With all the terrible flooding parts of the UK have seen recently, comes endless flood images on social media and the news showing stranded cars. Naturally a portion of the vehicles you see in these pictures have been swept away, or were parked before the water arrived and there is very little that can be done in these cases.
However there are always a number of cars that seem to have been driven to the side of the road and have broken down in the water. Everyone knows someone at work who has a story to tell about breaking down in a large “puddle” but the sad thing is that most people don’t know why they broke down or how to avoid it happening again.
Driving through water is dangerous. It should be avoided if at all possible, but sometimes, you have to go through it and when you do, knowing how to do it safely is key. Below are a few tips to help keep you and your car safe if you encounter a flood.
The first and most important safety tip when you find yourself faced with having to drive across flood water is to stop and safely turn around. If you know another way, use it. There is no point in risking your safety or your car when a ten minute diversion could avoid the whole situation. Turning around should always be your first plan. However, be careful; you can cause untold chaos by turning around in the wrong place. Do it safely and make it clear to other road users what you are going to do.
Watch Other People
Crossing any flood water in a car is dangerous, it is even more so if you can’t see other cars doing it. What normally happens on a busy road is that as the water increases there is a long chain of cars tackling it. So no matter what time you arrive, someone will be just crossing before you. Watch for deeper parts, watch the flow of traffic and avoid joining a queue that might slow down. Wait for a big gap and take your time. You will notice undulations in the road where other cars suddenly go deeper; avoid them. Look at the middle of the road, it is likely to be higher and you may want to use that as your route. Other drivers will show you the right and the wrong way to cross so there is no excuse in making the same mistake as someone in front of you.
Never Lift Your Foot
One of the biggest problems when driving through water occurs when water gets into the exhaust pipe. It stands to reason that water finding it’s way back up the tail pipe is not going to do the car any good. There is no need to go into detail about why it’s bad, you just have to know it’s very bad.
It is actually fairly easy to avoid this happening. All you need to do is make sure that exhaust gas keeps coming out of the engine and, as a result, the exhaust. All the time gas is coming out of the tail pipe it pushes the water away and so keeps most of the wet stuff out. The trick is to basically keep the throttle on. This is not to say you should floor it, but keep the car in a low gear and keep a good amount of gas on. This will ensure the engine is revving nicely and a good amount of those nasty exhaust gases are pumped out thus blowing the water out of the way.
If you were to remove your foot from the throttle pedal not only would water be “allowed in”, the resulting vacuum in the pipe would actually suck it in. So the rule is never, ever….ever take your foot off the gas when driving through flood water.
Never Change Gear
Almost as important as keeping some throttle on is keeping the car in the same gear. Partly because most people take their foot of the gas pedal to change gear but there are other implications too. When you push the clutch pedal down you are breaking the grip between the 2 parts of the clutch. If you do this underwater you may just find that water will get in between the clutch plates and cause all manner of havoc when you try to push them together again and drive on.
We return to the key part of the previous tip. Keep in a low gear and keep the engine revving. You should not tackle deep water at high speed…ever, so keeping the car in 2nd or even 1st with some revs on is perfect. Just plod on with what will sound like a very loud engine. This way you will have the power to push that heavy water out of the way, you keep the exhaust gasses coming out of the tail pipe and you avoid having to change down if you are forced to slow down a bit.
If It Is Moving Never Try to Cross
This may sound obvious but if you come face to face with any flood water that is moving across the road do not cross it. Even if it looks shallow it takes very little water to float a car and if it’s flowing you may, to your horror, soon find yourself being washed over the edge of the road. Many people have died in situations like this and no journey is worth the risk.
Remember to take every situation as a new one, never assume anything about driving through water and where at all possible, avoid it. Unless the journey is critical it is always safer to turn around but if you do have to cross keep in mind some of these rules and they should help low the risk factor.
Article provided by Mike James, an independent content writer in the automotive industry – working alongside a selection of companies including Fire Extinguisher Valve specialists FEV, who were consulted over the information contained in this piece.