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Tags:   Cars,   Motoring

By The Swag Team   -  January 23, 2015

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Breaking down while driving through the periodic floods in Valley Road, Msida, or B'Kara, or Qormi, is every Maltese driver’s nightmare. We all need to take extra care when wading through flooded roads, not just because of danger to ourselves and out of respect to other drivers and pedestrians, but also because of danger to our cars: just a teaspoon of water ingested through a car’s air inlet pipe can cause catastrophic engine damage. SWAG looks at the risks and dispenses some sound advice.

How should I tackle a flooded road?


Very slowly. Also, watch for oncoming vehicles, especially off-roaders. Their bow waves could easily swamp your car's air inlet. If you’re about to be engulfed, stop your car – if it’s safe to do so – and switch off the engine.


How does the water enter the engine?


When an approaching car creates a bow wave of floodwater, some of it can be sucked up through your car’s front-mounted air inlet pipe. Some pipes are mounted at numberplate level, making the engines especially vulnerable. The engine sucks up the water, some of which enters the combustion chambers. As the piston compresses it, the cylinder head cracks or con rods bend. Either way, it is very expensive to sort.



Which engines are most at risk?


Turbocharged ones, which draw in greater volumes of air, and hence water, and diesel engines, which operate at very high compression ratios. A teaspoon of water in the combustion chamber of a turbo diesel can destroy the engine.



What about a wet roadside breakdown?


If your car suffers an electrical failure and is parked at the side of the road on a wet day, don't leave the bonnet open for a long period. A drenched engine and electrical system is difficult to dry out. In extreme conditions, try and park your car with its back to the wind and rain.


Obviously this is the sort of situation that brings home the importance of keeping your mobile phone charged and of having roadside assistance cover - speak to your insurance company about it or contact one of the various companies that offer the service. It truly is money well-spent. Ask your friends about the service they got when it was needed to help you make up your mind which company to choose.



How about insurance?


You may find it useful to clarify exactly how your vehicle is covered in case of storm damage by reading the small print on your policy document. Meanwhile, this is an excerpt from an article in The Times of Malta, featuring comments from a Maltese insurance company spokesman after a heavy storm in 2003: 


Claims are also expected to be high as far as motor vehicles are concerned. There were many collisions which will lead to third party claims. Most claims will, however, involve cars insured comprehensively, as owners could file a claim if the interior or the paint or bodywork are damaged by water or the car being swept away in the floods.

The situation is different for cars insured against third party damage, which may not qualify for claims.

"Cars which collide when the driver loses control because they are carried by floods, or parked cars which are swept away and smash into other cars would not qualify for insurance protection unless comprehensively insured, because that would be classified as an act of God," the spokesman said.


What’s the other wet weather peril?


Aquaplaning, that horrible feeling when the steering goes light as the front wheels are lifted clear of the road on a carpet of water. The only way to regain control is to lift off the throttle and allow the car to right itself. Do not twirl the steering wheel wildly or you might end up in a ditch: hold it loosely in the ten-to-two position.


Further reading on the subject, including on what to do in the unlikely event of your car filling with water, can be found here and here.


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