Automobiles and water don’t bode well together, and plenty of Mitchell drivers have learned that the hard way.
In the wake of the recent September flooding that doused Mitchell with between 7 and 10 inches of rain in a two-day span, some local auto mechanic shops are working overtime to keep up with the volume of waterlogged vehicles.
Scott Maeschen, owner of Lawler Automotive., is one mechanic who has seen a big spike in vehicles that suffered from water damage during the flooding.
“Some people got really lucky though, and we had one car that had water wash on top of the engine, and it started right up,” he said. “We had another truck the other day that the owner took all the sparks plug out, and the water squirted out of the tail pipe as fast as a garden hose.”
Of the waterlogged vehicles Lawler Automotive has worked to repair thus far, Maeschen estimated nearly 20 percent of the automobiles were totaled. Although the make and model of an automobile can play a role in whether a vehicle sustains more water damage than others, Maeschen said the placement of a car’s air cleaners and filters is a major component to how much water gets inside the interior and engine.
“Some air cleaners can suck air right under the bottom of the front bumper, which makes it really vulnerable to get more water damage,” Maeschen said. “If the air cleaners were on top of the radiator, it wouldn’t have as much water problems.
“Older cars that don’t have airbags in them, and some of the older cars that do have air bag modules are under the seat and a lot of people got water under the seat,” he added.
While water damage destructs the engine and transmission of a vehicle, Maeschen said water can wreak havoc on an automobile’s electronic system.
“Some people may try to start their car when they shouldn’t have after the flooding, and it may bend a rod,” Maeschen said, noting the water on top of the piston is what causes a rod to bend.
When fuel is ignited, it changes from a liquid to gas state, causing the gas to rapidly expand. According to Maeschen, the energy created from the explosion is what allows a vehicle to run and the piston is the component of the engine that harnesses that power. Because rods are what connect the piston to the crankshaft, an engine relies on a straight rod to survive.
“That compresses the air and fuel mixture, and you can’t compress water, so it bends something like a rod,” he said.
To prevent a rod from bending after heavy amounts of water submerge a portion of the vehicle, Maeschen said taking the spark plugs out of the vehicle before trying to start the car is an important step to reduce bending rods.
Another standard measurement of whether a car had a good chance of surviving the water damage is whether the interior of the cab had water seep in.
“If the water doesn’t get into the interior of the car and the engine or motor, the damage won’t be so bad,” Maeschen said. “But those that had water in the cab were mostly totaled.”
Shawn Hohn, manager of Larry’s I-90, said most of the vehicles he worked on that were deemed a total loss saw water damage climb as high as the bottom of the windows. The length of time a vehicle sits in standing water and the height of water the vehicle was submerged are among the factors Hohn said are most important in assessing the health of the engine and transmission.
“For instance, if water gets high enough to get in an engine and transmission, oil and water don’t mix,” Hohn said. “We just had a vehicle that came in (recently), and it was in high enough water that it somehow got some water in the oil of the engine. So now it has a rod bearing knocking and it’s going to need an engine.”
Vehicle owners who had even a slight amount of water seep into the transmission and opt not to seek a mechanic or the advice of automobile experts run the risk of long-term damage, adding more financial burden to potential vehicle repairs.
“Over time, that water will just destroy the internals of a transmission,” Hohn said.