The best advice is don't do it.
We’ve all been warned, yet most drivers have tested the unknown depths of standing water.
“Water level is deceiving, and people think they can get through 2 feet of water,” said Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police. “That’s simply not the case.”
Six inches of standing water can be enough to stall an engine in a low-clearance vehicle. Problems multiply with rising water levels. Headlights and taillights can take on water and need to be replaced. Air filters will likely need to be replaced. If water gets in the air intakes, then it will likely get into the engine fluids. If water gets in the engine, your car won’t run for long. Water that seeps into the inside of the car can lead to moldy mats, rusted brackets and water trapped in interior pockets, which can make the whole car smell moldy.
Driving through standing water is not worth it for more serious reasons.
One foot of water can be enough to dislodge a car from the surface and cause it to begin to float away, according to FEMA. In 2012 the National Weather Service launched the “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” campaign because more deaths occur from flooding than any other severe weather-related hazard, and over half of the deaths are from vehicles driving into floodwaters.
While floating away is unlikely in urban areas, irreparable damage to the car is possible. If your car stalls, do not restart the engine. It must take in air to start, and the air intakes may have water in them. If the car stalls, then you have to consider either leaving the car for higher ground, or, if water is rising inside the car, open the window and sit on the ledge or whatever high point until help arrives. IDOT recommends sitting on, not in, your car.
“It’s not advisable to stay inside your car in rising waters,” says Guy Tridgell, spokesman for IDOT. Walking away could be problematic. If waters are swirling or rushing, the force can push you aside much more easily than your car. Stranded cars will be towed out of the way, and then owners are responsible for clearing them.
What if you can’t avoid standing water?
First, check your surroundings; do not drive through standing water if there are downed electric lines nearby. Water, or more accurately, the junk in water, can carry an electrical charge, and you don’t need that. Second, gauge the vehicles in front of you. If their tailpipes get submerged, turn around. Is there a noticeable higher part of the road? Are oncoming cars the same size as your vehicle making it? Can you see all of their grilles?
If you don’t have a lead blocker, try and gauge what would happen if you opened your door. Even if water is up to the bottom of the vehicle, it’s only going to get higher as you proceed.
“If it’s going above your tire, forget it; that’s a recipe for disaster,” Bond says.
The most dangerous element of driving through water, however, is the unseen. It’s impossible to know how deep it is. If you can see the curb or any other curbside indicators like fire hydrants, you should be able to reasonably gauge the depth.
Be aware of standing, swirling or rushing water. If debris is traveling swiftly then your car could go with it, depending on depth of the water. Swirling water can indicate a sewer or open hole beneath the visible surface.
If you can’t gauge the depth, turn around.
But if you absolutely must proceed, multiple sources advise to drive slowly but steadily through the water. The faster you go, the more water will get in the undercarriage of the vehicle.
After driving through standing water, tap your brakes. Double your distance between your car and the car ahead of you. Get home safely, and check the car in the days that follow for mold smells or sputtering engine noises.
Avoid it if you can.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun