What are the dangers of water entering the engine and what to do about it?

What to do if the engine is flooded with water

There are several variants of how water can get into the engine. The problem occurs in cars of different brands and models. There is a risk of flooding the power unit on a car with any mileage. It is enough to badly drive through a puddle, overcome a ford or visit a gas station with low-quality fuel.

If water got into the engine, it is necessary to perform a diagnosis as quickly as possible. It is important not only to determine the fact of flooding of the engine, but also to find the ways of moisture penetration. If the source of the problem is not eliminated, the internal combustion engine will be seriously damaged. With an unfavorable set of circumstances, only an overhaul will help to get rid of the resulting breakdowns.

Why does the water get into the engine?

Motors of automobiles are protected from the impact of external factors, such as moisture. Due to the occurrence of internal combustion engine malfunctions or violation of the rules of operation of the machine, the liquid finds ways to get into the engine. The most common causes are:

  • Driving through puddles at high speeds;
  • presence of cracks on the cylinder block or cylinder head;
  • Breach of tightness of air filter connectors;
  • Condensate buildup due to short trips in winter;
  • Immersion of the power unit in water;
  • destruction of rubber gaskets;
  • improper tightening of bolts, resulting in the formation of gaps.

Water in the engine cylinders

Water in the car engine

In the construction of an internal combustion engine the oil and water lines are separated. The formation of cracks leads to mixing of liquids. Antifreeze enters the lubrication system forming an emulsion.

Fluid can also get into the engine for reasons independent of the owner of the car. The driver does not always know the quality of the fuel he puts in the gas tank. It is difficult to control the moisture content in the fuel. The liquid may also get in the engine while visiting a car wash.

An extremely rare reason for moisture ingress is the buildup of snow and ice in the underhood space. This is typical for regions with cold climates. When the ice thaws, the water flows down to the engine.

How to determine if there is water in the engine

The penetration of moisture into the power unit does not go unnoticed by the engine. There are a number of signs by which you can know that the car has flooded the engine with water:

  • The oil level in the crankcase has risen;
  • there is a smoky exhaust;
  • there is emulsion on the oil dipstick;
  • fluid is present in the air filter housing;
  • the grease has acquired a reddish color, indicating metal corrosion;
  • ignition system is malfunctioning;
  • there is condensation or light brown emulsion on the oil filler cap.

Emulsion and condensate in the engine

Condensation and emulsion on oil filler cap

A gulp in the engine leads to a drop in power output. Fuel consumption increases. The engine makes extraneous noises. If there is a lot of fluid in the engine, it becomes difficult or impossible to start the engine.

If the unit is flooded from the outside, then an external inspection will help to identify it. Interruptions will be observed in the operation of the ignition system. The engine will start to thrash, and the crankshaft speed will float. Moisture causes problems with the electronics.

If water is suspected in the engine, it is necessary to contact an auto service center. The most reliable way to determine the condition of the power unit is to contact the specialists. Diagnostics at the service station guarantees finding the reasons of moisture penetration into the engine.

What is dangerous to the ingress of moisture?

The dangers posed by the ingress of moisture in the engine depend on the way of its penetration. Moisture mixing with engine oil turns it into an emulsion. The lubricant loses its original properties. If water gets into the oil, the internal combustion engine is damaged:

  • Scoring on cylinder surfaces;
  • burrs on cylinder surfaces; – rupture of oil caps;
  • wear of crankshafts, liners;
  • piston ring sagging;
  • appearance of backlash;
  • formation of corrosion spots.

Rust in the cylinders

Corrosion in cylinders

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Liquid leaking into the combustion chambers is very dangerous. The cylinder block, piston group and other internal combustion engine components are mechanically damaged. Deformation leads to cracks and splitting. Parts are subjected to critical stresses.

Especially dangerous is the ingress of the fluid into the working chamber of the diesel unit. Increased compression ratio of such engine leads to significant damage. The unit receives mechanical destructions, which can not be eliminated even by a complete overhaul.

