How to Deal with a Submerged Motor Vehicle: Tips for Drivers

Flooding is an all-too-common occurrence in the Philippines, often catching drivers off guard and leading to submerged vehicles. Whether due to heavy rains, typhoons, or unexpected monsoon weather, understanding how to handle a flooded car can save you time, money, and stress. 

Knowing how to deal with submerged vehicles is important for ensuring personal safety and minimizing damage to your car. Proper handling can prevent costly repairs and avoid further mechanical or electrical damage. Additionally, being informed can help streamline insurance claims and recovery processes after a flood. Here’s a comprehensive guide on what to do if your vehicle gets submerged in water.

What Does it Mean to Have a Submerged Vehicle

A submerged vehicle is one that has been partially or fully covered by water, typically due to flooding from heavy rains, typhoons, or rising water levels in rivers and lakes. This situation poses significant risks to the vehicle’s electrical systems, engine, and interior components, leading to potential extensive damage.

When a car is submerged, water can infiltrate main parts like the engine, transmission, and electronic systems, causing malfunctions and requiring costly repairs. Additionally, the interior of the car can suffer from water damage, resulting in mold growth, unpleasant odors, and the need for extensive cleaning or replacement of upholstery and carpeting.

How to Deal with Submerged Cars

Dealing with a submerged car helps minimize damage to your car. Here are essential steps to follow if your vehicle has been caught in a flood.

Immediate Actions When Your Car is Submerged

There are immediate steps that you should take to protect yourself and your vehicle in such a challenging situation.  

Step 1. Evacuate Immediately

If your car becomes submerged in a river or flood, get out of the vehicle immediately. Vehicles typically float on the surface for only about 30-60 seconds, giving you a narrow window to escape safely. Don’t wait, exit the vehicle immediately to avoid being trapped inside.

Steps to Take After the Flood

After a flood, it’s crucial to take immediate action to assess and mitigate the damage to your submerged vehicle. From safeguarding yourself to preventing further harm to your car, knowing the right steps can make the recovery process smoother and more efficient. Here, we listed all the essential steps to take after your vehicle has been submerged in water, helping you navigate this challenging situation effectively.

Step 2. Stay Calm and Document the Situation

First, remain calm and grab your smartphone to take pictures or video clips of the vehicle submerged in water. This documentation is essential for insurance purposes, providing evidence of the damage. It will also support your insurance claim and help assess the extent of the damage.

Step 3. Don’t Start the Engine

Resist the urge to check if your car is still functional by starting the engine. Starting a flooded car can cause significant damage to the electrical system and engine components. Water in the engine can short-circuit your electrical system and contaminate vital fluids which may lead to severe issues and make the car unsafe and costly to repair.

Step 4. Disconnect the Battery

Before inspecting any part of the vehicle, disconnect the battery to prevent electrical shocks. This prevents electrical shocks and further damage to the vehicle’s systems. Removing the battery also helps avoid potential short circuits that can occur when water and electricity mix. This step avoids further electrical damage to the car.

Step 5. Open the Windows and Doors

Once the battery is disconnected, open the windows and doors to allow air circulation. This helps prevent mold and mildew from forming inside the car. Remove any removable mats, carpeting, and seat covers to facilitate drying and remove the unpleasant odors. Allow the interior to dry thoroughly to minimize damage.

Checking Your Car’s Condition: Assessing the Damage

Assessing the damage to your car after it has been submerged in water is crucial for determining the extent of repairs needed. In this section, we will discuss the essential steps to inspecting your vehicle’s condition and identifying any potential issues caused by flooding. By carefully evaluating the damage, you can make informed decisions about the necessary repairs and maintain functionality of your car.

Step 6. Check the Level of Immersion

Determine how deep the vehicle was submerged by looking for water marks. If the flood water reached above the tires, do not attempt to start the vehicle. Instead, it’s best to avoid DIY fixes and seek professional help by having it towed to a professional service center.

Step 7. Contact Your Insurance Provider

Notify your insurance provider about the flood damage as soon as possible. Provide them with the documentation you’ve collected to expedite the claims process.

For Significant Water Exposure: Tow Your Car to a Service Center for Professional Assistance 

For significant water exposure, you need to have your car towed to the nearest service center. Professional mechanics have the expertise and equipment needed to assess and repair the damage more effectively than DIY methods. They can thoroughly inspect vital components like the engine, transmission, and electrical systems for water infiltration.

Attempting to fix these issues yourself can lead to incomplete repairs and further damage. So better to trust the professionals to do the job.

If the Flood Was Not Deep: Long-Term Precautions

For less severe flooding or if the water didn’t go above the tires, you can proceed with the following basic checks:

Step 8. Dry the Interior

Floodwaters often bring debris and mud into your car, making cleaning a challenging task. Open all doors and use a dehumidifier if possible to remove moisture from the interior. Open the doors, remove floor mats, seats, and carpets, and let the cabin air out. Consider using a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture.

Step 9. Inspect the Engine Bay

Check for any debris in the engine bay, especially around the fan shrouds and drive belts. Clean any trash or mud.

Step 10. Check the Engine Oil and Fluid Reservoir

Pull the dipstick to check the engine oil. If you see water droplets, drain the oil, replace the filter, and refill with fresh oil. Similarly, check the automatic transmission fluid (ATF), brake fluid, clutch fluid, coolant, and power steering fluid. If you detect water in these systems, a complete fluid replacement is necessary to prevent damage. If you find water droplets, drain the fluids, replace the filters, and refill with fresh oil and transmission fluid.

Step 11. Inspect the Air Filter

A wet air filter indicates that water has likely entered the engine. If this is the case, do not attempt to start the vehicle. Have your car towed to a professional service center for an engine inspection and possibly a complete engine flush.  

If the air filter is dry, double check to make sure the flood didn’t reach it. Replace it if necessary and proceed with further checks before attempting to start the engine.

Step 12. Check the Electrical System

Before starting the car, keep all electrical components are dry. This includes inspecting the fuses, relays, and wiring. Any moisture in these parts can cause short circuits and further damage.

Step 13. Start the Engine Carefully

If everything appears clear, start the car and let it warm up. Perform a thorough walkaround to check for any debris. Make sure all lights are working and drive slowly to dry the brakes.

Preventive Measures

Living in flood-prone areas means it’s wise to prepare in advance. Making sure you stay informed about weather forecasts can help you move your vehicle to safer locations before heavy rains begin. 

  • Comprehensive Insurance

Living in flood-prone areas makes it essential to have comprehensive auto insurance that covers flood damage. This can protect your vehicle from future flood damage and save you significant repair costs in the event of another flood and provide peace of mind during the rainy season. Consider comprehensive auto insurance with natural calamity coverage. 

  • Flood Preparedness

If you know a flood is imminent, move your vehicle to higher ground if possible. Also, make sure you disconnect the battery before flood waters reach your car to prevent electrical damage.

Video: How to Escape a Submerged Vehicle

Dealing with a submerged car can be a life-threatening and stressful experience, but knowing the right steps to do to survive one can make all the difference. In this video from The Weather Channel, you can learn from Jen Carfagno about the essential tips to escape and handle a submerged vehicle safely and effectively.


Flooding in the Philippines can be sudden and severe, posing a significant risk to vehicles. But you will need to stay calm and methodical in following the steps to handle a submerged vehicle, so you can minimize the damage to your car.

Investing in proper insurance with comprehensive coverage and taking preventive measures can also provide peace of mind and financial protection in flood-prone areas. By preparing in advance and understanding what actions to take, you can better handle the challenges posed by floods to car owners like you.

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