"Heavy rain predicted across most of the UK",
"The Met Office have issues hundreds of flood warnings."
The chances are that if you are on this page, you are the lucky owner of a 4x4 big and strong enough to cast aside the water in a ford or a flooded road and come out unscathed on the other side. If so, hopefully there will be some tips below to ensure that this is the case. However, if you are driving a standard slinky city run-around please take particular care when driving through floodwater or any of the fords in this guide (however timid they may look). Any vehicle can easily come unstuck trying to cross a flooded road - you are risking your life and at the very least exposing yourself to hundreds of pounds worth of repairs needed due to flood damage.
If you are planning a fording trip, are you confident that your insurance company will pay out in the event of a breakdown due to flood damage? Could a flood be considered an 'act of god' - therefore rendering your claim as a 'natural disaster' to avoid paying out. Please do check that your policy will cover you in the event of flood damage. Most comprehensive policies do cover for this - but do check - some have certain clauses that free them of this responsibility. As a rule, 'Third party, fire and theft' policies don't cover you for flood damage and you may have to pay a little extra for this cover.
Here are some generic tips for all planning on crossing fords or floodwater:
1. Check the Met Office warnings - if a Flood Warning has been issued that might affect your journey - be prepared.
2. Let someone know about your journey plan. This information can be vital to emergency services if you become stranded.
3. Take a map or Satellite Navigation device.
4. Ensure that you have a fully charged mobile phone in case of emergencies.
5. If you have to travel through a flood, drive slowly choosing a low gear.
6. Once clear of the water, you must test your brakes as water will have got into the system, affecting their performance.
If you car is beefy enough and you want to learn how to tackle fords and floodwater properly, read on!
How to tackle deep fords
John Brown (Historic Endurance Rallying Organisation)
competitors have long been required by wicked organisers to drive
their cars through fords and watersplashes of varying depth and
difficulty. Many of the fords shown on www.wetroads.co.uk are, or
have in the past been, rallying regulars (not to mention a large
number which the boring highway authorities, obsessed with such
trivia as making the road easier and safer for the public to use,
have now replaced with bridges).
the years, rally competitors have built up a body of knowledge about
tackling fords, and I'm happy to pass some of this on. These notes
apply to any ford where the water level is likely to be above the
Type of vehicle.
You probably don't have too much choice about this, but needless to
say a high 4x4 is inherently more capable than a Lotus Elise of
tackling two feet of fast flowing river. If you've got a normal
family saloon, use that but accept its limitations - it's more of a
challenge if your equipment is not too macho. A diesel engine is
better if possible because compression ignition does not cut out
when the electrics get wet, so the car keeps going. Also bear in
mind that cars with flat (or 'boxer') engines, such as Subaru's, are
more vulnerable, since their spark plugs are low set.
Equipment and preparation.
Here are some things you should do or carry:
Waterproof the electrics. Modern cars have pretty good
waterproofing as standard, but if you've an older car you should
properly insulate the sparking plugs, distributor, etc. Old-time
rallyists use to use a rubber glove to seal the distributor. Don't
make it wholly airtight or you may have moisture condensation inside
Towing eyes. If your car hasn't already got one (most modern
cars do have), and you're serious, fit a front and rear towing eye.
Mark their location with tape higher up on the bodywork, so you can
find them under water.
Exhaust extension. Water up the chuff can have serious
complications (see below), so if you're dead keen to try the deep
stuff, get a length of hosepipe that will slip over your tailpipe,
and is long enough to reach above your boot lid (I hope you won't be
trying anything deeper than that!) Fit this immediately before
entering any particularly nasty ford, fixing to tailpipe with a
jubilee clip and to the rear window with tank tape. Take it off
afterwards, as it's not good for the car, the hosepipe or you to run
along the road with it in place. Of course, if you're an absolute
nutter, you'll get your car (or more probably 4x4) equipped with a
proper (expensive) snorkel. But I'm talking about DIY stuff here.
Extension. Some cars have very vulnerable
air intakes. The pressure of the exhaust is often sufficient to hold
back the water as long you keep the revs up, but the air intake,
especially if you have a turbo, sucks in hard. Even when you're
within your depth bits of soggy paper air filter can be a problem
for the carb. The owner of a recent model Alfa Romeo asked his
dealer where the air intake was on his car. The mechanic pointed out
two customers cars sitting in the yard with hydraulicked engines and
said that the air intake is inside the front wheelarch! It's vital
therefore that you know where your air intake is so that you can
asses the fording capabilities of your car. Even 4x4s are not
all exempt from these problems. There have recently been items in
the national press to the effect that the BMW X-5 has air intakes
that can easily suck in water. BMW refuse warranty claims for
hydraulicked engines on the grounds that their vehicle is not
supposed to be driven through fords! Check your car (and dealer) for
your own situation.
WD40. Always take at least a couple of cans (the second one
for number two ford of the day, having left the first can at number
one). This magic stuff works wonders, both at keeping your car's
electrics going while wet, and at getting them going again after
they've stopped. Spray liberally on all ignition electrics before
entering any dodgy ford.
