We also use a technique called fogging. This fogs the interior of the car with a decontaminant, because it is a vapour it reaches every surface of the interior as it tries to escape from the car through every gap in the car body, consequently it thoroughly treats the entire inside of the car. Finally we use dehumidifiers and hot air blowers to dry the interior and then we replace everything.

Obviously electrical components that have been made wet may no longer be reliable. We routinely oversee the replacement of air bag control units, along with any other electrical units that were below the water level.

The processes we are able to use are specialised and they work, you will find illustrated examples of what we do and how we do it on the Clean Image website.

Despite all this, I still think my preference on coming across a flooded road, or Buttsbury wash in full flow, would be to seriously consider turning round and going a different way, at least until I trade the Passat in for a Gibbs Aquada.