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Sinking Car Rescue

What to Do: Car Sinking in Water, Only Seconds to React

  • John Paul, AAA’s  Manager, Traffic Safety,  Southern New England. We reached out to John and asked him what a driver should do if they find themselves in a crash related to water.  John says, ”  If for some reason you end up in the water the most difficult thing to do is not panic.   If the door is jammed then try one of the other doors. Finally you may need to break a window–which is harder than it looks and will require some determination on the part of the occupants.”  We would be remiss if we did not share John’s added comment that water-related crashes are very rare overall. Other experts agree with John and emphasize that getting out fast is the top priority.  They also suggest getting a tool to help you break the window.  This video shows just how important a quick escape can be.
  • Demonstration shows the right moves to make if your car is sinking under water.


What to do when your car is flooded.

  • 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. Don't 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. 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.
  • 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.

5. 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.

6. Change the Oil again after a few hundred miles.

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

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.
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