What to do if your car suffers flood damage

cars in flood water

January 17, 2022

Thanks to living on a rain-prone island with extensive coastlines and a multitude of rivers, there aren’t many UK drivers who haven’t encountered a flooded road or two in their time.

And, unbelievably, according to research by the Environment Agency, a colossal 74 percent of foolhardy drivers would risk driving through flood water, despite this being the main cause of flood-related deaths in the UK!

Of course this huge volume of cavalier drivers may deem driving through flood water is completely necessary if they’re running late for work or are going to be late for a funeral.

However, whatever the reason is and however important it may seem, you should never put your own life (or your passengers’ lives) at risk, or risk expensive or irreparable damage to your vehicle that may not be covered by your car insurance.

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Here’s why you should never drive in flood water, what to do with a water damage car and top tips on how to make a successful flood damage car insurance claim.

In this guide:

10 Reasons why you should never drive through flood water

Is driving through flood water illegal?

What you should do if your vehicle is flood damaged

Can you fix car water damage?

Does car insurance cover flood damage?

How to get insurance to pay for water damage

10 Reasons why you should never drive through flood water

If you’re one of the three quarters of UK drivers who would risk driving through flood water, here’s some hard hitting AA statistics that clearly demonstrate why doing so simply isn’t worth the risk:

  • 32% of flood deaths happen to drivers and/or their passengers
  • Most drivers drown very close to a safe point that’s within 3m
  • Two thirds of casualties are competent swimmers
  • 20 minutes in cold flood water can reduce your muscle strength by 30%
  • 15cm of fast-flowing flood water can whisk you off your feet
  • 30cm of flowing water can make your car move
  • 60 cm of water will cause your car to float
  • An egg cupful of water can result in a flooded car engine and irreparable damage
  • Flood water can be contaminated and make you sick
  • Your insurer will usually refuse to pay out if you could have avoided driving through flood water and if you have third party insurance, you’re not covered anway.

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Is driving through flood water illegal?

Yes, driving through flood water is illegal if a road is clearly marked as being closed with a temporary road closure sign. 

If you ignore a temporary road closure sign in the UK, you could be fined from £60 up to £2,500, or prosecuted.

But, no, you will not be breaking the law by driving through flood water if the road is NOT marked as being closed (i.e. no temporary road closure sign is visible). 

However, if this scenario occurs, it’s likely the authorities are either not aware of the flooding yet or if they are, closure of the road is imminent.

What’s more, your insurer may refuse a claim for what they deem was ‘avoidable’ water damage.

If you come across a flooded road when driving and there is no visible road closure sign, do not be tempted to play ‘Russian roulette’ and assume it’s safe to drive through flood water; always err on the side of caution by taking a different, albeit longer, route.

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What you should do if your vehicle is flood damaged

Here’s what you should do and should not do, including what mechanical checks should be made, if your car suffers flood damage:

  • DO NOT start the engine!!
  • Briefly assess the damage, make notes and take photographs.
  • If you have comprehensive cover, report the incident to your insurer as soon as possible with a view to making a claim (see below for our top 10 tips on making a successful car insurance claim).
  • If your vehicle is still sitting in water and your insurer accepts your claim, they will usually arrange for one of their preferred garages to tow it away. If your insurer rejects your claim, arrange to get your vehicle towed to higher ground or a garage as soon as possible.
  • Once your vehicle has been rescued, a professional will try to dry it out as quickly as possible. Do not attempt to do this yourself without speaking to your insurer but again, if your claim is refused or you have insufficient cover, you may want to try and dry the car out yourself or pay for a professional to do this for you.
  • An insurer-approved mechanic will check for water in your oil as this is lethal for a car’s engine and if there are signs of water, a mechanic will ensure that all existing oil is completely emptied and fully replenished (if the vehicle is repairable). If you can’t claim on your insurance, you can check your oil dipstick for water droplets. If water droplets are visible, you will need to completely drain the old oil and fully replenish it or pay a mechanic to do this for you.
  • An insurer-approved mechanic will test your vehicle’s electrical features like windows, locks and lights. (If your electrics are damaged, your insurance company may declare your car a write-off.) Again, if you don’t have fully comp insurance cover or your insurer rejects your claim, if safe to do so, either make these electrical checks yourself or pay a professional mechanic to.
  • An insurer-approved or privately funded mechanic will also check the vehicle’s brakes, clutch, steering and coolant reservoirs.

We can't stress enough that unless you drive an amphibious vehicle or a James Bond car, you should not attempt to drive through flood water. However, if you ignore this advice and your vehicle is submerged in water past floor level (and your engine flooded), YOU SHOULD NOT START YOUR CAR ENGINE as flood engine damage can be extensive or irreparable.

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Can you fix car water damage?

Hmm, the million dollar question: can you fix a flood damaged car?

There’s no straightforward answer to this question without having a professional mechanic, with relevant experience, fully assess the extent of your damage car and its engine, and without knowing how deep the water was or the type of water that you drove through.

For example, if your car was submerged in deep, salty, sea water, you can almost guarantee your car will be unfixable and declared a write-off.

And trying to fix a water damaged car yourself will be extremely difficult if not impossible for most average vehicle owners, especially if there’s been water ingress to the engine or the car’s electrics are damaged.

The best thing you can do is contact your insurer to report what’s happened and if you’re covered, they’ll most likely arrange for a vehicle examination by one of their preferred local garages. A mechanic will then help your insurer decide whether or not it’s financially viable to fix the water damage to your vehicle or whether it should be written off.

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Does car insurance cover flood damage?

Most comprehensive car insurance policies will provide cover for ‘unavoidable damage’, i.e. if the flood occurred whilst your car was parked in its usual place, but you should check your policy’s terms and conditions for any exclusions.

Conversely, many comprehensive policies will not provide driving through flood water insurance cover as they will deem you choosing to drive through flood water as ‘avoidable flood damage’.

Most third party insurance policies will not cover flood damage

Read: 10 Winter car mistakes that can invalidate your insurance

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How to get insurance to pay for water damage

If you have a fully comprehensive motor insurance policy and flood damage to your vehicle was unavoidable, follow our top 10 water damage insurance claim tips UK:

  • Don’t start the engine
  • Act fast
  • Don’t try to repair or dry the car out yourself; leave this to a professional
  • Check/assess with a tape measure how high the water level was or is, both externally and internally
  • Make notes of obvious damage to your vehicle including any damaged possessions inside it
  • Report the water damage to your insurer straight away on their 24-hour emergency claims line

And, once you’ve reported the water damage to your insurer, immediately thereafter you should:

  • Take clear photographs of obvious water damage to your vehicle, internally and externally, including any ‘tide marks’. Make sure you use a tape measure when taking a photograph of a tide mark or the water level
  • Take clear photographs of damaged possessions
  • Dig out receipts for damaged possessions
  • Log all communications between yourself and your insurer including the name of who you spoke to, the time and date, and what was agreed. Also collate all insurance claim related documents such as letters, emails and receipts.

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