What to Do If Your Car Stalls in Water?

Having your car stall while driving through high water is an extremely dangerous situation. Before making any moves, you need to quickly assess the circumstances both inside and outside your vehicle. Taking a minute to thoroughly evaluate conditions can mean the difference between life and death. When driving through Colorado … Read more

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Written by: Mohammad Sameer

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Having your car stall while driving through high water is an extremely dangerous situation. Before making any moves, you need to quickly assess the circumstances both inside and outside your vehicle.

Taking a minute to thoroughly evaluate conditions can mean the difference between life and death.

  • Carefully check the water levels surrounding your car. Is the water continuing to rise rapidly around you? Are you in imminent danger from fast-rising floods? Or are water levels relatively stable and consistent? Having an accurate gauge of conditions will guide your next best moves.
  • Determine if you can safely exit the vehicle or not without getting swept away. Attempting to open your door in deep, fast-moving floodwaters is extremely treacherous. But in shallow, still water of 6 inches or less, you may be able to get out alright.
  • Roll down your window before opening your door, no matter what. Gauge the immediate water depth and flow speed. If water starts streaming in quickly through the window, you know opening your door could easily sweep you away.

When driving through Colorado during a tropical storm, I made the dire mistake of trying to cross a flooded access road. As soon as my engine cut out, I rolled down my window to truly assess the depth.

Water began gushing in rapidly, leaving me with only 6 inches of airspace left. I knew instantly that I couldn’t safely open my door without getting torn away by the current.

Safely Evacuating Passengers From a Stalled Vehicle

If water isn’t filling up your compartment, the next step is evacuating safely. Follow these tips precisely:

  • Unbuckle your seatbelt first before attempting to open your door, along with passengers. You don’t want to be stuck in place if floodwaters end up breaching inside.
  • Open your door slowly on the shallowest side first. Escape the rising waters, but avoid exiting into deeper surrounding water or traffic.
  • Watch for passing vehicles closely when exiting, even in shallow standing water along roadsides. Waves from cars and trucks can easily destabilize you. Take it slow.
  • Firmly plant your feet with secured footing before standing fully upright. Floodwaters hide debris and erosion beneath surfaces.
  • Avoid getting swept away by fast currents. Having a buddy to hold onto can provide stability if available. But don’t risk others’ safety unnecessarily.

When visiting friends in Louisiana, I once again made the dire mistake of trying to cross a flooded road after a storm. My car stalled out quickly, but luckily the water was only 2 feet deep around me. My friend Jonathan had already gotten out and grabbed my hand firmly to stabilize me as I exited. Without his anchor, I could have easily been swept downstream.

Who to Call if Your Car Stalls Out in High Water

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If you safely escape rising waters inside your stalled vehicle, immediately call 911 or local emergency services. Give dispatchers your exact location, and nearby landmarks, and accurately describe flooding/water conditions directly around you. The more helpful details you provide, the better equipped first responders will be when arriving on the scene.

Other important contacts are:

  • Your local emergency management agency – Can often provide direct rescue or evacuation assistance faster than 911 responders in some rural areas. Program their number into your phone.
  • Your auto insurance provider – Report your stranded vehicle’s location so they can arrange towing services once floodwaters eventually recede. Photograph damage.

Having the right emergency contacts programmed ahead of time is a smart preparation step before driving through any potential flood zones. I keep these numbers on speed dial after learning my lesson too many times.

What to Do If Your Car Stalls in Water?

Follow these key actions after safely existing flooding waters:

  • Get to higher, completely dry ground away from the shoreline or water channels, even if it means traversing difficult terrain by foot. Avoid downed power lines too.
  • Continue moving away from stalled vehicles caught in rising waters (yours or others). Flood currents can still sweep cars away, along with anyone remaining close by.
  • Call emergency contacts and wait for skilled first responders once situated on stable dry land. Don’t try to be a vigilante hero and go back for personal items or cars.
  • If safe, warn other approaching motorists away from the flooded area where your car stalled. Prevent further accidents. But only attempt if on dry, secure terrain.

Trust me when I say that losing your cell phone, computer, or important paperwork to water damage is nothing compared to losing your life. Wait patiently for emergency crews once out of the flood zone safely.

Don’t let hope of recovering personal effects put you back in harm’s way. Your life is always worth more than material things.