Radiator board. Water being forced by forward movement through
the radiator on to the fan is a major cause of problems. The fan
pressure-sprays everything under the bonnet, greatly increasing the
risk of engine cut-out; while in certain conditions it can act under
water like a ship's propeller and pull itself bodily forward,
slicing into the radiator. A rally dodge to prevent water inrush is
to fix a board in front of the radiator - a sheet of cardboard from
a box will do, held in place by cable ties. Again, put this on and
take it off before and after each ford.
Long tow-rope. Well, it's better to be prepared for the
worst. Best to have one with a hook that can easily be fixed to the
towing eye, without a lot of blind fiddling about under water. Real
pessimists can fasten it to the eye in advance, looping it up and
taping or cable-tying it to the front of the car. This is a better
idea if you haven't got a towing eye, as finding a strong enough
towing place under the front of the car is a wet business if it's in
a foot of water.
Wellies or waders. Not so much to get you out of trouble - if
you're stalled in mid-stream it's probably too late for that - as to
enable you to recce the ford before you launch yourself into it.
Tackling the ford.
Prepare the car. If the ford justifies it, fit exhaust
extension, radiator board and tow rope. Spray liberally with WD40
anyway, for all but the weediest watersplashes.
Recce on foot. If there's a footbridge, have a look from that
as well as from both sides. If you've got them, don wellies or
waders and wade in, looking for holes, rocks and the shallowest
route - in the case of gravel fords, this is often to one side, as
generations of users have worn a big hole in the middle. Remember
the adage, still water runs deep. Make sure that the exit ramp isn't
too steep for your vehicle, and doesn't have a big step. Important
note: don't walk into fast flowing water where you can't see the
bottom, or where it's more that a foot or so deep. Water is
immensely powerful and even two or three feet of strong current will
drag a big man downstream. Beware invisible holes!
Leave a member of your party on dry land if possible. Let them
walk across the footbridge. They can also take the pictures for the
album - don't forget to send us one!
Drive slowly but steadily through the ford at sufficient speed to
create a bow wave (below). Stay in your lowest forward gear,
keeping engine revs fairly high, by slipping the clutch if necessary
- try and make sure that exhaust pressure is kept high enough to
stop water flowing back up the tailpipe. DO NOT REVERSE, especially
if the tailpipe is under water.
you feel the car being lifted by the water, open the doors
immediately! You and the car interior will be wet anyway before
you're back on land, and retrieving a car that's floated downstream
is VERY expensive, not to mention the embarrassment of seeing your
picture in the local rag after the Fire Brigade have tipped them
If you stall...
DON'T try to restart the engine if there is any chance that
water has run up the exhaust pipe. If water has passed through the
exhaust ports into the cylinders and combustion chambers, the engine
may fly into pieces the moment you try to restart it. This is
because the water cannot be compressed and has nowhere else to go;
it's called "hydraulicking". (It can also happen if you
roll a car and the sump oil runs past the pistons into the upper
cylinders.) See below for procedure.
Use the starter motor to pull the car out, if possible.
Remove the spark plugs (as this makes the starter motor's work much
easier and also obviates the risk of hydraulicking - sorry, but
you're not getting out of this with dry feet). Put some sort of bung
in the plug holes to stop water getting into them (screwed up paper,
if you've nothing else). Engage first gear, let clutch out, and turn
ignition key. I hope your battery's in good nick.
If all else fails, it's heave ho by multiple bods (using the
long tow rope), or a tractor pull from the farmer next door (who is
probably well used to this, knows exactly how to do it, and has a
tariff that makes Porsche service bills look reasonable - so don't
feel shy about asking). There are good arguments for going fording
on dry land:
- Clear water from engine. Still don't restart the engine
until you've taken the spark plugs out, turned over the starter and
cleared any water from the upper cylinders.
- Dry out all electrics with absorbent cloth and liberal use
of WD40. Beware condensation in distributor.
- Clear water from sump. This is not very likely unless the
car has been standing for a fair time or is in very deep water, as
the only two ways water can get into the sump are by percolating
down the cylinder bores (very slow unless your engine is seriously
worn), or down the filler (which presumably has its lid on). Check
to see if the dipstick level is higher than expected (not so easy to
judge if it's a while since you last checked your oil). If you
suspect or fear possible water in the sump, let the car stand on
level ground for about ten minutes (assuming the oil is still warm),
then remove the sump drain plug. Any water should by then have sunk
to the bottom (being denser than oil), and flow out. Replace the
plug as soon as pure oil emerges.
Check the tide tables. You can access the Admiralty tables by
hotlink from www.wetroads.co.uk. Local high tide times are also
available near most tidal roads. Don't get caught, or leave your car
where it'll be under water in an hour. Don't take a chance on
beating the tide - lots of good cars have been lost that way.
Don't go through salt water! I don't recommend going through
any tidal ford when there is any water in it, or through any other
sea water, as you can never completely rinse it away afterwards with
fresh water, especially from all the underside nooks and crannies.
If you do do so, the best solution is a thorough steam clean on a
ramp; next best, hose the car down thoroughly as soon as you can,
especially the underside.
a torch! (image
sent in of Standon Ford by Graham Tabor and Dave Taylor)
Make sure you are covered!
Dont forget, if you enjoy taking part in more adventurous driving activities like driving off-
road, or racing, it's very important you make sure you are covered by your car
insurance policy for your interests - you may be required to purchase additional
cover for more extreme activities.
info on driving through floods here
additional comments welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org