What To Do With A Flooded Vehicle

Do not start your car if it has sat in or been through high water. If the car has been sitting in water for a long time, especially in salt water, you may need to drain your oil, transmission fluid, and lube before even moving the vehicle. Get the car out of water as quickly as possible, and start the recovery process as soon as you can. The longer your car sits in water, especially muddy water or salt water, the greater potential damage to key systems. Do not start your car until you are confident that its key systems have been drained of water.

If you’re repairing water damage yourself, try the following steps. We advise contacting your insurance company quickly in any flooding situation.

Repairing a Flooded Car, Once Outside of Water

1. Do Not Start the Car

This is key. Water, especially if its muddy or salty, can get into many components of your car, and the damage will be extensive.

2. Disconnect the Battery

Disconnecting the battery will protect you from electric shock while you check other things.

3. Roll Down The Windows

If possible, roll the windows down. If the windows are electric, open the doors.

4. Look For a High-Water Mark

This will give you an idea of the level of damage. It will usually be clear, especially on the interior.

5. If the water level is high, don’t try to start the car

Push it out or get it towed. Don’t try to start it. If any water got sucked into the air cleaner, it can suck water into the engine, which can bend the valve and cause huge problems.

6. Check Engine Oil

Clear the dipstick, then check your oil level. If there’s water droplets on your dipstick, there’s water in the engine. If you start the car, it’ll mix the oil and water. If there’s water on the dipstick, see step seven. Change the oil again after a few hundred miles.

7. Change the oil and oil filter

Change the oil and oil filter to get rid of any water. You may have to wash out some mud from the oil pan.

8. Check fuel system

Siphon out some gas and look for water. Water weighs more than gas, so make sure your siphon is at the bottom of the fuel tank. If you find water mixed with the gas, your fuel system must be flushed.

9. Check Air Filter

This will tell you if water is likely in the engine. The air intake is fairly low on a lot of modern cars, and water can easily creep into the air filter and then into the engine. If the filter is wet and there’s water in the air filter, then you have water in the engine. If you’re looking to flush the engine yourself, you can try the following. Be advised that trying to clear water incorrectly can result in major damage, so you may want to leave this part to a mechanic.

To clear the engine:

  • Take out the ignition coils and spark plugs
  • Turn engine over by using ignition key. Water will eject out of the engine head, and exhaust system.

10. Check Other Fluids

Brake, clutch, power steering, coolant reservoirs are sealed on most newer vehicles, but water can seep in.

11. Check Electrical Systems

Most of what you can do here is check for placement. If key electrical systems are below the water line, they will likely need to be replaced.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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