Preventing Further Water Damage in Flooded Vehicles

Once severe flooding finally recedes, you’ll likely find extensive water damage to interior and mechanical components. Here is what you need to know about next steps:

  • Never try initially restarting an engine that took on water – Severe mechanical damage can occur to cylinders, air intakes, and electronics when attempting to turn flooded engines over. Always have it safely towed away from shorelines first before an inspection.
  • Have a certified mechanic fully inspect electrical systems, mechanical components, and load-bearing chassis structures before attempting repairs. Saltwater flooding accelerates corrosive damage.
  • Address electrical issues immediately before oxidation sets in. Consider these critical first steps:
    • Carefully disconnect and thoroughly dry out the battery by an expert
    • Replace any computer modules and fuse boxes that got submerged
    • Inspect wiring harnesses for corrosion and insulation damage

Getting critical electronic systems dried out and corrected gives you the best chance of saving your investment overall. But it still may be declared a total loss.

Type of FloodingAverage Repair CostsTotal Loss Likelihood
Saltwater flooding$6,000+Very high
Brackish mixed water$4,000 – $6,000High
Freshwater flooding$3,500+Moderate to high

With today’s modern vehicles, complex electronics and sensitive sensors make water damage repair costs quickly skyrocket. This is especially true after saltwater storm surges fully submerged engine compartments. Talk frankly with mechanics about projected expenses before committing to extensive repairs.

Practical Driving Tips to Avoid Stalling Out in High Water

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Avoid a life-threatening situation altogether by taking smart evasive action whenever you see floodwaters collecting on roadways or bridges:

  • Turn around IMMEDIATELY – Don’t risk it if the water looks too deep. Reverse the course and find an alternate safe route. There are zero exceptions to this safety rule while driving.
  • Drive slowly at 5 mph through shallow standing water only if necessary. Creating a strong wake can destabilize your buoyancy.
  • Avoid any low-lying areas, underpasses, dips, and tunnels prone to intense flooding during storms. Check weather alerts often and know guaranteed alternative routes.
  • If conditions rapidly worsen, safely pull over immediately before floods strand your vehicle. Call emergency contacts as needed.

Earlier in my driving career, I arrogantly drove my lifted Jeep through what I thought was only 8 inches of standing water. But it was actually over 3 feet deep! My engine took on water immediately, and I had to replace it. No shortcut is ever worth destroying your safety or vehicle like I did.

When To Avoid Driving Through Floodwaters

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Don’t let overconfidence put your safety at severe risk! U-turn and find alternate dry routes in the following rising water scenarios:

  • Standing water exceeding 12 inches – Most standard sedans risk stalling out, flooding engines and electronics once levels reach air intake openings. Higher SUV and truck clearance don’t make attempting to drive through 2+ feet of water-wise either.
  • Flowing water reaching just 6 inches in depth – Both cars and lifted trucks risk getting swept sideways upon surfaces or crashing by stronger currents. Just 1 foot of moving floodwater demonstrates enough force to carry away large vehicle types.
  • Saltwater flooding – Even shallow saltwater of 6 inches causes immediate corrosion and extensive damage to circuits, cylinder walls, and internal compartments as you attempt to drive through. This renders vehicles inoperable.
  • Any amount of water that compromises tire traction – Tires can lose contact with underlying road surfaces very rapidly once flooded. Attempting to power through standing water often leads to hydroplaning with very little warning.

Don’t make the mistake of trusting your eyes and inherently misjudging water depth like I’ve done. Still standing water is almost always much deeper than it appears, masking numerous hazards underneath.

When in doubt, always take the longest alternate dry route possible, or just smartly u-turn away from questionable flooding up ahead. Saving a few minutes never outweighs jeopardizing your passengers’ lives and safety.


Getting your vehicle stalled out and flooded in rising waters is extremely hazardous, often life-threatening. But calmly assessing conditions first, safely executing evacuation procedures, and then contacting emergency responders reduces risks substantially over panicking.

The smartest action is to avoid flooded roads altogether whenever possible. Exercise extreme caution around storm drainage areas.

But should floodwaters ever put your vehicle at unanticipated risk, use the quick-response tips outlined here to get yourself and your passengers out of harm’s way strategically.

Remain vigilant of rapidly evolving conditions, fight the urge to rescue property, and don’t try to “ride it out.”

Stay focused on reaching secure dry land instead, then let skilled first responders take over. Maintaining perspective and presence of mind saves lives.

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About Mohammad Sameer

My name is Mohammad Sameer and I have over 3 years of hands-on experience repairing cars, motorcycles, and trucks. Ever since I operated on my first engine in 2018, I’ve been passionate about all things automotive. In 2021, I launched my blog “Motoring Mastery” to share my knowledge with car enthusiasts and DIY mechanics.