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Can a car run under water?

Driving through floods

Flooded road

Some areas are more prone to flooding than others. This problem is set to increase in the UK with the onset of global warming.

Floods can occur when rivers burst their banks, after a period of heavy rainfall. Large volumes of water can cause flash-floods, or floods in urban areas where the sewers and drains can’t cope and there is nowhere for the water to soak away.

As with all driving emergencies prevention is better than cure; in the case of flooding this means watching the weather forecasts before you set out on a journey, if flooding is widespread you might be better off cancelling trips that are not absolutely necessary.

If you are in a flood affected area consider moving your car to a place of safety when you first hear the warnings, but also be aware that if flooding has started moving your vehicle could pose a serious risk — never underestimate the dangers of flood water.

Eight things to think about.

Slow down into water

  • Flash floods can come rapidly and unexpectedly. In the UK they are usually cause when rivers break their banks.
  • You may not have warning that a flash flood is approaching.
  • Never attempt to drive through a flood that you couldn’t walk through and be aware that water hides dips in the road. Worse still, there may be no road at all under the water. Flooding can wash away the entire road surface and a significant amount of ground beneath.
  • Just six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars; this depth can cause loss of control or possible stalling as water is sucked into the exhaust or washes into the air intake.
  • If negotiating a flooded section of road, drive in the middle where the water will be at its shallowest.
  • Consider other drivers — pass through flooded sections one car at a time, don’t drive through water against approaching vehicles.
  • Many cars will start to float in as little as one foot of water — this can be extremely dangerous because as the wheels lose grip, you lose control.
  • Two feet of flowing water can sweep away most vehicles — including large four-wheel drive cars. Don’t try driving through fast-moving water, for example approaching a flooded bridge – your car could easily be swept away.

Negotiating floods

Driving at speed into water that is more than about 15 centimetres deep can have dramatic effects — it could almost feel like driving into a brick wall with loss of control. This is why it’s especially important to watch your speed on roads where there might be unexpected patches of water (perhaps hidden by a bend or a dip in the road).

I caught the cars on the right on camera driving into about six centimetres of standing water at around 25mph — an instant after this picture was taken the red car lost control, luckily an accident was avoided. perhaps next time the driver might not be so lucky. In 15 minutes I saw several near misses at the same spot.

Use a low gear

If you intend to drive through a flooded section of road, your first task is to check the depth of the water. In normal vehicles you should never attempt to drive through water that is more than about 25 centimetres deep (or up to the centre of your wheels).

It’s also worth checking where the air intake is on your engine. If water is sucked into the engine it will stall, but worse than this, it can cause severe damage that will require the engine to be stripped down in order to bring it back to life. Do not try to restart an engine that has sucked in water — the plugs or injectors should first be removed to allow the water to be expelled.

Some four-wheel-drive vehicles are equipped with high level air intakes allowing them to be driven through water several feet deep, however, you can say goodbye to your deep pile carpet and Gucci Sneakers if you attempt this! And as mentioned above — even 4×4 vehicles can be washed away in flowing water. If the water is fast-moving — even 30 centimetres depth of fast-moving water could wash your car off the road.

Where possible flooded roads are best negotiated by one vehicle at a time. wait for approaching vehicles to clear the water before you start to drive through.

Using first or second gear (L or 1 in an automatic) drive slowly to avoid creating a large ‘bow wave’ (a small wave can be helpful but too much and the water can wash back into the engine). Slipping the clutch and revving the engine will also help to keep the exhaust clear and keep the engine running if water splashes onto the electrics. In an automatic keep your foot on the gas in the lowest held gear and use the brake to control your speed (and hope for the best!).

In some cases a stalled engine can result in water being sucked back through the exhaust into the cylinders — this can cause extensive and expensive damage. Do not change gear because this can also cause water to be sucked back through the exhaust (due to the change in engine speed and manifold depression).

Another potential cause of damage in floods is a cracked catalytic converter (‘cat’). The ‘cat’ is part of the exhaust system and works at high temperatures; if it comes into contact with very cold water there is a possibility that the rapid contraction of the metal could crack the welded sides — OK if you have plenty of money to replace it!

