Car Insurance Guide: Floods

Flooding in the UK is a problem that’s becoming more and more common. Encountering a flood can be deeply worrying for drivers, not only for their safety but also for the serious costs to repair — or even replace — their vehicle following flood damage.

Luckily, Swinton Insurance is here to help you understand how your Car Insurance works. In the below guide, we’ll explain how you can best handle flooding when out on the road, what to do if your car is flooded, and how you can make a claim.



1. Driving in a flood

What causes flooding?

Flooding is typically caused by an unusually heavy rainfall that’s too much for bodies of waters like rivers and lakes to hold. The excess water causes them to overflow, pushing waters over the banks onto roads and pathways.

Other forms of flooding can be caused by melting snow or ice, or by unusually large waves on the coastline.

What problems can flood damage cause to your car?

Flooding can cause significant damage to any vehicles that are caught in it. The problems it can cause include:

  • Hydrolock — Hydrolock is a mechanical failure that happens when water is sucked into the engine, damaging the pistons and combustion cycle. A hydrolocked engine will seize up and grind to a halt, which is incredibly dangerous if you’re moving at speed.
  • Mechanical problems — Water can affect more than just your engine; it can damage your brakes and clutch too. That’s because water interferes with the friction needed when two moving parts come together.
  • Electrical problems — Wiring in your car’s electricals (radio, dashboard and on-board computer, for example) is highly vulnerable to water damage. Using the electricals when they’ve been damaged by water puts you at risk of an electric shock.
  • Rusting — Flood damage has long-term effects on your car’s bodywork. When water enters the cabin, it can get trapped into hard-to-spot places and remain there for some time, which wears away any exposed metal.

How to check if you're in a high-risk area

There are several ways to check if you’re in an area that’s at risk of flooding depending on which part of the UK you live in:

England — Visit the Flood Warning Information service page on the government website.

Wales — Visit the Natural Resources Wales website.

Scotland — Visit the Scottish Environment Protection Agency website.

Should you drive in a flood?

You should never drive in a flood if it can be avoided. Driving through water can be very dangerous and can cause serious flood damage to your vehicle. Even if your journey cannot be avoided altogether, you should try to delay it until after heavy rainfall and flood warnings have subsided.

However, if you absolutely need to make a journey, here’s our advice on how to stay safe.

Before you set off

Plan your route to avoid any flood water. Check if the Environment Agency has issued any flood warnings online if you’re unsure whether the route you are taking is safe or not, or call the Floodline on 0345 988 1188.

This number also works for Wales and Scotland, or you can visit the Scottish Environment Protection Agency online flood warning service. Flood warnings are updated every 15 minutes to help you plan a safe journey.

Beware that some insurers might not pay out if you damage your car while driving it through a flood, which they may consider was avoidable damage. For more information, see our advice on avoidable and unavoidable flood damage below.

On the road

If you absolutely have to drive in a flood, or you get caught unawares, here’s some advice on how to make your journey as safe and as smooth as possible:

  1. Assess — Investigate how deep floodwater is, or if there are any hidden hazards submerged underneath. Make a note of how high the water reaches on the bodywork of cars that do drive through it.
  2. Wait — It’s best to negotiate flooded roads one vehicle at a time, so wait for any other vehicles to clear the water before you enter.
  3. Take it slow — Once you are sure you can make it through the floodwater, set off at no more than 2-3 miles per hour. Stay in first or second gear, keep your speed consistent, and keep the revs high so water doesn’t flow up the vehicle’s exhaust pipe.
  4. Stay central — Drive down the centre of the road where the water should be shallowest.
  5. Don’t stop — It could be difficult to get started again if you come to a halt, so keep accelerating gently until you’re back on dry land.
  6. Test your brakes — After clearing the flood, try your brakes to make sure they are working properly.

How deep is safe?

The majority of cars should NEVER drive through water more than five inches deep. This is because:

Just six inches of water will reach the bottom of most cars and can cause it to lose control or stall.

A foot of water can cause many cars to float, meaning the driver has no control.

If flood water reaches two feet deep, most cars would be swept away.

What to do if you get stuck

If your car gets stuck in floodwater, call 999 or signal for help from a passer-by. Don’t keep trying to start the engine - this can cause more flood damage. Wait in a safe place for help to arrive.




2. Mitigating flood damage to your car

Even the most cautious drivers can find their car flooded, often through no fault of their own. A flooded car could be the result of having to park in a location that’s at risk of flooding, and can happen while the driver is away from their vehicle.

