[ADVISORY] Salvaging your car after brutal Manila floodsBy 4x4 Philippines • Sep 27th, 2009 • Category: DIY Garage • Print this article
This post was emailed to us by 4×4 Philippines Forum member Drexx Laggui. Thank you for the email, Drexx.
27Oct2009 (UTC +8)
Dear friends, families, and colleagues,
This is in response to the question of “what do I do now?” after your
car was sunk and recovered from the freak flash floods in Metro Manila
yesterday, brought about by Typhoon Ondoy.
This advisory is applicable to diesel- or gasoline-engine cars, four-
or front- or rear-wheel drive, with manual or automatic transmissions.
Hopefully, you were lucky to be at home and in a safe dry place before
the floods came. That means your car was just parked and the engine
was off. If you were caught in the city streets, I hope you had the
sense to stop your car engine when you saw that the water was getting
too high, and that you waited until the waters receded, and drove
yourself home (albeit with problems). If your vehicle stalled, and was
towed back home, this is still applicable, but the work to be done
will be more than what I can talk about here.
Before you begin your inspection and fundamental “first-aid” repairs,
make sure that there are no loose electrical wires nearby. It goes
without saying that water conducts electricity and you can really get
the shock of your life
You’ll need basic hand tools to wrench on nuts and bolts. Japanese and
(maybe) European cars use the metric system, while the Americans use
the English system. (Don’t force ill-fitting tools because you’ll
likely to damage the nuts & bolts.) You’ll also need comfortable
gloves so you don’t cut your hand too much. You still have to go back
to your real job in a couple of days y’know. A roll of electrical tape
will prove useful too. You’ll also need safety glasses to protect your
eyes from splashing fluids, or from dripping mud and dirt when you go
underneath the car. Wearing boots is a good idea because it helps
protect from the effects of electrical shocks as well as it’ll hurt a
lot less when tools are dropped on your toes –compared to when just
wearing slippers. Have a lot of clean and dry rags so you can wipe the
water off many parts of your car. And wear a set of old clothes that
your wife won’t mind getting messed up (been there, done that!).
One of the most important things to have on hand as well, is your car
maintenance manual. You should have it when you bought the car. If
that is missing or damaged from the floods, then you’ll have to Google
the Internet for information. What you need to know are the technical
specifications of the types of oils needed for different mechanical
parts of your car, the clutch (or alternatively, automatic
transmission fluid) and brake fluid types, the engine coolant, and the
corresponding amount of fluids required. Buying the right stuff is
*important* and should be complied with. You may also want a print-out
of this e-mail so that you can use it as a checklist when working on
You’ll also want to have “loctite” to put on the threads of the nuts &
bolts later when you put them back together again. (Loctite is a red-
or blue-something metal glue, so that the nuts & bolts bond together
tight enough that they don’t get shaken loose from vibrations, but not
too tight so they can still can be removed by hand tools.) Dielectric
grease, a substance that you put on every electrical contact point in
your engine, is good to have because it can prevent moisture and water
from causing trouble in your electrical wiring system. (Unfortunately,
dielectric grease is rather rare here in Metro Manila.) Shampoo,
cleaners and disinfectants like Windex or Lysol respectively, are
needed as well to clean stuff, and remove most evidence of water
damage so that your car can retain its fair resale value.
To get really started, go to your engine bay and open the hood.
Disconnect the battery terminals to minimize risk of electrical shock.
Check car battery for any signs of water intrusion. Maintenance-free
batteries have much less chances of water contamination, but check it
anyway to be sure. If you have a voltmeter, check if it is still fully
charged. You may be pleasantly surprised that it’s still well and
good, considering all the damage your car went through.
Then, you’ll have to drain out all the obvious water that collected
inside your car. They will stink, because Metro Manila flood waters
are nasty, disease-infested, and acidic. Park / push it in a secure
place, where rains (yup, up to now!) won’t get in and where thieves
can’t get to your stuff. If you’re parked out on the city streets,
then you’ll just have to watch your car interior dry up (about as fun
as watching paint dry, but more compelling). You’ll need a bottle of
Lysol or similar disinfectant to generously spray the carpet and
seats. If necessary, use your hand tools to remove the nuts & bolts so
you can remove the seats, dry them out, and spray with disinfectant
all the hard-to-reach areas. There are also electrical wires for the
electric-powered (front) seats that you’ll need to detach. If you want
to wash them out with shampoo and water, just be careful to protect
from water all electrical motors that power the seats. Those motors
can typically survive the floods, but there’s no need to abuse them.
Now that you’re getting to disassembling stuff, remember the original
places of each bolt or nut that you took out! Better yet, mark each
from where you got them. And do one stuff at a time… keep things
simple. You don’t want a ton of nuts & bolts all over the floor or
street. There’s nothing more frustrating than putting something back
together then later realizing you have an “extra” bolt in hand!
