Water, water everywhere! – Part 2 of How to keep your car always new?

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Part 2: Water, water everywhere!

Given the recent heavy rains in so many parts of Pakistan, it seemed appropriate to write about water in its various forms and its many effects on our cars.

Ordinarily, we come across water as rain, so it is nothing more than a nuisance or even a potential road hazard, with longer braking distances, hydroplaning if there is standing water on the road, and poor visibility generally. However, the deluge that we can get in Pakistan called the monsoon rains is another phenomenon entirely, changing roads and streets into rivers in a short period of time.

This article will look at a few issues from a car enthusiast’s point of view, PakWheels style.

Moisture and the Electrical system:

Simply put, water and anything electrical in a car just do not mix. Manufacturer’s already take great care to ensure that all critical components are sealed against moisture and water intrusion. However, in Pakistan, given the generally stressful operating conditions, these barriers tend to deteriorate with time and begin to lose their effectiveness.

There are a few things that a dedicated car enthusiast like a PakWheeler can do to maintain the integrity of these barriers. The proper cleaners are available in the market, but if these are too expensive or not available, alternatives can be used:

Purpose Preferred Alternative
Keeping electrical contacts free of corrosion Contact Cleaner aerosol or spray Isopropyl Alcohol
Sealing of connections Contact Grease Petroleum Jelly
Removal of water or moisture WD-40 or similar product Compressed air, ventilation, oil based solvents such as petrol or kerosene

The goals here are simple but comprehensive: Keep electrical components and connections dry, clean and secure, as much as is possible. Wires, connectors and harnesses should be secure in clips and not moving about loosely. Connections should be properly soldered and covered by heat- shrink wraps when spliced, and stock connectors should be opened, cleaned and covered lightly with the correct product as given above. Pay special attention to battery, starter and alternator cables and their integrity and security, as well as any ECU chips and their connectors. Check all high voltage cables for any cracks or loose fittings and correct accordingly.

As you go over the electrical system systematically, don’t be overwhelmed by the number of items that need attention. Just start with one area or item and cross it off your check list when done before proceeding to the next. You even don’t have to done this in one go, and occasionally work on the parts as you go along.

If the electrical components are taken care of in this manner, the vast majority of issues that beset a car, especially an older car, and more so, an older car used in Pakistan, can be pre-emptively avoided. Trust me on this!

Driving in deep standing water:

First of all, please pay attention to the word “standing”. This section does NOT apply to water moving across a roadway. Even a few inches deep water, flowing rapidly can easily exert enough force to move cars and even bigger vehicles off the road, often with tragic consequences. Unless you know what you are doing, NEVER attempt that.

The basic strategy to move across deep standing water is steady progress. You don’t want to be too slow and bog down the engine, or too fast and consequently either lift off the driving wheels or flood out in the bow wave created.

First of all, pay attention to what dangers might be lurking under water as much as you can determine. This ranges from deeper areas to submerged obstacles like lane dividers and even open manholes. If possible, scout out the route by observing other vehicles that may be attempting to go across.

Next, prepare your vehicle for fording. Move personal belongings like wallets, purses and even car documents into dry, secure locations, preferably higher up in the vehicle and wrapped in plastic or other water proof enclosures. Reduce the load if possible, including cargo and passengers as applicable. Use the lowest gear available, and move steadily into the water. Maintain a steady pace and anticipate the force needed as the vehicle moves into deeper water, that is, do NOT wait for the engine to bog down.  Be prepared to floor the accelerator pedal to keep the engine revving as high as needed to keep the exhaust blowing (a diverter pipe that locates the exhaust higher can help here), but don’t go too fast. Feather the clutch only as a last resort. You definitely do NOT want the engine to ingest water, so know how high the air intake is and where it is located on your vehicle (a snorkel can help here if you are so inclined). Do not create a huge bow wave by going too fast. Typically, a brisk walking pace is all that is needed for most situations.

Above all, remember that your car is NOT a rally prepared off road vehicle!

Water and Rubber parts:

Rubber parts will take a good submersion quite well. Old, dried out rubber parts are more susceptible to damage, if not by water, then by the minute particles of abrasive dust that it can deposit. Keeping items like bushes, dust boot covers, and seals clean by wiping them off occasionally with a lint free cloth with a light coating of WD-40 or similar fluid will do wonders for their longevity and integrity, and help them shed water when submerged.

Recovering a flooded car:

Okay, the worst has happened. Your car has stalled in deep water, and it is filling in fast with murky brown water. Now what? First of all, think of your own and your passengers’ safety and take appropriate action. Critical belongings, cargo and documents come next. Thirdly, switch off all electrical components and disconnect and ideally remove the battery if you can.

Once these things have been done, recovery and rehabilitation can begin. The vehicle should be pushed, pulled or towed out as soon as possible to a dry location. This may not be for several hours or indeed even days depending on the situation. However, the sooner it is retrieved, the better.

The first order of business is to dry everything out without any electrical power. If the battery has not already been removed, do it now. Then, remove everything that is removable for drying out. That means stripping out the entire interior if needed, including seats, carpets, matting, and trim pieces. Each piece can be washed, vacuumed or dried out in the sun or in front of fans as applicable. Using a fabric refreshening product is recommended, although other remedies like bleach solution can often do the same job much cheaper.

Next pay particular attention to anything electrical that has been soaked. Open up connectors, harnesses and components and thoroughly dry them out and rejoin using the products listed in the table above as needed. Don’t forget fuse boxes, junctions, ECUs, and stereo and under dash equipment.

Now pay attention to the mechanical components. Change ALL fluids and filters: engine, transmission, differential, cooling system, the whole lot, whatever can be changed. Open up and clean, refurbish or even replace components as needed. Don’t try to save money here as taking a short cut here will likely prove more expensive later.

It sounds like a big project, and indeed it is. However, doing a thorough job now will pay dividends later. Trust me on that too!

Now, be prepared for troubleshooting and possible expensive repairs. Put in a fresh battery, and if you are lucky, the car will come back to life. However, it will take multiple attempts and figuring out to get a submerged car to run satisfactorily. Just be patient and resolute, and you will get there. After all, anything that man makes, man can fix, given enough time, money and effort.

Conclusion:

It is obvious that from the above it is best to avoid making a boat out of your pride and joy. But, if you take care of the electrical system before hand, and use proper technique while driving across deep water, chances are that you will be fine for most of the monsoon conditions that you may encounter. However, if the worst happens, remember that it is not the end of the world, and a steady systematic approach will likely get you back on the road in no time at all!

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