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How to drive through floods

Although the UK is not known for extremes of weather we do have problems with flooding from time to time. Unless you own a specially adapted 4x4, you can easily run into trouble if you attempt to negotiate a flooded stretch of road.

If you come across a flooded stretch of road, the most obvious advice is to just turn round and take another route. There may be some instances however where this is not a viable option or may think that it's possible to get through.

How deep is the water?

In the average car you should not attempt to drive through standing water that is more than 6 inches (about 15cm) deep or moving water that is more than 4 inches (about 10cm) deep. Short of wading into the water, it is not going to be obvious how deep the water is, but you should be able to get a rough idea by watching other vehicles go through it.

If there is no one else around then you should consider a few things before you risk going through it. Firstly it may be deeper than you think. If water gets sucked into your engine it could seize up and be very expensive to repair. Secondly you have no idea what may be under the water. There could be a pothole, tree branches, rubble or other debris lurking just below the water, any of which could easily damage your car or even stop it getting through. Finally, if the water is flowing then it's possible your car could be swept along with it. If in doubt, turn round.

Taking the plunge

If you decide to go through the flood you should try to stay in the middle of the road, as this should be the shallowest point, this of course also means that only one vehicle can pass through at a time. Go through the water slowly and in a low gear. If you go too fast you may force water into the engine compartment. Keeping the engine revs high will also help push any water out of the exhaust pipe.

Don't be tempted to drive at speed through even a shallow puddle as you may cause the vehicle to 'aquaplane'. This is where the wheels lose contact with the road surface and you will not be able to control the car. It is also inconsiderate to both pedestrians and other road users to create huge amounts of spray as you drive through a puddle. Not many people realise it but soaking a pedestrian by driving through a puddle is also actually an offence.

After you come out of the flood you should also check your brakes when it is safe to do so. The discs and pads should dry off fairly quickly with a little light usage, but be careful for the first few uses as they won't be working quite as efficiently at first.

The key points

  • Only drive through water if you know how deep it is

  • Drive slowly and steadily. Allow oncoming traffic through first and test your brakes as soon as you can after leaving the water

  • Don't drive through fast-moving water, such as at a flooded bridge approach, your car could easily be swept away

  • Driving fast through standing water is dangerous, tyres aquaplane and you lose steering control. Watch out for standing water, trying to avoid it if you can, and adjust your speed to the conditions. If you experience aquaplaning, hold the steering wheel lightly and lift off the throttle until the tyres regain grip

  • Driving fast through standing water is inconsiderate and illegal. You could face a fine and between three and nine penalty points if the police believe you were driving without reasonable consideration to other road users or pedestrians

  • Driving fast through standing water can cause expensive damage to your vehicle, the air intake on many cars is low at the front of the engine compartment and it only takes a small quantity of water sucked into the engine to cause major damage. Any engine can be affected, but turbo charged petrol and diesel engines are most vulnerable

  • As you drive slowly through standing water, keep the engine revving by slipping the clutch, otherwise water in the exhaust could stall the engine

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