What to do if water gets into the engine

The further viability of the engine depends on the correctness of actions after moisture ingress into the engine. The best option in this situation is to go to a car service. Diagnostics in the service station DDCAR can confirm or refute suspicions of water penetration into the engine.

Driving on your own with a flooded engine is prohibited, so it is better to call a tow truck or tow the car.

To prevent increased damage to the propulsion system if water gets inside, it is forbidden:

  • find out if the engine is functional by attempting to start it;
  • attempt to crank the crankshaft;
  • towing or pushing a car with a gear engaged.

If the grease turns into an emulsion, you must first find the cause of the moisture ingress. For this purpose, a complete check of the engine and related systems is required. It is recommended to perform it at an auto service center. Diagnostics will show worn parts, which are important to replace in order to preserve the life of the internal combustion engine.

On gasoline engines it is possible to expel water from the engine. To do this, unscrew the spark plugs and crank the crankshaft.

Removing water from the engine

Removal of water from the engine through the spark plug holes

It will take a few days for the power plant to dry out. It is undesirable to start it before visiting the service station.

Starting after dehumidifying

It is recommended to start the engine after a visit to the service station and diagnose the power plant. This will avoid serious damage. Otherwise, the attempt to start the car engine will end with bent connecting rods and destroyed pistons. Starting with liquid in the combustion chamber will cause cracking or deformation of the cylinder block.

It is acceptable to start the engine if the fluid got on it from the outside but did not go inside. A dry rag should be used to wipe down all accessible wires beforehand. Moisture disables the fuel injection and ignition systems. After wiping the propulsion system it needs to dry for a couple of days.

An oil change is required before starting the engine after moisture. The presence of water in the lubricant significantly changes its properties.

An oil film does not form well on the friction surfaces. This causes excessive wear of internal combustion engine parts. A flushing oil is recommended before a final oil change.

Will there be consequences

The consequences of water entering the engine depend on many factors. The determining factor is which system the moisture has penetrated into. If the powertrain has only been flooded from the outside, it usually runs smoothly after it has dried out. Minor problems appear with the ignition, sensors, injection and ECU.

It’s much worse if the power unit has drawn fluid into the combustion chamber, such as through the air filter. The fluid does not compress as the piston moves. Because of this, deformations and other mechanical damages get elements of an internal combustion engine. At the same time, the destruction in a diesel engine is much more fatal than in a gasoline engine.

The result of water getting into oil depends on its quantity and the speed of moisture detection. Exploitation of ICE with emulsion instead of lubrication considerably reduces the engine life with each passed kilometer. If you don’t timely pour in fresh oil, the engine will require overhaul.

The presence of condensation under the oil filler cap in winter usually has no serious consequences. It speaks only about frequent short trips of the car. To get rid of excess moisture, a good warm-up of the engine allows. It is also recommended to reduce the intervals of oil changes to prevent excessive wear of internal combustion engine parts.

What to do if the car doesn't start

Why water gets in your engine, and what consequences it may have

Operating conditions and the owner’s attitude towards his vehicle largely determine the service life and the appearance of any problems in the car.

Why water gets in the engine

We often hear about such phenomenon as water attack, caused by water in a power unit. In general, cars and water are not very friendly with each other, because moisture provokes corrosion development on the body, rusting and paintwork destruction. Plus, water is able to spoil wiring, and become the cause of short circuit. We shouldn’t forget about notorious hydraulic shocks, because they actually destroy the engine, making a car owner to do a costly repair of an internal combustion engine or completely changing the engine.

Drivers need to know about the possible causes of water in the engine oil, as well as the necessary measures to be taken in such situations. Knowledge of the causes and provoking factors greatly helps to prevent the negative effects of moisture. Or at least in time and properly eliminate the consequences of foreign fluid penetration into the engine.

