AA issues warning over flood-damaged 4x4s


Britain Nissan

While a 4x4 might be handy in the conditions lashing much of the UK, if you're in the market for one, take it slow. The AA says it has rescued more than 3,000 cars from flood water since 20th December - many being 4x4s.

That could see some 4x4s trickling onto forecourts hiding worryingly expensive problems. What do you need to watch for?

Just an egg-cup of water

David Bruce, director of AA Cars, says insurers write off 70% of cars that have been immersed in flood water, either because the engine has been damaged or submerged electrical systems compromise the car's safety.

"If a car engine – regardless of whether it's a small family hatchback or a 4x4 – draws even an egg cup-full of water through the air intake the engine will almost certainly be wrecked and in most cases the car will be written off."

Just 30cm of moving water is enough to float a car, potentially sweeping it off the road says Bruce. Catalytic converter and exhaust system life can be seriously compromised and there can be host of potentially serious electrical problems, such as airbags spontaneously going off.

Menace 4x4 owners

"Many owners," he adds, "may not tell their insurer that their car has been affected by flood water and attempt to dispose of it through the used car market, passing on potentially disastrous problems to an unwitting buyer."

In flood conditions you're also potentially exposed to other drivers: including seemingly confident 4x4 owners driving too fast through water, creating dangerous bow waves for other vehicles with less ground clearance, potentially pushing water into your engine bay.

Turbocharged petrol and diesel engines are particularly vulnerable here.

If you're in the market for a used 4x4, think hard about whether you really need one. A two-wheel drive SUV running on snow tyres is far more able in winter conditions than a four-wheel drive running on standard rubber, and quite a bit less expensive.

Get a grip, save money

In early November, AutoExpress drove two Ford Kugas up a steep ski slope. The 2-wheel drive Kuga with winter tyres powered past the 4x4 with ease, leaving the 4x4 stuck in the ice.

"Without the right rubber," tester Mat Watson concluded, "an all-wheel-drive car is just as useless as a two-wheel drive one". A four wheel drive will consume more fuel, as well as being more technically complex, possibly pushing up your insurance costs.

Meanwhile, how to drive in flood conditions.

Six tips that could indicate a flood damaged car - AA
  1. If a used car has the windows open it may be to ventilate a damp car interior; while air fresheners might be there to mask the smell of damp. Check the carpets for dampness
  2. If the car easily steam up especially when the screen heater is turned on there is moisture in the car
  3. If there is a whiteish emulsion on the underside of the oil filler cap there is likely to be water in the engine oil which could have come from flood water or may indicate a leaking head gasket (which would need attention)
  4. Check all the warning lights are working including the SRS airbag warning
  5. If the car has been recorded as a category C or D write-off, meaning that the car can be repaired and re-sold, this will be recorded on the V5C
  6. If in any doubt, don't buy. There will always be another one