- top tips
What happens if my car is damaged by flooding?
Updated 4 Mar 2022
Recent catastrophic flooding across New South Wales and Queensland provides grim evidence of the personal, regional and economic impact of natural disasters in Australia.
Over the years we've all watched footage of cars floating away on raging floodwaters; admired the courage of rescuers winching down from helicopters to save the occupants of stranded vehicles; and seen the faces of people dealing with extensive property damage and sometimes grievous personal loss.
That's why AutoGuru supports the Government’s 'If it's flooded, forget it' safety campaign, and always urges caution and safety over chance and danger.
From a purely automotive perspective, however, we're also keenly aware of what water, mud and debris can do to vehicle engines, components, electrical systems, bodywork and interiors.
What's the damage?
While today's vehicles can withstand many adverse and unusual circumstances, water that has already reached the bottom of the doors is your cue to put aside any thoughts of driving.
Your vehicle's interior is full of places and possibilities for water to cause major trouble, including the total failure of the transmission and electrical systems.
Also, don't forget that salty water – common across the Australian coastline – adds a corrosive element to the kind of damage that flooding can cause to components and systems.
If the engine bay has suffered undue water exposure, don't assume that drying out once the rain has gone is enough to magically render a vehicle operable again.
And if it's not bad enough that water, mud and debris get into the vehicle, they can also wreak havoc beneath it by clogging and compromising parts and systems.
Steering and braking are the most fundamental requirements for driving so, after a flood event, please check that these are still in working order before simply starting the car and setting off.
What should I do first?
With the water subsided and the sun out, it's time to check the damage.
Whatever you do, don't start the car, because muddy/salty water and electrical systems are not best mates.
Instead, disconnect the battery, open all doors and carefully survey what will no doubt be a horrific scene.
You might also want to take a step back, at least initially, just in case a brown snake, a family of possums, mating drop bears or some other critter has sought refuge from the rain in your vehicle.
Finding the high-water mark should be relatively easy in your vehicle's interior and should further inform the notion that starting the ignition is a bad idea.
Why? Because you don't want to create problems on top of the ones already there.
For example, water that has entered the air filter may then draw water into the engine, potentially leading to a very expensive repair bill.
If after all the checks it turns out the vehicle is actually driveable – at least as far as your mechanic – one of your first tasks should be to drain and replace fuels, oils, wiper fluids and the like, then replace those replacements earlier than usual.
Can a flooded car be repaired?
Every situation must be taken on its own merits as you weigh up the cost of repairs, if indeed they are even possible, against the cost of buying a new car.
In many cases the result of major flood damage is an insurance write-off, meaning your car has (a) sustained too much damage to be repaired, or (b), is too economically prohibitive to repair.
As for buying a flood-damaged vehicle, this really is case of "buyer beware" because you could be inviting mechanical/technical problems that will affect a flood-damaged car much quicker than in general.
That cheaper sale price may have expensive consequences.
Wet, wet, wet
While flooding is an extreme consequence of extreme weather, wet weather driving is a common occurrence and an important skill, one that AutuGuru explores in this article about tips for driving in the rain.
However, the best advice when next the skies open, the waters rise and the roads turn to torrents is to think safe, be safe and stay safe.
Please don't drive through floodwaters.
Has your car been damaged by floodwaters?
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Michael Jacobson is an award-winning Queensland-based writer.
His appreciation for motoring began as a young journalist covering racing from Simmons Plains in Tasmania.
Over the years he has interviewed many Australian and international motoring greats.
He has also been driven around Lakeside Raceway at ferocious speed, circumnavigated the Gold Coast Indy circuit at more than 200kmh and managed to squeeze 365,000 kilometres out of a Toyota Starlet.