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How to drive through floods

The heavens are about to dump a lot of water over the UK. Six-inches in a day, in fact, thanks to storm Jonas, which means parts of the UK will almost certainly turn into an extension of the sea.

So what can you, as a driver, do other than stay at home, close the curtains and wait for Mother Nature to go away? Here some tips that may just get you and your vehicle to your next destination safely.

Check your wipers and wiper blades

Given that it’s probably going to be raining cats and dogs, it makes a lot of sense to ensure all rain-related equipment on your car is up to scratch. Check the wiper blades are in good condition and the wipers are moving as they should do, or risk being stranded because of poor visibility.

Check your lights

Rainy conditions will make it harder for you to see other motorists and for them to see you, so make sure your headlights and brake lights are in order. Also check your fog lights, as really wet conditions may warrant their use. Just remember to turn them off if the weather clears.

Take supplies

There’s a small chance you’ll become stranded in extreme weather, so prepare your car for the worst. Take a blanket, warm clothes, food, water and wellies or appropriate shoes that you don’t mind getting wet. Have an in-car charger in case your phone dies and make sure said phone is charged in case you need to make an emergency call. It may seem inconvenient going to such trouble but the hassle of being stranded, cold and hungry will be much worse.

Increase your stopping distance

Water on the road makes it more difficult to stop a car in good time, so you should increase your braking distance by at least double in case, for example, the person in front decides to stop without warning or a large puddle appears out of nowhere.

Keep it slow

Hitting water at speed can feel like hitting a solid object, such are the laws of physics. You may even slide, or aquaplane, in very little surface water at all. Keep it slow in flooded areas to minimise the chance of losing control if you go into a puddle and avoid drenching pedestrians (this is illegal).

If you are driving through water deeper than a kerb, first or second gear and a really low speed (think 1 or 2mph) will help keep water from going into your engine via the exhaust or air intake, helping you avoid damaging your engine. Slightly depressing the clutch so you can keep the revs high will help keep the exhaust clear.

If there are lots of cars around, let the car in front fully negotiate the flood water before you so as to avoid a moment where you have to stop mid-way, which would make it more likely for you to have car problems. Also, put on your hazard lights to help warn other road users you have come to a halt or slowed down.

What if I break down?

Should all our advice fail and either your car decides to give out or the water proves to be too deep, don’t panic. Water can and will make your car stall, and if it’s made it into the engine it can cause even more damage – the sort of damage that requires the engine to be stripped down.

Avoid turning the engine on again. Switch on the hazards, get out of the car and keep the bonnet shut to keep the rain out. Then call for help, be that a breakdown recovery service or the emergency services if it’s an emergency (slightly damp moccasins are NOT worthy of a 999 call).

What if my car starts to float?

Then you have ended up in flood water that was way too deep to drive through, but this is not a time for reflecting on poor decisions. If you have a passenger, ask them to open the door to let the water in so the car is weighed down and therefore makes contact with the road again. If on your own, you may have to do this yourself. Slightly wet shoes will be the least of your problems at this point given how deep the water must be.

Test your brakes

Should you make it through a deep expanse of water with the engine running, the first thing to do is check your brakes. Refrain from building much speed (in case you can’t actually stop) and tap on the brakes to see if they are working and dry them out.

What about water with a current?

Tackling water that is still can be done safely, as worst case you may have to get your feet wet. But flash floods with fast-flowing water could sweep you and your car down river, sending you to a watery grave. Ideally stay away from really dangerous water, but if you’re caught out the best thing you can do is avoid panicking. Though there are many factors here that will affect what you should do, winding down your windows so you can escape from the car should be a priority. Finding a tree to hug isn’t a bad idea, either.

Are certain cars better in floods than others?

A low-to-the-ground Lamborghini is a bad idea because water will be further up the car. Ideally a 4×4 with an air-intake above the waterline is the best bet. They are usually heavier, grippier and have a much higher wading depth. But unfortunately in serious floods only the hardiest vehicles are a good idea so you are better off staying at home. Or you could just buy a boat.


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