Ways of getting into the engine

The first thing to understand is why water can suddenly find itself in the oil, which is responsible for cooling and safe operation of the engine, inside which there are a large number of moving elements.

Such a phenomenon is really considered non-standard, since the original design of the internal combustion engine is thought out and created in such a way that water and other external destructive factors have no effect on the engine. For this purpose, different monolithic structures, seals, protection, etc. are used.

But in practice it is almost impossible to completely protect the vehicle from water. The liquid is able to get through even the smallest holes, seep through cracks and reach the internal parts of the engine.

The primary source of water in the engine is considered to be puddles, ponds, various water obstacles, which have to be overcome by your own car. Moreover, water gets into the engine not only for those who are engaged in extreme overcoming obstacles on the off-road. It also often happens when using the car in the city after heavy precipitation, burst pipes on the road, etc.

When the car has a low landing, that is, the ground clearance is small, and the puddle or pond through which it passes, deep, the contact of the liquid with the heated engine is certain to occur. It should not be forgotten that water is not compressible, that is, it does not have the property of compression, unlike the same gasoline or diesel fuel. Because of this, when water penetrates inside the combustion chamber, the piston faces a strong impact due to the impact on the liquid. This leads to negative consequences in the form of destruction of engine components.

Winter is also not the most favorable period, as drivers have to drive through snow drifts, overcome snow and ice masses. If you add to them various reagents used for cleaning roads from ice and snow, you get an extremely dangerous mixture for metal. Gradually the walls of the crankcase deteriorate. They rot and holes appear. Water quickly seeps through them and confidently moves to the powertrain.

Condensation in the Engine

The sump can accumulate moisture in itself and for more trivial reasons, when during careless driving it is hit, punctured, and gradually during even a light rain and after driving in small puddles there collects liquid. But even a small amount of moisture in the crankcase is potentially dangerous to the internal combustion engine. That is why motorists are advised to regularly check the condition of the crankcase sump, repair any defects, punctures, cracks and holes that may form. Simple prevention will avoid much more serious and dangerous consequences.

The worst thing about water getting into the engine is that the liquid gets mixed with the lubricant. As a result, the water-oil emulsion begins to move throughout the lubrication system, ending up directly on the engine cylinder head.

There are several major sources of moisture inside the engine:

  • Oil can become mixed with water due to the fact that a crack has formed in the sump of the crankcase itself;
  • Or, cracks have appeared in sections of the lubrication system line;
  • In some cases, when the crankshaft is malfunctioning with a rotated crankshaft liner, there can be a strong bump on the head. As a result, cracks appear between the water and oil lines in the cylinder head. That’s where the water gets in;
  • Condensate can be a potential source of trouble. Sometimes it forms directly inside the engine crankcase. It happens, if after a frost, to drive a car in a garage, where the temperature is high enough.
New Polo Sedan engine.

Regardless of the reasons, it is necessary to find the source of liquid penetration, to repair it, if necessary, and also to get rid of the extraneous moisture. Otherwise, you may encounter dangerous and costly breakdowns.

Possible consequences

Always the presence of water in engine oil is a bad sign. It is a dangerous phenomenon, which should be definitely dealt with at the first signs.

Possible Consequences of Water in the Engine

The most undesirable and unfavorable consequence is considered a hydrostroke in the engine. Such a phenomenon can literally lead to the rupture of the power plant, due to the destruction of internal combustion engine components. If there is a hydrostroke, there is almost no chance to restore the engine by repairing it.

Much more acceptable is the situation when the water was in the combustion chamber at low or idle speeds, and the engine did not have time to warm up to its maximum operating temperature. If this is the case, then the driver will encounter only a minor deformation of the connecting rod. In this case, the residual moisture will probably be removed with the help of the exhaust valve. The engine will remain in serviceable condition, and the car can move further on its own.

But it is not necessary to count on long-term service of the damaged connecting rod. It is recommended to replace it as soon as possible. The element is not a cheap one, and therefore even with such relatively favorable consequences of water penetration into the engine you will need to spend a decent amount of money for repair and restoration work.

