With the news of spring coming in from across the world, photos and video of cars stranded in water are all over. But does a drowned car really have to be written-off and scrapped? Isn’t there anything else that can be done to fix it?
The answer boils down to these two factors: How deep the water is, and how long was the vehicle submerged. If water never exceeded the lowest point on the car’s floor, you can breathe a sigh of relief, as any electrical items below that point are pretty much configured to get wet. But if water has reached the top of the hood or higher, you really do not want to take a chance on a future fraught with electrical failures, so insurance companies are correct to send your car to the scrapyard.
If you take some precautions, you may be able to salvage a car that sat in shallower water. If there’s water on the floor or the carpeting is extremely squishy, and there aren’t a lot of electronics that were involved, it might be worth trying to dry things out. But above all, refuse the temptation to flip on the ignition to see if it starts; electrical circuits can be sorted into two categories — powered when the ignition is on, or powered at all times, even when the ignition is off. So, the very first thing would be to disconnect the battery and tow the car to dry ground.
The next step is to take out the carpeting and under-padding. Most carmakers glue these two bits together or only sell them in one package, so if you can’t get them dry and mould-free, you’re likely looking at a full change. If water has reached the trunk or cargo floor, those carpets or covers will equally require cleaning and drying. Then, you need to disconnect every electrical connector under the wet carpet and dry things out. A can of compressed air will work best; any modules or electronic boxes under the carpet may have to be changed, but sealing them in a bag of rice or kitty litter overnight may get them to reliable use.
Don’t forget seat belts, either. Front seat belt retractors — the portion that pulls out of the door pillar — have electrical connectors on them for the explosive pretensioners. These connectors are often located close to the floor and have to be checked for moisture.
Once things have dried out, carefully plug everything back in, reconnect the battery, and start the engine, carefully checking out carefully for any instrument panel warning lights. Run every accessory and light to see if things are functions correctly. You may be able to get your car back on the road.