If your wheels start to lose grip partway through a flooded section it could be that the car is trying to float. To counter this, open a door and allow some water into the car, this will weigh it down, enabling the tyres to grip again — it’s probably best to get a passenger to do this so that you can continue revving your engine and slipping the clutch.

Try and dry your brakes

After driving through a flooded section of road or a ford across a river, test your brakes (whilst still driving slowly) and be prepared to drive them off by braking lightly while driving slowly.

Sometimes driving very slowly and braking at the same time can cause your car to stall, you can overcome this problem by touching the brake pedal very lightly with your left foot as you accelerate gently.

Caution: Practice left-foot braking by driving at less than 10 mph on an empty stretch of road to discover what very lightly means! Because your left foot is used to ‘thrusting’ the clutch pedal down it isn’t ‘automatically programmed’ to be gentle — you need to be aware of this and make a conscious effort to touch the brake pedal lightly.

If your car has been abandoned and has stood in deep water for a long period (an hour or more) it’s worth getting a mechanic to look at it before you try and start it. Alternatively, if you know a little about engines and have the appropriate tools, remove the spark plugs (or injectors) and turn the engine over to expel any water from the cylinders before trying to start the engine.

Stay calm — stay safe!

Can a Car Still Run After Being Submerged in Water?

Hurricanes can take a heavy toll on the environment. When evacuations take place due to a storm surge, many people will often leave their vehicles behind. But can you rescue your car after it has been submerged? Let’s take a look at what damage can occur when a vehicle has been underwater.

A car partially underwater.

What happens to the engine

One of the first concerns after a car has been submerged for any length of time in the water is if it will even run. It’s not a good idea to try to turn the engine over immediately until the damage can be assessed. There is likely water in the engine, transmission, and fuel system, and this will only make matters worse. Especially in coastal areas, saltwater is even worse for the internal systems in a vehicle.

One of the most important things to look for in a vehicle that has been flooded is the high watermark. You can find this by looking for a dirty water line. If the water only got to the bottom of the doors, chances are the engine is fine. However, if the floodwaters went past the hood, you are likely looking at many systems being damaged. While many modern cars are sealed very well, chances are there is water in the engine, which can warp the components making the engine stall. This is going to lead to extensive repairs.

Are cars totaled after being flooded

Depending on where the high watermark is on a vehicle will determine the likely cost to repair. If the car was completely submerged, it’s expected that the insurance adjuster will total the vehicle since it will cost more to repair than the vehicle is worth. Not only is the engine likely damaged, but there are also hundreds of electrical components in modern cars. Most vehicles have computer modules.

After being submerged in water, long-term, they will begin to fail and cause a multitude of hard-to-diagnose problems down the road. These systems depend on low-voltage signals from sensors in the engine management system and ABS. These low-voltage signals can be affected by corrosion build-up on connectors, causing problems that may not appear for years.

What is the best course of action for a flooded car


According to Popular Mechanics, one of the first things to do is clean out as much mud and water as you can. Again, don’t start the engine. It’s also a good idea to disconnect the battery to avoid further electrical damage. Next, check the dipsticks for the engine and transmission. If there are water droplets on them, it will be necessary to change the fluids and filters and possibly remove the oil pan if the water is muddy to clean the oil out.

Late-model vehicles have sealed fuel systems, so there is a slim chance that water infiltrates these systems. Muddy water can get past the engine seals in just a few hours. The seals are designed to keep fluids in, but they are not meant to keep fluids out. If possible, wheel bearings will need to be cleaned and re-packed. If the car continues to function, it’s also a good idea to change the fluids again after 1,000 miles.

Beyond these basic repairs, the engine may need to be completely disassembled and inspected for water damage. This may be cost-prohibitive, so it may not be worth the trouble if the water damage is extensive. Much of this will be determined by your insurance adjuster. Water can wreak havoc on a vehicle. It may be best left to the professionals to determine if your car is salvageable in the long run.