What to do if your car is flooded

If your vehicle has been submerged in floodwater, you’ll need to take some important steps to make sure it’s roadworthy before you think about driving it:

  • Wear protective clothing — Flood water can be contaminated and make you ill, so wear protective clothing if you are coming into contact with it, and wash thoroughly afterwards.
  • Check the dipstick for any water in your oil — If you see any water droplets, you’ll need to get your oil and oil filter changed before you drive anywhere.
  • Dry off the upholstery — If water reaches the inside of the passenger compartment, you need to clean and dry any wet upholstery. Again, it can pay to bring in a professional to thoroughly dry the interior so you don’t get problems with mildew later on.
  • Use a wet-dry vacuum cleaner — If your car has puddles in the footwells, you’ll need to remove the water quickly. The best way to do it is with a wet and dry vacuum cleaner.
  • Get air into the car — Getting good airflow into the car will prevent mould, mildew and bad odours. Open the windows and use a fan to get the fresh air circulating around the car’s interior.

If your car has been flooded while you were driving it, pull over immediately and get out. You should NOT drive your car until you’re absolutely sure it’s roadworthy.

What NOT to do if your car is flooded

If your car is submerged in water, do not try to start the car. there may be water trapped in the cylinders, which can cause serious and sometimes irreversible damage to your engine.

Starting the engine when your car is flooded might invalidate your car insurance. It could cause additional damage to the vehicle and even cause dangerous malfunctions, like airbags going off without warning or electrical fires.

3. How to make a claim for flood damage

Any vehicle caught in a flood is likely to need significant work to make it drivable again, which is very costly.

It’s a good idea to check that your car or vehicle is protected from damages caused by flooding so that you can make a claim to cover the costs of repairs.

How do I know if I’m protected against flood damage?

The good news for those with fully comprehensive car insurance is that most policies will include cover for flood insurance, though you will likely have to pay an excess if your vehicle is damaged or destroyed.

Unfortunately, drivers with third party, or third party, fire and theft cover are unlikely to be insured against flood damage.

If you are unsure whether your policy includes cover against flood damage or not, it’s a good idea to contact your insurer to check, especially if you live in a high-risk flood area.

Claiming on your insurance

To claim for flood damage on your Car Insurance policy, make sure you do the following:

  • Use your insurer’s claims helpline — Most insurers have a 24-hour emergency claims line. If possible, have your policy documents to hand.
  • Document the damage — Note down an accurate record of the flood damage, and, if you can, take photos.
  • Do an inventory — Make a list of any possessions in the car that have been damaged and find any receipts, which can help make the claims process easier.
  • Log communications — Keep a record of all contact with your insurer, including who you spoke to, when and what was agreed, and keep hold of any letters, emails and receipts for repair work.

See our claims help page for further advice about how to claim on your Car Insurance policy.

Things to bear in mind about your flood claims

There are a few things you’ll need to be aware of before you begin the claims process for flood damage:

The insurer will consider things like the depth of the floodwater and how contaminated it was when deciding whether your car will be repaired or written off.

If the car has to be scrapped, your insurer will pay out the value of the car, minus the agreed excess.

If your insurer decides your vehicle can be repaired, they are likely to select an approved nearby garage to do the work. Once the car is fixed, the insurer will pick up the bill, minus the excess.

What to know about avoidable and unavoidable flood damage

Some insurers make a distinction between avoidable and unavoidable flood damage, and may not pay out for damage that they consider was avoidable.

Avoidable damage

Avoidable damage is usually classed as such by an insurer if it was directly caused by an action you made.

For example, if a vehicle is damaged when it is driven through floodwater, this could be considered avoidable damage, and you may not be insured. A claim could also fail if you try to start a vehicle that is fully or partly submerged in floodwater.

Unavoidable damage

Unavoidable damage to your car is usually that which may have happened regardless of your actions.

For example, while it’s advisable to move your car to higher ground if you believe a flood is on its way, it’s most likely to be classed as unavoidable damage if your car suffers flood damage while parked in its usual spot. In this instance, you would be covered by your insurance policy.

As ever, check the fine print of your car insurance policy if you are unsure.

Keeping your head above water

At Swinton, it’s our top priority to ensure you have a Car Insurance policy that works for you, regardless of the storms and wet weather your vehicle has to ensure.

Check out our Car Insurance packages for a policy that suits your budget as well as your needs. For more information about driving through tricky weather, check out our guide to storm damage.

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