Anton Andres / Chokdee.info, Jet Rabe, Ameer Cabahug, Wikimedia Commons - MichaelXXLF, Wikimedia Commons - CZmarlin | September 19, 2018 10:24
How much risk do you put your car through in a flood?
Floods are now a regular a part of everyday motoring. During the rainy parts of the year, don't be surprised if you encounter a variety of urban flash floods; be it gutter deep or car-drowning levels.
While water may seem harmless, it can wreak havoc on your car, and those flood crossings can -and will- eventually take a toll on your vehicle, regardless if it's a small hatch or SUV.
But what exactly can get damaged when you go through a flood? Here are some of them.
1. Electrical system
Modern cars have a lot of electrical systems to keep it going, and we all know what happens to electronics when it gets wet. Water can easily short out these systems, rendering your vehicle out of commission, and leaving you stranded while crossing deep water.
And just because you were able to cross the flood, it doesn't mean the car's out of danger either. Moisture can accumulate in the computer box, which could sent the car's brain haywire in the long run. Contact points for the fuses, relays and the computers can corrode, meaning electrical inputs aren't as effective. Consequently, reliability takes a hit as well as everything computer controlled is affected from the power locks to the engine.
Water ingestion is always a risk when going through floods, regardless of how shallow or how deep it is. If your engine sucks in water, it's game over; the pistons and valves will bend or break as they try to compress water.
If you do happen to get across without destroying the engine, you're not out of it yet. In the same way that water tries to find a leak in your roof at home, it will try to find ways into other parts of your engine depending on the severity of the flood. If it finds a bad seal, or other kind of point of entry, water can contaminate the oil or transmission fluid, meaning the engine or transmission are faced with greater risk of failure.
You'll also have to watch out for debris; twigs or other floating trash can interfere with your engine's belts and other moving components to cause damage.
So let's say that the engine and electronics are fine but often overlooked is the transmission. Regardless if it's manual, automatic, CVT, or dual-clutch, water does note bode well between the gears (or chains, in the case of CVT).
Flood water is far from clean so just imagine all that gunk getting into your gears. Again, contamination is the enemy here and if it's left for long with water inside, it leads to accelerated wear, sluggish performance and, ultimately, total failure.
Now, unless your brakes are piping hot then suddenly exposed to cold water, you won't really do harm to your brakes just by going through floods. However, there is a risk that debris from the flood could get trapped between the pads. As for those with drum brakes, water could get in the part and rot it from the inside. Granted, it may take a while for it to really rust to pieces but it will affect braking performance nonetheless.
So what happens to your brakes when you go through a flood? You may experience a bit of a delay when you step on the brake pedal. You might also encounter brake squeal as well. Lightly step on the brakes while the vehicle is in motion to 'dry' it off.
5. Interior and upholstery
If you've ever dealt with cleaning a flooded car before, you'll know that your car's interior will never be the same again. Regardless how much you try to clean, once floodwaters get inside your car, it's going to be near impossible to get it all cleaned up as the muck tends to get everywhere. And given that our seats are made of soft foam, don't be surprised if it soaks it all up.
Depending on the kind of water you crossed -particularly in congested urban areas- there could be a smell that remains for months even after you've given the interior a thorough cleaning and drying.
6. Corrosion risk
Yes, new cars these come with a coat of rust-proofing but that doesn't mean it should be taken for granted. To reiterate, flood water is very dirty. Not only does it have dirt, mud, and other gunk, there's also oil dropped from other cars, and other fluids spilled that can easily eat away your car's shiny paint. All these can get trapped in hard to reach places which can eventually be the cause of rust.
It's not just the paint and body that can get hit with rust. Metal lines, suspension components and drivetrain parts can also be affected by it as well. Long after the water dries, don't be surprised if you hear a few more squeaks from the hinges or weird noises from the bearings.
Floods are difficult to avoid but if you can, turn around and don't risk damaging your vehicle. While your car may seem fine at the moment after crossing a flood, the effects can be felt in the days, weeks, or months after.
If you do need to cross a substantial amount of water, get the car cleaned as soon as possible, particularly the undercarriage. Don't wait to take your car to a reputable service center because the damage from the water, debris, mud and all the other nasty stuff in the murkiness -just like that bank's tagline- will find ways.