How to navigate floodwater in your van (if you absolutely have to)

Really, the best way to deal with floodwater when driving your van is simple: don’t. If you can, we’d always advise attempting to find another way around it, even if this adds significant time onto your journey. Saving a bit of time just isn’t worth the expense you’ll almost certainly incur, or the danger you’ll put yourself in as you do it. Even in the best case scenario, you might find yourself having to look for new van deals sooner than you’d planned!

However, sometimes there’s no other option. This is certainly true for thousands of people across the North West this week, given the heavy rain (what summer?) that’s been battering the region in the past few days. Manchester, Liverpool, Lancashire and Cumbria were particularly badly hit, and 11 people and 4 dogs have had to be rescued in the past few days. To avoid being stuck in the same situation with floodwater, many drivers have been faced with one remaining option – drive through it. If you find yourself in the same position, there’s a right and wrong way to do it!

Why are floods so problematic?

We’ll start with the obvious – wet roads increase stopping distances. This is a serious enough issue in itself, especially since so many van drivers already underestimate their stopping distances. Deep water is a particular threat, though. Modern cars and vans are reasonably hardy in extreme weather, but it’s really best to avoid putting this to the test if you can at all avoid it.

As you might expect, the electrical systems and engine of a van are especially vulnerable to water damage, and in fact a single egg cupful of water is enough to wreck your engine. It doesn’t help that on many vans, the engine’s air intake is low down on the front, making it easier for water to get through. Water damage can also have even more unpredictable effects, such as damaging the airbag control module, causing the airbag to go off at an apparently random point afterwards. (The force of this happening is strong enough to break an adult’s arm.)

According to the AA, drivers frequently take unnecessary risks in floodwater. It only takes 60cm of standing water to potentially float your can, and 30cm of moving water can be enough to wash it away. Fast-moving floodwater is exceptionally dangerous, and should be avoided at all costs. There are also the less obvious risks to consider. Floodwater is almost always contaminated; urban floodwater with bacteria from drains and sewers, and rural floodwater with agricultural chemicals and animal waste. It also obscures ground-level dangers, preventing you from spotting something like a potholes or a removed manhole cover.

How should you drive through floodwater?

If there’s more than six inches (15cm) of standing water, or more than four inches (10cm) of moving water, you should avoid driving through it if at all possible. If you’ve got the equipment – such as a sturdy pair of boots – you can try and gauge the depth yourself, or if you’re not keen on the prospect you could always try and see how other motorists get on. However, if there’s absolutely no way around, the AA does have several recommendations on how best to drive through it.

The official advice is to stay on the crown of the road (i.e. the middle) as you move through it. Roads are built with slight downward slopes towards the outer edges, so that any floodwater is sloughed off to the side. Slow the van to a crawl, and move through the water in first gear. Make sure to keep your engine revs up though – you can slip the clutch if you have to – as this makes water less likely to enter the exhaust pipe.

Don’t get impatient, don’t panic, and most importantly, don’t gun it and try and power your way through. Going at anything above a crawl makes water more likely to push forward into the engine, and as we mentioned above, it only takes a very small amount to kill it literally dead in the water. Moving slowly also minimises any impact against hidden hazards, like the aforementioned manhole covers or potholes.

Even in relatively shallow floodwater, driving too quickly can lead to aquaplaning; essentially, skidding. If this happens, ease off the accelerator, and it’s wise to steer into the skid to aid recovery. Finally, driving quickly opens you up to the risk of soaking pedestrians and cyclists. Not only will this not make you any friends, but cyclists can actually get knocked off their bikes by this, which is incredibly dangerous, and part of the reason that doing this is illegal. Drivers who are spotted splashing pedestrians or cyclists can get fined significant amounts, and get six penalty points.

What happens if your van is already flooded?

If you do lose control of your van for whatever reason, whether it ceases working or actually starts to float, don’t hang around. Climb out, lock the vehicle and wade to the side of the road. Don’t stop to collect your valuables from all the nooks and crannies in the van, whether or not if you think it’s safe to do so. Most drowning deaths happen within just 3m of a safe point, and no matter how much your electronics are worth, they’re not worth your life. Even if your van has four wheels firmly planted on the ground, don’t prop open the bonnet while you wait for help. Rain-soaked electrics can make it much harder to start the engine, which could impede the recovery of your vehicle once the specialists arrive.

Given that we’re in the middle of the British summertime at the time of writing, with any luck floodwater won’t be a lasting problem for your van – but with the notorious UK weather, who knows? Whatever the case, you can count on one thing – you’ll always find the very best cheap van deals right here at Van Discount. You’ll find vans from leading manufacturers such as Renault and Volkswagen, as well as specific van types such as curtainside vans and Luton. And of course, if you’ve got any questions or need any advice, our experts are only a phonecall away on 01282 872 530!