Tips that can save your life in flash flooding

With reports of further flooding and severe storm warnings persisting, particularly in KwaZulu Natal, Gauteng and the Free State, the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry (RMI), warns that any body of water on a road must be approached with extreme caution. Saving your life can be as easy as turning your car around when you see water damming on the road.

Dewald Ranft, chairperson of MIWA, says water levels can rise very quickly in heavy rain, turning roads into rivers and leaving motorists suddenly confronted with a dangerous situation.

“Even 20cm of water can damage electronic and mechanical components on a vehicle and as little as 60cm of moving water can sweep a car away. There are some basic rules to follow to help negotiate your way to the safest route out of these situations,” he says.

“Firstly – although weather can often catch us by surprise – we strongly advise that you plan your trip according to weather alerts. Check online and other resources regularly for updates so that you can find alternative routes if the road ahead is flooded – even if it is going to take you longer to reach your destination.”

Ranft says it is also extremely important to remain calm so that you can focus and make the right decision when caught in flash flooding. You may need to abandon your vehicle and get to safety on higher ground and making this type of assessment will require a cool head.

6 tips for driving in flash flooding conditions:

1.            Put headlights and hazard lights on so your car is visible.

2.            Alert your family members/friends to the situation and send them your live location.

3.            If you can, turn around and drive away from the flooded area.

4.            If you have to go through the water, try to gauge the depth by watching other vehicles negotiate the stretch of water. Do not go through water that appears to be 20cm or more deep. 

5.            If you have to drive through the water, proceed as slowly as possible in first gear with both hands on the steering wheel. The water being traversed should form a bow wave in front of your vehicle to minimize water ingress into the engine compartment, where sensitive electronic and mechanical components are located.

6.            Be especially cautious at night or when visibility is low as it will be harder to see flooding ahead.

If there is a risk of being caught in a flood:

•             Pull off the road to a safe place that will still allow space for emergency services, get out of your car and go to higher ground. Take your cellphone with you.

•             If your car is being surrounded by water, unfasten your seatbelt and those of any children with you, unlock the doors and open the windows.

•             If water starts coming in through the windows, get out of the car and go to the nearest point on safe higher ground.

•             If your car is suddenly submerged and your windows aren’t already open, you will need to break a window and swim to safety. Remember when a car sinks, it goes down bonnet-facing first exposing the rear of the vehicle. It is therefore best to make your way towards the back of the vehicle to break one of the rear vehicles. Bear in mind that vehicle windows are made of tempered glass, which is extremely strong and will require a concerted effort to break. An old spark plug kept in the cubbyhole is heavy and strong enough to break a window, or you can pull out the car headrest and use the sharp steel tip. 

A vehicle that has gone through water or been submerged in water for any length of time needs to be checked for damage by a trained professional as soon as possible afterwards.

One of the first concerns is if the vehicle will not start. It’s not a good idea to try to start it until the damage can be assessed. There is likely to be water in the engine, transmission and fuel system, so get an accredited workshop to take a look.

“You do not have to be driving in areas off the beaten track to experience flash flooding. These occur in urban areas and have claimed the lives of motorists and damaged vehicles. It is important to know what to do if this happens to you,” Ranft concludes.

Dewald Ranft, chairperson of MIWA