Utah is better known for its snow, mountains, and earthquakes, but flooding – especially flash flooding – happens somewhat frequently also. The many winding canyons and dry conditions can create flooding conditions with minimal warning, damaging property and vehicles in the process.
In addition to the generally dangerous nature of excess water, it can wreak havoc on your vehicle. As little as 6 to 12 inches of water can pick a car up and sweep it down the street, so if you find yourself anywhere close to large amounts of water, don’t even try to brave the storm. Turn around; don’t drown!
For vehicles that have been submerged – either entirely or partially – water damage is unpredictable. Saltwater tends to cause more extensive damage compared to freshwater, though both are capable of totaling an engine.
If you’ve found yourself with potential water intrusion into your car, or you’re looking to purchase a vehicle that you suspect has been through a flood, here are several things you can look for.
Don’t Start the Car
First, do not start your vehicle if you suspect water damage. Cars run by pulling air through a combustion chamber, so if the intake was underwater, it could have pulled water instead of air. Water isn’t meant to be inside of an engine, and it can cause a lot of damage, so if you suspect flooding, don’t chance it. Have your car towed to a trusted auto mechanic.
Walk Around the Outside
If you know the car was underwater, note the water line on the outside of the car. That will give you a good idea of the extent of the damage. If the water line is to the bottom of the door, you’re probably ok, but if the water gets to the top of the tires, you may be looking at a large repair bill. Unfortunately, if the water line reaches the top of the hood, you can likely expect your insurance company to total the vehicle.
Another indicator is if there is water in the headlights. While it is possible to remove water and condensation from headlights, it’s challenging, so if you see it there, there was likely a problem with water at one point.
If you suspect water damage in your vehicle or one you want to purchase, look underneath the car. Keep an eye out for mud debris, rust, and dirt in unusual or hard to reach places. Finding leaves in strange places is a fairly good indicator that there was water present at one point. Check the bumpers and the undercarriage especially closely.
Pop the Hood
If you know there was water in the engine, you should start by disconnecting the battery terminal while carrying out your in-depth investigation. Water – especially salt water – can do some strange things to electrical components, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
The first place you should look for water damage is the air filter because it’s pretty low to the ground. If the filter paper looks like it got wet and then dried, it probably came into contact with some water and should be replaced.
Next, check the oil for water intrusion. If the oil looks milky, thick, or comes up a lot higher on the dipstick than it should, there is likely water in the oil tank. To correct it, you’ll need to drain the oil and change the oil filter.
To see if water got into the gas tank, insert a tube that goes all the way to the bottom of the tank because water is denser than gasoline. Siphon a little liquid out and check for water. If you find any water in your tank, you need to flush the whole fuel system before starting your vehicle again.
The most telling sign of water damage is a moldy or musty smell, so remove the air freshener tree and wait a day or so before taking a good whiff inside your vehicle. You should also check for mud, debris, or condensation in any place that shouldn’t encounter water, such as the glove department, spare tire compartment, or dash indicator panel. Look for rusted interior bolts, rust on the trunk latch, bubbling paint, stains on the carpet, and a damp floor mat. All of these could mean that the car was underwater at some point.
Once your mechanic has given you the all-clear to move forward with driving your car, you shouldn’t stop paying attention because some symptoms of water aren’t noticeable right away. Monitor the brakes and listen for strange sounds just like you would if you hadn’t suspected water damage. Also, keep a close eye on electrical components like your lights, stereo, and power locks and windows, as malfunctions in those areas could mean water exposure. If you notice any changes, notify your mechanic right away.
If you suspect water damage to your vehicle after flooding, or you’re contemplating purchasing a vehicle that may have had water intrusion, take the car to Burt Brothers, your auto repair shop in Bountiful, Farmington, downtown Salt Lake, Sugar House, Draper, Cottonwood, West Jordan, Sandy, Riverton, Highland, and Park City (Jeremy Ranch/Silver Summit). Our skilled mechanics will look for the tell-tale signs of water damage and give you a professional and reliable opinion for moving forward.