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Flooding And The Effects On A Vehicle

Posted By on 11-04-2018
Flooding And The Effects On A Vehicle

Flood water has many dangers and disastrous aspects, including those involving a vehicle.

There are many things of concern to you should you and your vehicle ever be involved with flood waters. Think about things like what to do if there is a flood in your area, what to do if your vehicle is flooded and what to do if you are in your vehicle when it gets flooded. It’s also extremely important to know the various ways to tell if a used vehicle you are going to purchase was involved in a flood since every year this happens to thousands of vehicles and some find their way to the market.

Facts About Flooded Vehicles

  • Any vehicle where the flood water rose above its’ floor is considered totaled
  • Flood water damages the engine, transmission and drive train, and the electrical components, as well as the electronic computer systems.
  • Water seriously compromises the safety devices, such as airbags and ABS.
  • There may be health concerns with mold and bacteria, as the vehicle will be rotting from the inside out.
  • Many water-related issues may not be immediately apparent but, just like other problems such as rust and corrosion, will develop over time.
  • As of 2018, there are estimates of 325,000 flood-damaged cars in the U.S. used car market, excluding those from hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
  • Estimates of 500,000 totaled vehicles from the recent Hurricane Harvey (2017) alone.
  • Vehicles totaled in floods can be found in markets all across the U.S. and into neighbouring countries such as Mexico and Canada.
  • Auto dealers are required by law to reveal previous damages and accurately represent the condition of the vehicle but if they are not always aware of any damages, or claim to be unaware, so ultimately it can be hard to prove they are guilty of non-disclosure.
  • Some auto “chop shops” have unscrupulous means of hiding damages in order to make a sale.

Follow these 3 basic steps when purchasing a vehicle, which are equally as useful and important for determining if there are flood-related issues.

  1. Perform an ownership history search of the vehicle. Knowing if a vehicle was previously owned by someone in a flooded area is a good indicator that there may be issues.
  2. Check with the vehicle registry for your province or territory to see if the vehicle you wish to purchase was declared non-repairable. In Alberta, any vehicle under this classification can only be sold as scrap
  3. Check with the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s VIN Verify Service, which also provides tools to help identify flood-damaged vehicles.

17 Ways To Help You Determine If  A Vehicle Has Been Involved In A Flood

  1. Trust your nose and sniff out unusual odours caused by mold or mildew, which are difficult to mask. Also, watch for excessive deodorizer and air fresheners attempting to cover these moldy smells.
  2. Look for sand, silt, mildew and stains under the carpets, floor mats, headliner cloth and behind the dashboard.
  3. Watch for new carpeting or other components installed on older vehicles, replacing those damaged by water
  4. Take note of any fading on the interior upholstery and door panels.
  5. Check for rust on screws and other components on the console and dash, or any other place not typically exposed to water.
  6. Also look for rust and corrosion on the springs of the seats (use a mirror to peek under the cushions)
  7. Look for corrosion on the corners and bottom of the doors, especially where they attach to the body.
  8. See if there is any mud and grit in the spare tire wheel well and in the engine compartment behind wiring harnesses, the alternator crevices, and other small recesses such as those on the starter motor, power steering pump, and relay.
  9. Feel for brittle and stiff wiring which may indicate exposure to water.
  10. See if there is any oxidation on aluminum and alloy in the engine compartment.
  11. Pull the dipstick and see if the oil is sticky or discoloured from water entering the engine, possibly evident even if the oil has been changed.
  12. Look for mold, mildew, and silt inside the seat belt retractors.
  13. See if there is fog or moisture inside the headlamps and behind the console glass, as it is very difficult to dry this up no matter how hard someone tries
  14. Check the function of the heater, air conditioner, lights and turn signals, gauges, radio and door speakers for static or distortion, cigarette lighter and power points, USB ports, windshield wipers and any other electrical components that may be damaged by water.
  15. Buy from a reputable dealer who has a proven track record.
  16. Have a certified mechanic do a full inspection of the vehicle.
  17. Trust your instincts, being wary of that “too good to be true” deal, and be prepared to walk away.

effects on your vehicle in a flooded area


  • If you don’t have to drive, stay off the roads. This also allows emergency response crews easier access to trouble spots and the ability to focus on the immediate and necessary issues.
  • If you do need to drive, don’t go into a flooded area if you can avoid it. You won’t be able to gauge the depth of the water or the condition of the road beneath it. Take an alternate route.
  • Watch for damaged roads, dangling or downed power lines and wires, and fallen objects such as tree branches or power poles on the road. These objects may also be submerged, so be especially observant.
  • If you have no choice but to drive through a road with some standing water, drive slowly to avoid splashing water onto the engine.
  • A vehicle’s engine can stall in just 15 centimetres (6 inches) of water, stranding you and your passengers. This may also cause serious damage to your engine and other components of your vehicle.
  • It is advisable not to drive in water that is deep enough to obscure road markings
  • If your engine stalls, do not try to restart it. Water could have entered the engine and restarting it could cause further damage, even more, serious than that which is already existing.
  • If floodwaters surround your vehicle, remain calm. Turn on headlights and hazard lights so that other drivers and emergency personnel can see you better. If possible and safe, get out immediately and make your way to higher ground.
  • If you have exited your vehicle, be extremely careful of your footing. Storm grates and manhole lids may have blown off and muddy or roiled water may obscure these and other hazards.
  • Do not underestimate the power of running or surging water. If it’s unsafe to walk away and there is no threat of the vehicle being swept away, climb onto the roof, dial 911 and wait for help

If you feel like you will be trapped in your vehicle, it is recommended you prepare yourself and your passengers in the following ways

  • remove seatbelts
  • remove heavy outer clothing, like coats, and big boots that may drag you down in deep water
  • unlock the doors
  • roll the windows down enough to facilitate exiting through the opening.
  • Rushing flood water can have a strong current and may contain debris that could strike you, adding to the danger. Climbing on the roof may be equally as dangerous if the vehicle is swept away so scan the area and plan the best escape route to higher or safer ground
  • If the windows will not roll down, be prepared to break the glass before water levels rise too high. Breaking the glass of a submerged vehicle will cause the glass to explode inward and the sudden gush of water could disorient you and your passengers.
  • If you are trapped inside and have to sit it out until the car is submerged, be prepared to wait until water has entered the vehicle enough for you to open the door ( which you unlocked earlier) As scary as this sounds, it may be the only way to allow you to escape the vehicle, as pressure on the doors will need to be equalized by water inside such that you can push a door open. Be prepared to use an alternate door if the vehicle is pushed up against a structure or debris.
  • Do not attempt to save personal articles. Concentrate on your survival and that of your passengers.
  • Do not attempt to return to a flooded vehicle. Let emergency personnel retrieve it when it is safe.

Remember, your life and those of your passengers is not worth risking in a flood situation, so do not take unnecessary risks. A vehicle can be replaced and proper insurance will cover vehicles involved in floods. If you are in doubt about what your insurance does cover for flooding of a vehicle, speak to your broker.

If you’re looking for more information on vehicles or water damage check out some other posts of interest:

Purchasing A Vehicle In The U.S
Preventing Water Leakage In Your Basement

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