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How to handle driving on flooded roads

April 24, 2019

 

Winter is finally over and done! But with melting snow in some areas of the province and April showers all around, we could be in for more than just spring flowers.

Flood warnings saturate B.C. this time of year. Do you know how to keep your vehicle safe in and around flooded areas? If you’re feeling adrift about what to do, have no fear, we’re here throw you a lifeline!

Approaching a flooded area

‘Ok, Google, what roads aren’t under water?’

If you find yourself on a road that’s flooded, our best advice is to stop driving and turn around. Floodwaters can quickly wash out roads and bridges, and it could sweep your car along as well.

Bookmark drivebc.ca for the latest road conditions and Emergency Info BC for up-to-date flood information.

‘Yeah, but a little water never hurt anyone.’

But what amount is too much? The maximum depth you can drive a standard car through – without too much danger – is about 10 centimetres. Fifteen centimetres of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control and possible stalling. A foot of water will float many vehicles.

Patrick Welford, a manager at Vehicle Estimating Services for ICBC points out, “Many newer cars have electrical components under the seat, in the side sections of the trunk floor, and in sections of the engine compartment. These are very delicate and will be destroyed if they get wet.”

‘Still, if it’s just water….’

If you drive through the water, you risk exposing your vehicle to costly damage. If water gets over the rocker panels (located just below the doors), and is high enough to enter the vehicle, your car could be determined flood damaged and not fixable – a total loss.

Additionally, think about what you can’t see under that water. Okay, there’s probably no shark of Jaws-like proportions lurking, but water can hide dips and potholes in the road, not to mention submerged trees or downed power lines. Without being able to see the road’s surface, you may hit something, and cause major exterior damage – in addition to the water damage – to your vehicle.

‘I think I’m going to take the plunge.’

If you absolutely must drive through flooded streets, try to calculate the water depth, any potential hazards below and anticipate how your vehicle may respond, by watching other cars test the waters first. Be extra cautious when driving at night when it will be more difficult to spot any hazards.

The deep dive

‘Now what? I feel like a fish out of water.’

Slow and steady wins this race. Drive through floodwater slowly – 10km/hr is an adequate speed. If you drive too fast, not only will you create a wave that’ll splash other road users, you’ll also run the risk of your car’s tires losing contact with the road.

If this happens, don’t brake, just take your foot off the accelerator, keep the steering wheel straight and wait for the grip to return. It’s important not to let the car come to a halt while crossing deep water because that could allow water to get into the exhaust pipe, which costs a lot to fix.

‘What if I don’t make it out of this?’

It’s hard to leave a soldier behind, but if your vehicle stalls, be prepared to abandon it and retreat to higher ground. Wait for the water to recede before you retrieve it.

If your vehicle's engine has even been partially immersed in floodwater, don't try to start it – this could cause more damage. Get your vehicle towed to a qualified professional to ensure your engine and all other operating systems and fluids levels are safe to prevent problems in the future.

Assessing the aftermath

‘We made it! Let’s put the pedal to the metal, baby!’

Hold on, there! I hate to dampen your spirits, but if you made it through the flood with your engine still running, don't go heavy on the throttle. Usually your brakes tend to slip more and lose their grip after getting soaked in water. You can help dry them by driving slowly and applying light brake pressure.

Other parts such as emergency brake cables, axels and electronic components should be dried and checked by a qualified professional as soon as possible.

‘How do I know if I have flood damage?’

Patrick suggests looking for water in the centre console and pockets of the door. A dirt line will be visible if the water came up and then receded.

He describes a flood damaged vehicle as one “that has been immersed in a liquid to the bottom of the dashboard (area where the floor meets the firewall at the seam) to a level affecting any of the major electrical system components.”

“If your vehicle gets flooded”, he cautions, “time is of the essence for repairing it – before corrosion starts.”

Be prepared for floods

Copy that

It's a good idea to make a back-up copy of your vehicle registration and Autoplan insurance policy. (Do not store valuable goods or household items in your vehicle, as these items aren’t covered by vehicle insurance.)

High means dry

If you have a motor home, snowmobile or any other type of seasonal vehicle, find a safe place on higher ground to store it. If your vehicle is uninsured, you can purchase a one-to-15 day temporary operating permit from any Autoplan broker before you operate it on the road.

Don’t be in a floods of tears

ICBC's optional comprehensive or specified perils coverage provides customers with protection for vehicle damage caused by rising water. If you don’t have this coverage, you may purchase it from an Autoplan broker before a flood warning. Please visit or call your Autoplan Broker for details.

If you cannot visit or call your Autoplan broker for insurance renewals or questions due to a flood warning, you can contact our customer service contact centre at 1-800-663-3051.

You can report a claim online at icbc.com or by calling ICBC's Dial-a-Claim at 604-520-8222 or 1-800-910-4222.