Protecting Your Car from Flood Damage: 10 Essential Tips for Managing Flash Floods

4 minutes

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Never underestimate flood waters, even if other cars are seemingly driving though without a hitch.

Journalist John Silcox shares some useful tips to help keep you safe if you come across floodwater while on the road.

  • Always assess the situation before driving through a flooded road
  • Even 4x4s can be at risk in flooded areas
  • The danger isn’t over as soon as you’re out of the water

Never underestimate flood waters, even if other cars are seemingly driving though without a hitch.

What is Flash Flooding?

Flash flooding in the UK is a natural hazard that can occur with little warning, often as a result of lots of rainfall overwhelming the drainage capacity in an area. Flash floods can cause substantial damage to homes, and people.

Floods are also dangerous for cars and their drivers, and we’re facing them more and more often. Even areas such as London which aren’t considered flood zones can experience flash flooding. According to the Met Office, the UK saw 11% more rain on average in 2023 compared to the previous year. Not only can flood water cause irreparable damage to a car’s interior and electrical system, there’s also a risk of water getting into the engine and making it seize.

Fast-moving water can also put drivers at risk – in some conditions, six inches of fast-flowing water can knock you over. There are ways to manage flash flooding and useful tips to prevent dangerous situations, and we’ve put together the following tips to help you drive safely in flash floods. 

1. A different route

Before trying to drive through a flooded area, always check to see if there's a different route you can take. According to Highways England, flash floods can result in around 500 road closures annually in England alone. Check your route before you leave and only attempt to cross flooded roads as a last resort.

To check if you live or regularly drive in a flood risk area, the Environment Agency provides a valuable online tool. Simply enter your postcode, and you can access up-to-date flood risk information specific to your location. This tool isn’t only essential for drivers who want to be aware of flood zones on their routes, but also to homeowners who want to prepare for any potential damage. 

2. Stop and assess

You can never be sure of the depth of water or the state of the road underneath without taking a close look. If you’re crossing at a ford, there may be a water depth gauge at the side of the road, a useful tool which will allow you to assess the stream’s level. 

Also look out for other potential hazards that could pose a threat:

  • Floating Debris: Objects carried by moving water can damage your vehicle or obstruct your path.
  • Downed Power Lines: These pose a serious risk as water can conduct electricity, creating a dangerous situation.

After assessing the surrounding hazards, it's important to consider the best ways to navigate through water you think’s safe to cross.

3. Check the depth

The general rule is that you shouldn’t attempt to drive through standing water that’s more than six-inches deep – so if it comes over your wellington boots, then it’s a no-go.

If it's moving, the maximum depth is even less: any more than four inches of moving water can be enough to sweep a car away into deeper flood water and it can really affect a driver's control and the stability of your vehicle.

4. Take care when passing other vehicles

When driving through floodwaters, it's important to maintain a clear path and avoid copying other drivers. 

Following too closely or attempting to cross paths with other vehicles, particularly large ones, can lead to unpredictable water movement and could force you off course. Large vehicles, such as lorries or buses, can also displace significant amounts of water, generating waves and increasing the risk of water entering your vehicle.

Here are some additional tips to navigate floodwaters safely.

  • Maintain a safe distance: Keep a good gap between your vehicle and the one ahead to avoid the effects of their driving.
  • Wait your turn: If a large vehicle is crossing, allow it to clear the flooded area before you drive ahead to prevent being caught in its wave.
  • Steady speed: Drive at a slow, consistent pace to minimise wave created by your own vehicle.
  • Watch for oncoming traffic: Be wary of oncoming cars that could cause waves and be prepared to stop if necessary.

5. Aim for the highest part of the road

Usually the highest part of the road will be in the middle (called the crown), as most roads are designed to let water drain off the sides. 

Make sure you also keep your eyes peeled for the following hidden dips such as potholes, gullies and trenches, which are all where the water could suddenly get deeper!

6. Stay in first gear to keep your speed down

Richard Price, chairman of Sussex 4x4 Response, an organisation that provides assistance to the emergency services and local authorities in adverse weather conditions, recommends you enter the water at 1-2mph.

“Hitting the water at speed could cause the car to aquaplane, which is when the wheels lose their traction and the driver loses control,” he says. This can be particularly dangerous as it may cause the vehicle to skid or veer, increasing the risk of accidents. By keeping your speed down, drivers can manage their vehicle's stability and navigate floodwaters more safely.

7. Keep your car revving

Once in the water, experts recommend trying to keep the revs up. This may avoid water being sucked back into the exhaust, which could lead to engine damage.

“You can accelerate up to 4-5 mph as this will create a small wave, protecting your car’s engine from the worst of the water,” says Richard Price.

If you drive a manual and you find keeping the revs high is making you go too fast, try slipping the clutch. This allows you to manage the engine's output and keep the vehicle moving at a safe, steady pace through the water.

8. What to do if you stall

If you stall, it's important to try and start your car straight away, as the longer you wait, the further the water will be creeping up your exhaust system. 

9. Dry your brakes

It's important to remember if you've driven through water, it's possible your brakes will be wet and in order for them to work properly you need to dry them. For the next few miles, drive slowly and regularly apply the brakes lightly to heat them up and help the water to evaporate.

10.  What to do if your car stops

If your car does stop in the flood, you should try and climb out and lock the doors before wading to solid ground. Take care – there may be uneven surfaces or hazards beneath the water. 

If you're concerned for your personal safety, phone the Emergency Services.  

The extent of flood damage on your car can vary. Minor flooding around the tyres can be repaired, but significant water damage, especially if it’s gone up to the dashboard level, could be beyond repair. We’d recommend that a professional mechanic looks at the vehicle once the situation is safe. Above all, remember that while cars can be repaired or replaced, your safety is what's most important!


Breakdown essentials

Along with the tips we’ve mentioned above, being prepared for a car breakdown is essential, especially when far from home or on unfamiliar roads. It’s good to keep the following items in your car:

  • Charged mobile phone with the what3words app to share your location.
  • Spare tyre and jack including a wheel nut tool for tyre changes.
  • Empty fuel carrier handy for refuelling if you're near a petrol station.
  • Warm clothing and waterproof coat plus a blanket for cold weather.
  • High-vis vest, torch, and warning triangle for visibility and safety.
  • First aid kit plus food and water for emergencies.
  • Jump leads to help with a flat battery.

Check out our full breakdown checklist to be fully prepared! These items will help you manage most common breakdown situations and protect you while waiting for assistance. 

You can also check out our car insurance breakdown cover for peace of mind when driving in adverse conditions. Some insurers offer a temporary vehicle, known as a courtesy car, if you’re unable to drive yours. You can add this as an optional extra with our standard car insurance


For peace of mind when it comes to flash flooding, contact your car insurance provider about their breakdown cover.

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