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A Number of Causes Could Lead to Cars Stalling In Water

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This morning a few drivers' moods sank when their cars stalled in water in central Springfield. KSMU's Benjamin Fry explains what happens under the hood when your vehicle stops in the puddle.

Most vehicles aren't amphibians—they run on fuel, not water.

But because of recent heavy rainfall, some have had to be reminded of this the hard way.

Steve Parsick is the owner of Boys and Toys Automotive in Springfield and has helped push a few waterlogged cars lately.

He says a number of mechanical causes could lead to a vehicle stalling in water.

"What's typically happening on the older cars you're getting the spark plugs wet. It's causing a short with the plug and water. On a lot of the newer vehicle, a lot of times you'll get a lot of water down into the air intake system, which goes into the fuel system."

Parsick says the serpentine belt in a new car can also be knocked off its pulley if it comes into contact with water.

He says reinstalling a belt usually costs from 30 to 80 dollars.

But things can get more expensive, depending on how much water gets in the engine.

"Water doesn't compress very easily so, you wind up knocking a rod out of the engine or doing some serious damage to the cylinders once you get water into them. Electronic wise, they'll generally dry out."

Parsick says the cost of tearing an engine down can range in the thousands of dollars. Damage caused by cars stalling in high water is only sometimes covered by auto insurance.

Parsick says driving through 3 inches at a quick rate can be enough to knock a belt out.

If the water is any deeper than that, it's best to slow down.

"Generally if you take a puddle that's maybe five or six inches deep you can ride through that but you have to go very, very slow. You have to keep the water up off the upper part of the engine."

If your car does happen to stall in shallow standing water, Parsick says the first priority is to push it to dry ground.

If the problem is only electrical, you may be able to start the car after it has some time to dry out.

But Parsick points out a sign that the engine has been damaged.

"You'll hit your starter and you'll hear a big clunk, and that's because the piston's trying to compress water that it can't."

And if that happens, it's time to call a tow truck.

I'm Benjamin Fry for KSMU news.