Also, be gentle when trying to disconnect those (typically white or
grey) electrical connectors. Replacements can be surprisingly
expensive when you break them.
Back in the engine bay, figure out how to open the air filter box and
check if it is dry or wet. If it’s wet, then you’ll have that as
evidence that some water may have entered the engine. Water inside the
combustion chambers is bad because water does *not* compress, unlike
fuel. When the engine is started and there is water inside it, you
will have a broken piston rod. You would have heard a loud “tink!”
sound when that happens, and your engine will produce a lot of foul
smelling smoke. When that happens, stop the engine immediately or else
you’ll have more broken piston rods. Repairing that damage will
require an engine overhaul, as well as the purchase of new piston
rods, cylinder rings, and engine gaskets at the least.
To see more evidence if you have water in your engine, check the oil
filter stick. You should see only pure engine oil in it. If it’s murky
with brownish stuff in it, that’s bad. Change engine oil and oil
filter immediately. Not only is water is a very a poor lubricant for
your car’s metal parts, it can also turn into acid that will corrode
the internal stuff. (Later, when the engine is deemed to be ok, run
the engine for about 15 minutes or less than 10km, and change the
engine oil plus oil filter again.)
Check the radiator coolant and see if it looks pure (healthy colors
are red, pink, green or blue, depending on the coolant vendor). If it
looks bad, replace immediately and according to the specs in your car
maintenance manual. Other than the drain plugs on the radiator, don’t
forget to remove the water drain plugs in the engine itself, to really
drain all the contaminated coolant.
Now go underneath your car and look for the fuel drain plug in your
fuel tank. Do not open your fuel cap, as that will make fuel flow much
too readily. Put a basin underneath the fuel tank, and open the plug
slowly. Since water is heavier than gasoline or diesel, it will flow
out first from the bottom of the fuel tank. After draining half a
liter or so, and there is still no water, then that’s very good! If
there is water, then continue to drain until there is no more water
–and then drain just a little more so you can be really sure. Close
it up and move on.
After the above work, and you really just want to be doubly sure that
there is no water in the engine before you even attempt to start it
up, you may wish to remove the intake manifolds to inspect for water
collection. That’s a lot of work though, given the complexity of
today’s engines. If you’re willing to take acceptable risks, or if
there is not enough time, you can simply remove the spark plugs and
wiring (for gasoline engines) or fuel injectors (for diesel engines),
make sure all exposed wires are properly insulated from anything, then
connect a charged car battery. Hopefully, your starter still works
very well after the flood –if not, we’ll address that issue in a
At this point be reminded that you need to have safety glasses on, and
that any onlookers are *away* from the engine bay. Because you will be
cranking the engine to remove all water from the combustion chamber
and fuel system. Fuel pressure is extremely high, and if the fuel
gushing out upwards gets to directly hit anybody in any part of their
body, they will be in a world of pain. Fuel being ejected from the
ports and hitting only the top of the engine hood is ok. Recycling
spilt fuel as a cleaner for the engine is ok too.
Put the key in ignition and start the engine about 5 times. Don’t try
to crank the engine too much because you’ll need battery power later
to start the engine when everything is well. You just need enough
power to turn over the pistons so that all water will be expelled from
the combustion chambers and fuel system.
Once all the above are accomplished, put everything back together,
carefully. You’ve basically done the most important and immediate
things to take care of. But were not done yet, as the brake systems
and the transmission and axle oils still have to be taken care of.
Inspect the brake fluid container for any signs of contamination.
Better yet, just change it. Water mixing with brake fluid is very bad,
and they have to be changed every couple of years anyway. Water mixing
with brake fluid is dangerous because brake fluid gets extremely hot.
Of course, the boiling point of water under regular pressure is 100
deg Celsius. Higher than that, water turns to steam. When water is
vaporised, it gets easily compressed and there will be no pressure
exerted on the brake systems and you will not feel any resistance in
the brake pedal. Crashing will almost certainly result from that
issue. And since you’re now working on the brake system, go underneath
your car again and inspect the brake hoses / lines for any signs of
puncture, or if there are any twigs in there that can threaten it. Get
a water hose and gently wash off any mud or pebbles stuck in between
the brake calipers of your disk brakes, so as not to scratch the brake
pads and disks. High-pressure hoses may damage fancy stuff like ABS
sensors when hit directly.