All the above-said refers more to gasoline engines with internal combustion system. But for diesel engines, water has a much more devastating effect. The probability of a favorable outcome is much lower here. Therefore, it is extremely important to additionally protect diesel engines with mudguards and so-called trunks.

You can visually see that nothing good can come from water in the engine to the driver. It is at least replacement of a connecting rod and additional repair works, or the strongest hydroblow, able to destroy the power unit completely and make it absolutely unusable for further operation even with an overhaul.

Signs of water presence in the engine

In practice it is very difficult to fully protect against the possible ingress of water in the engine oil. It requires to drive the car very carefully, to drive around even the smallest puddles, do not leave the garage during rain or snow, control the temperature in the garage to avoid the formation of condensation, etc.

Everybody understands perfectly well that nobody is insured from such a problem. Therefore, it is extremely necessary in such a situation to be able to recognize the signs of water entering the engine to promptly take appropriate measures to remove it from the engine oil system.

There are some useful recommendations on how you can independently determine the water in the oil of your car engine:

  • Air filter. First, try unscrewing the air filter cap on your car. Even in situations where the fluid has penetrated through the crankcase holes, it will be virtually impossible to stop further progress through the entire system. If the air filter is wet, has water dripping from it, or simply has increased moisture in its filter membranes, there is a problem;
  • Crankcase pan. There is also a special cover here, which can be unscrewed with your own hands. In normal condition, after disassembly, engine oil begins to flow out of the sump in a clean and good condition. If the leak is not oil, but water, then the car has obviously choked a copious amount of liquid dangerous for the engine. The first thing to do here is to try to drain the emulsion completely.
Soundproofing of the doors

If after draining you think that the system is completely clean and not a single drop of moisture is left inside, do not rush to start the engine. This is fraught with dangerous consequences.

In this situation, it is recommended to assess the current state of the engine components. You should first find out whether moisture has had time to make a mess in the engine. The cylinder-piston group and the crankshaft are checked.

If hydrostatic shock occurs, even a superficial inspection of these elements gives a clear indication that everything is very bad. This is due to deformation and extensive damage to the crankshaft and cylinder-piston group, which is impossible not to notice visually.

In case a visual inspection does not allow you to get an exact answer, you can try to put in third gear on a manual transmission, and then roll the car literally for a few meters, so that the crankshaft rotates. If the shaft rotates, then for sure the problem of a stalled motor is not in the trapped water at all. Especially, when you have not found any traces of water in the leaking oil when removing the cover from the oil pan. You have to look for another source of trouble.

Algorithm of actions

Although water ingress cannot be considered a good sign, it does not always penetrate the oil of the engine’s lubrication and cooling system and provoke problems with your engine.

It happens so that when passing the next puddle or other water obstacle the engine suddenly stalls. It is not necessary or even necessary to panic right away. It is possible that all is well, and you will soon be able to continue driving on your own without any consequences for the integrity of the engine.

But if such a situation has happened to you, to begin with stop and engage the handbrake. This will protect the car from accidentally rolling down a slope on the pavement. After that, the following steps are performed:

  • Get out of the car, open the hood to let the steam that has formed out of there. After all, the contact of a hot engine with water will certainly lead to abundant steam formation. You should not leave it inside because condensation will form and moisture will be deposited on various surfaces;
  • Using dry rags, paper towels and other handy tools that can absorb water, go over all the surfaces of the underhood space. The first thing to do is remove moisture from the wiring so that not a drop of water is left behind. If you are afraid to touch them, remove minus terminal from battery beforehand;
  • Wipe well all the existing recesses near the spark plugs. Also remove moisture from the ignition distributor cap and coil.

Read also: oil starvation of the engine: what is dangerous, how to determine, to what consequences to prepare

All such measures will help in a situation where water suddenly got on the hot engine, which led to its shutdown, due to sudden cooling.

