UK floods: dealing with water-damaged cars

15 Feb, 2014 10:28am Sam Naylor

Recent UK floods could cause a wave of damaged used cars - here's how to spot them

Buyers have been warned to look out for an influx of flood-damaged cars on the used market, as drivers look to sell rather than make insurance claims.

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Insurers write off 70 per cent of cars which have been submersed, due to engine damage or electric safety issues. And now AA Cars – the breakdown company’s used car branch – is concerned that after the recent UK weather, many owners will choose to sell these damaged cars rather than risk a loss through insurers.

Latest figures show that the AA has rescued more than 3,000 cars from floods since late December.

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So what damage can flooding do to your car, and how can you spot a flood-damaged car when you're buying used?

How to drive in floods and extreme weather

The IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists) has been giving advice to motorists on what do do in the recent bad weather conditions.

“A suddenly very wet road surface increases the chances of slipping when braking or steering, which is a problem not just for motorists, but cyclists and motorcyclists too," said IAM chief examiner Peter Rodger.

“When driving in wet conditions remember that stopping distances will increase, and visibility will be reduced. Drop your speed and give yourself more time to slow down.”

The IAM has also issued some tips if you absolutely have to get through some deep water on the road. Our advice is always to avoid it, however.

The IAM suggests "slipping the clutch" (when the clutch is not fully engaged) all the time you are in the water to keep the revs high and help stop engine problems. Never take your foot off the accelerator either, and make sure the car keeps moving at all times so you don't get stuck. Clear the brakes of water by lightly applying them after you exit the water.

What's wrong with a flooded car?

A significant problem with a flood-damaged car is with the electrical system, even once the car has dried out, so important parts like the starter motor can fail at any point. Brakes can be ruined too, which is an obvious safety risk, and catalytic converters are likely to be seriously damaged.

The reason why flooded cars are so often an insurance write-off is that once engine components have been flooded they need to be completely replaced to ensure that they work correctly.

Water and sewage that comes up during heavy flooding can completely ruin a car's interior, too. It can get very expensive to clean out a water-damaged car interior. Of course you can clean the interior yourself if your car is damaged by the flood, but you should always get the car's mechanicals checked by a mechanic before you use the car again.

Of course, to prevent having to deal with these issues, make your car is parked on high ground, perhaps at a friend's house or in a street away from the water. Make sure you never drive through deep water, even if it looks shallow - as it could be deeper than you think.

How to spot a flood-damaged car

It can be hard to spot a flood-damaged car once it's dried out and is offered for sale, so you should be careful when buying cars from affected areas after heavy floods.

Look for rust on screws and fixings in areas of the car which are usually sheltered from the elements, and check that the windows don't steam up at a moment's notice - it's a sign of left over flood water in the car.

The interior can be cleaned, but there will probably be a smell of stagnant water inside the car if it's been flooded. The interior panels could be warped or misshapen, too.

If there’s silt or fine sand in areas not readily accessible, it may have come in with flood water. Check below the dash and in small crevices.

As with all used cars, be a careful buyer and make sure you check over the car fully before you buy. You can also pay a mechanic to look over the car if you want to be sure it's going to be fine, or buy from a reputable dealer.

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I drove through a flooded road like an idiot and inevitably was far deeper than it looked. It came up to just below the headlights. Managed to keep the speed low enough to stop water reaching the air intake.

However water did get inside, forming puddles in the footwells. Pulled up at the side of the road straight after with plumes of steam coming from the engine bay and soaked up the excess water from inside with a blanket.

For a couple of weeks the carpets were still damp, the car stank and required hours of scrubbing with both disinfectant and standard carpet cleaner and using a hair dryer to evaporate the soaked insulation. This sorted the stench.

Mechanically, it took a couple of months for the starter motor to fail and not long after a wheel bearing needed replacing. Overall cost me over £300. Way over a year on, there don't seem to be any more problems as a direct result.

Moral of the story, don't be stupid (Like me) - avoid driving through any water you cannot guarantee the depth of.

Well said!

“When driving in wet conditions remember that stopping distances will increase, and visibility will be reduced. "

Nos hit sherlock.

She led firefighters to the library where a sprinkler head had ruptured.

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