How SUVs Can Be Driven And Submerged In Deep Water Without Stalling The Engine

Have you ever seen an SUV like jeeps,hummer or other car brands with a long pipe sticking out over the bonnet and wondered why anyone would put a smoke stack on it?


Wondered why Jeeps,Humvees and other military trucks can submerge easily as they cross a river without stalling while a normal SUV or car stalls almost immediately while driving through a shallow river or a 4-foot deep pond?

From the pics above,this pipe looking fixture running from the air intake under the bonnet,extending upward near the passenger side of the vehicle,called a SNORKEL,and it is a modification for 4×4 enthusiasts who want their vehicle to get cool,dry,clean air into their engine while off-roading.

Humvees and jeeps often have a snorkel attached to a port on the passenger side of the hood from the factory,that allows them to submerge in up to 5 feet(1.6 meters)of water while still getting air.

Sucking water into your internal combustion engine is more common than you might think.Offroading and riding through rivers,streams,puddles,lakes or flood are more likely to get water into the engine,especially if you don’t have a snorkel.
The problem with getting water in your engine is that your engine was designed to compress air and gas as the piston moves up,ignite it and use the resultant explosion to push the piston back down.
Water can not be compressed when the piston moves up.The resulting damage could include a hole in the cylinder wall,a hole in the piston head,blown out valves or a hole in the head.The water will go somewhere,and it will take the weakest route it can find.This is known as a hydrolocked engine.
Getting the water in the engine is easy.Getting it out,without destroying the engine,can be more of a challenge.

Since the air intake is usually a problem when immersed in water,adding a snorkel to the system can easily solve this problem along with some other modifications.

How does a 4wd Snorkel work?

A Snorkel,when fitted to your four wheel drive,moves the engine air intake from under your bonnet,to roof height.
At this point,
-It raises the level of the air intake that reduce the chance of water entering your engine when crossing water or river
-A higher air intake also reduces the amount of dust entering the system(cleaner air)
-It also allows cooler air into the engine which can increase its horsepower and engine performance.
-it produces a ram effect by allowing air into your engine using your vehicles forward motion rather than the engine sucking air in.

The ram and the vortex snorkel are the 2 main types of snorkels designed to achieve similar results,but do so in different ways.Pics below

See Related Post 8 Safety Tips For Flooded Vehicles – 9ja HSE Professionals

So to create a vehicle that can run submerged,the following modificatiion must be achieved in addition to installing a snorkel to the air inlet system
-The vehicle engine must be waterproofed.
-All electrical devices like instruments,engine control computers,motors(for fans,windshield wipers,et cetera),lights and the battery,must be sealed.
-Any venting for items such as the crankcase and differential must be sealed(or vented at the same level as the snorkel).
-The fuel tank must be sealed and vented appropriately.
-Any chamber or space that can be filled with water must have a drain.

The following accessories may be required for sustained driving in deep water:
-Wading plugs or breathing tubes for the gearbox and differentials to prevent water entrance
-Sealed air intake snorkel to prevent water entering the engine
-Radiator barrier to lower the water level in the engine bay
-Splash baffles can prevent the fan throwing water everywhere in your engine bay

If the air intake and exhaust have been taken care of and the engine has been completely waterproofed,then the vehicle can run underwater.

It is easier to waterproof a diesel engine than a petrol engine because of the ignition and sparkplugs in a petrol engine run at high voltage,and sealing them is very difficult(but not impossible) while a diesel engine on the other hand,has no ignition system.
Also,if the diesel engine has a mechanical fuel pump for the injectors and a mechanical transmission,there are no engine control electronics to worry about.These features can make a diesel engine relatively easy to waterproof.That’s why most military vehicles that forge rivers or run submerged have diesel engines.

A snorkel is not a requirement if you want to off-road your SUV,but this modification is just one of many that can improve your vehicle’s performance or protect it.
Snorkels are widely available for a wide variety of SUV vehicles.

Will you consider modifying your SUV with a snorkel for off-roading and surfing,especially here in Nigeria,where most areas are prone to flooding?

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