But this is not always the case. There are more serious situations when water seeps directly inside the motor. Here we should speak about an absolutely different level of danger. After treating the surfaces with rags and paper towels, try to start the engine. If you feel and see that it runs extremely unstable, uncharacteristic signs appeared, then stop the engine. Do not drive on your own with such a car. Until the water has completely evaporated, it is strongly not recommended to move.

You should also remember that water hammer can occur not only when water comes from the external environment, i.e. from puddles, precipitations, various water obstacles. Occasionally, your own coolant becomes the provocateur of water hammer. Antifreeze or toluene can penetrate into the combustion chamber. This happens in situations where the cylinder head is burned out or badly worn.

Signs of water in the engine

When there is a small amount of moisture in a hot engine, it evaporates rather quickly. Therefore, try to start by simply waiting for a while. If the situation does not change, or the machine remains submerged in water, you will have to call for help. Solving the problem with a rag and paper towels in this case will not work.

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First start up

The first actions in case of contact with water, which provoked a sudden stop of the engine, are quite clear and obvious. Here you need to try to remove all the water, wait for evaporation, and then try to start the engine.

By no means rush to turn the key in the ignition and try to start after a couple of wires with a rag in the underhood space. If possible, it is recommended to tow the car, or contact the towing service. Even when it seems to you that nothing terrible has happened, water has not seeped inside, you should not take the risk. It is better to be reinsured.

If there is no possibility of towing cars or calling a tow truck, you have to rely only on yourself. In this situation, as mentioned earlier, wipe the entire underhood and try to remove as much liquid as possible from the surfaces. You will then need to let the car stand to allow the water to evaporate naturally.

In the case of older cars that don’t have electronic control units, removing the spark plugs, distributor cap and coil is additionally allowed while drying. But if you have a car with electronic stuffing, which is controlled through ECU, to carry out such manipulations is categorically not recommended. Just let the water evaporate itself, don’t hurry, be patient.

If you managed to remove the plugs, then without any risk to the integrity of the cylinders of your engine is allowed to start the starter. Starting the starter will help to ventilate the chamber, in which the combustion process of the fuel-air mixture takes place. But here again the best solution is to leave the vehicle to dry for about 24 hours, and only then perform the first test run after plenty of contact with water.

Leaving the car for a day, it is recommended to remove the minus terminal from the battery, close the car in the garage, where there is an airing system, otherwise the moisture will not be removed from the room, and will evaporate and settle in the form of condensate.

After waiting for the natural drying of the engine, return all the previously removed components, and try to start the engine with the spark plugs already installed in place. If the engine won’t start by turning the key in the ignition switch, don’t try to make it work by towing it. This is an unnecessary waste of your nerves and engine life. It will be necessary to apply to the service center, where the car is better to deliver on the tow truck.

Already at the service center, specialists will be able to check the presence of water inside the engine, and discover the gaps, slots, holes, and other passages, through which water could get there. These weaknesses will definitely need to be addressed by replacing gaskets, seals and other measures. If cracks and punctures have occurred, then welding may be required, or replacement of individual engine components may be necessary.

When the injector system fails, then too much fuel may be in the combustion chamber. This also leads to a hydraulic shock effect, which can cause your vehicle’s powertrain body to rupture.

To summarize, it is safe to say that the presence of water in the engine does not bode well. It is an extremely dangerous situation, with wrong actions during which you can completely destroy the engine with your own hands and condemn yourself to the necessity of complete replacement of the power plant.

But even if you are faced with such a situation, water got on the engine, and there is a possibility of its penetration inside the engine, do not panic. First of all, be sure to shut off the engine. This is the most correct decision in this situation. If you delay and ignore the obvious signs of the problem, in the very near future you will experience such a phenomenon as a hydrostroke. Consequences are terrible. And from the financial point of view, very expensive. It is possible to say goodbye to an old engine after hydrostroke. It is not difficult to imagine the approximate cost of a new engine.

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