For the transmission and axle mechanisms, you can start with the ATF
(Automatic Transmission Fluid) dip stick inside the engine bay. The
ATF stick may be found near the oil dip stick. Some new fancy cars
don’t have this anymore, but it shouldn’t stop you from checking
anyway, but just making your work a bit harder. ATF color is typically
red, and water shouldn’t be mixing in it. ATF is normally drained from
underneath the car, but the catch is that you can only get to drain
and replace some parts of it, not all. It sucks, I know. The best way
to replace ATF is to put the car on a stand, with all the wheels off
the ground, start the engine + drain ATF + shift the tranmission from
D to 2 to 3 and down again (never to “Reverse” for obvious reasons!) +
continuously replacing the ATF + stopping only when pure ATF is
flowing out the tranmission. If you haven’t done this expensive and
meticulous way before, then do it inside the nearest car shop with
experienced mechanics. Since you’re at it, check the power steering
fluid as well. Sometimes, it uses ATF as well, so drain and replace
the power steering fluid if necessary. Remember to reference your car
maintenance manual to know what is good for your car.
Replacing oil in the manual tranmissions is way easier than replacing
ATF. As with most oils, the way to check for water contamination is to
go underneath the car and drain some oil. If water is mixed in, remove
all oil and top off, normally from the top of the tranmission housing.
If your car is a 4×4, then do the same for your transfer case. Do
*not* overfill the tranmission and transfer case. Water normally gets
in through the breather tubes or ports on top of the metal housing. If
necessary, don’t forget to drain and replace the clutch fluid as well.
Checking the differentials, which is the “bungo” (what Pinoy mechanics
call it) and where the car axle is attached to, is very important as
well. This is the lowest part of your car that is exposed to floods.
As with the manual tranmission housing, remove the drain plug to
inspect for water contamination. If it looks bad, then replace as
necessary. Do *not* overfill.
Many times, the oil for the tranmission, transfer case, and
differentials are the same. Again, verify in your car maintenance
manual for the correct oil specs.
You’re mostly done at this point, to get your car safely working
again. Another thing that you might check with a mechanic is the
aircon system. Sometimes they leak because gaskets are damaged, or
maybe because of electrical problems. Letting things dry out for a few
days might fix the problem. One thing that is commonly a goner due to
water damage inside the car cabin are the stereo and speakers. Other
than trying to wait for them to dry, I’ve never been that good yet nor
patient enough to fix them. I always end up replacing them.
Since we’re at the last topic of electrical systems, sometimes cars
don’t really recover very well from floods, inspite of doing all the
mechanical stuff I’ve written above. Blame it on the electrical
gremlins that are eating away at the computer brains of your car,
producing “random” effects that you can’t pin down nor reproduce, but
enough to make it unreliable. Blame it on car makers as well, who keep
on loading too much fancy electrical stuff on our cars, that we don’t
really need. If that’s the case, there is no recourse but to
experiment and replace the car’s computers one at a time. There can be
a few for the car engine (load and engine timing, emissions, fuel
system, etc.) or the automatic transmission.
Hopefully, electrical problems can be simpler. Like for example, if
the car won’t start, like if you just hear clicking noises and you
know that the battery is still strong, the problem might just be the
starter contacts (where the battery wires connect) or the carbon
brushes being too short. Or maybe the the alternator (or generator)
needs to be replaced in its entirety because it can’t produce produce
enough power anymore, specially at low engine speeds. One of the many
indicators of low electrical power is when you turn on your signal
light (either left or right), and the lights on the dashboard flicker
in similar frequency as well.
This write-up is by no means complete with everything you need to
know, but just enough information to give you at the very least, an
accurate estimate of the (time and material) cost of what to fix, or
maybe even allow you to do the work yourself. I hope that as you are
now armed with these information, you won’t be taken advantage of by
unscrupulous mechanics and predatory car parts vendors.
I’m not a certified mechanic, but I’ve had my own share of troubles
since I first learned how to drive in 1982. Since then, I’ve driven
through snow, mud, sand, rocks, metro floods and all, in Nigeria
(Africa), various trails and parks in USA (CA, NV, OR, ID, UT, NY, NJ
& TX), Mexico, and of course throughout Philippines (Luzon, Visayas,
Mindanao), and have thankfully picked up several survival and
maintenance skills. I can’t and won’t warranty anything with this
advisory though, because I’m just giving out friendly advise.
By the way, I don’t blog, nor do I Twitter. I’m not active in many
Internet forums anymore too. So you’re most welcome to save this
e-mail for future reference, or even forward to your friends & family.
If others remove my name and plagiarize this write-up as their own, I
won’t mind –not even if they make money out of it like if it was
featured in Popular Science magazine or Discovery Channel TV. Ha ha
ha!!! This is open-source information. Let’s just get the word out
there so we can help others help themselves.
Drexx Laggui — CISA, CISSP, CFE Associate, ISO27001 LA, CCSI, CSA
http://www.laggui.com ( Singapore / Manila / California )
Computer forensics; Penetration testing; QMS & ISMS developers; K-Transfer
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