Hydrocklocking is the term given when a car’s engine suffers catastrophic damage from ingesting a large amount of water in the cylinders. Liquid isn’t compressible when your car’s cylinders ingest it, resulting in the pistons no longer being able to move. As a result, they become locked in place, resulting in a huge mechanical failure.
The Causes of a Hydrolocked Engine
The most common cause of a hydrolocked engine is driving through high floods and your car becomes immersed in water. If your vehicle travels through water that’s too high for your car to handle, the liquid will enter the engine’s cylinders. Your engine is at risk if you drive in heavy precipitation with standing water along your route.
Not all vehicles operate equally so one set amount of water won’t cause the same damage to every car. Vehicles with low-mounted air intakes are most prone to hydrolocking since a small amount of water — such as driving through shallow standing water — can draw in water.
But you don’t have to be traveling through a huge surface of water to encounter a hydrolocked engine. Another scenario includes following a vehicle with a large wake that can then enter your car’s system.
Blown Head Gasket
Aside from water, a blown head gasket can also result in a hydrolocked engine. The engine coolant can leak gasoline or diesel into the cylinders. There has to be a large amount to experience a huge malfunction, such as the gasket separating the coolant passages and cylinders.
Hydrolocking in this scenario happens when the coolant enters the pistons rather than keeping within the coolant chambers to keep the engine cool. A common cause of head gasket failure is a thermal expansion that causes them to crack or split.
Diesel cars have a higher risk of hydrolocking compared to gasoline engines. This is due to their high compression ratios and a smaller combustion chamber volume, which results in less liquid to cause a hydrolock.
Hydrolocked Engine Symptoms
Knowing the causes can help you prevent hydrolocking, but what are the main signs to look out for?
One of the first signs is your engine stopping suddenly without you controlling it. This is due to the engine surviving on low power, though there might not be any obvious signs of damage.
If water entered your vehicle while it wasn’t in use, the engine will likely refuse to turn. there are little other signs to watch out for, with most vehicles not even displaying a warning light on the dashboard.
Not every car experiences the same damage during hydrolocking as this depends on the engine’s condition during the time and the amount of water to enter the cylinders.
The best-case scenario is water entering when the car is idle as your vehicle won’t experience much detrimental damage. It’ll typically stop and won’t allow you to switch on the engine using just the starter motor, though this is a fairly simple fix.
On the other hand, if hydrolocking happens when the car isn’t idle, the damage is far worse. The severity of the damage depends on the amount of liquid that entered the engine. More often than not, the crankcase and/or piston rods can become permanently damaged causing cracks in the engine block.
The piston rods can bend and fold. The force from a sudden halt can crack the crankcase, destroy the heads, and shatter the bearings.
If your hydrolocked engine won’t turn over, it’s more than likely you’ll need a new engine rebuilt. A mechanic will need to dismantle your engine to investigate what’s causing the lock.
If your vehicle has recently gone for a swim in a lake or other water source, it’ll also experience external damage that needs addressing. Don’t waste time as the first several hours after a vehicle has become flooded are the most important for reversing any long-term effects from water damage. The quicker you act, the less damage your vehicle will experience.
Inspect your vehicle for any external damage that are obvious. This includes water inside the headlight that causes them to look dingy and dull, preventing less light from escaping for visibility.
Not only can dim headlights cause visibility issues but shorten their lifespan, too, costing you money in the long run.
Next, check the wheel wells and undercarriage for any external damage. These areas might not be damaged, depending on how much of your vehicle was flooded and if there’s any debris trapped underneath.
Your car’s body can become severely damaged and scratched when it’s exposed to salty water or flood water. We recommend a car wash soon after the damage — though the internal damage should be prioritized.
Salty water can cause substantial damage to your car as it can lead to corrosion. Certain areas — such as the rocker panels — can become rusty as a result of heavy spouts of water.
Ensure you use wax or a ceramic coating when washing your car. Doing so will prevent the effects of salt-water damage. You may even wish to purchase a washing agent that’s designed for cars exposed to heavy amounts of water.
Internal Damage You Can Fix
While you’re waiting for a car garage to fix your engine and check for any substantial damage, there are some home remedies you can do to fix any internal damage to your vehicle.
Mold can build-up inside your car if you don’t eliminate any standing water. It can be dangerous to breathe in, and cause significant damage to any fabric-covered furniture. Plus, any warm fabric can help mold to grow.
Dry vacuuming is a great start to eliminating any significant damage since it will remove a large amount of excess water inside of your car. Pay attention to underneath the seats and corners to eliminate a build-up of water. Check the glovebox for any water, too, as this is a common area for water to leak into.
If you don’t have a dry vacuum to hand, use some towels to remove any excess water from your car. Microfiber towels are the best option since they’re more durable and absorbent and don’t leave any particles behind on your furniture.
Press the towels down onto seats, areas with fiber, and door panels. Pressing will draw more water out than rubbing and won’t tear any carpet fibers, resulting in detrimental damage.
This process alone won’t remove all of the excess water, but can help mold to develop and do more good than harm. Next, park your vehicle inside a garage with all of the doors and trunk open.
Plug in some dehumidifiers or fans to speed-up the drying process. If you don’t have access to these, leave the doors open to prevent mildew. However, a constant air flow can increase the drying time and keep your car free from mold and bad smells.
Another way to keep your car safe and damp-free without humidifiers is with moisture-absorbing materials such as baking soda. This helps to reduce any smells from lingering and avoid mildew and mold from forming.
After leaving this to soak into your car for a few days, vacuum up any particles. Then, use an upholstery shampoo to remove any visible stains and keep your vehicle looking like new and smelling fresh.
How to Fix a Hydrolocked Engine
If you suspect a malfunction, don’t ignore it. Contact a reputable garage to have your vehicle investigated as soon as possible. In the meantime, don’t attempt to make these fixtures yourself if you’re not an experienced mechanic.
The first task is to remove water from the cylinders. If the engine was idle or not running when hydrolocking happened, this may be the only necessary step, and there’s no need to remove the spark plugs.
Clean the water out as soon as possible to avoid the cylinder walls becoming corroded. You should also purchase a new set of spark plugs and change the oil for your car to run properly again.
If the engine wasn’t idle when water entered, you’re at a higher risk of catastrophic damage. The combustion engine should be removed, stripped down, and inspected for signs of damage.
Expect cracked pistons, bent connecting rods, and scored bearings as a result of the water. The cylinder head will require pressure testing and the engine should be inspected for cracks and further damage.
How Much Will Repairs Cost Me?
Since the damage can be so severe, repairs can set you back thousands of dollars. This is particularly true if there’s engine damage. However, if your engine hasn’t malfunctioned, you may only have to fork out a few hundred dollars for a spark plug replacement and oil change.
More than likely, a mechanic will charge a service fee for looking at your vehicle’s engine. Although this will set you back a couple more hundred dollars, this isn’t something you should ignore for your safety.
If there’s damage to your car’s engine, you should expect to pay between $4,000 and $10,000 for repairs. The vast price difference depends on whether you need an engine rebuild or an entire replacement.
How to Prevent The Issue
Prevention is better than cure. After reading this article, we’re sure you’re aware of the amount of money, time, and effort that goes into amending the aftermath of a hydrolocked car engine.
To prevent this from happening, we suggest that you drive carefully, keeping aware of your surroundings at all times behind the wheel. Avoid traveling through large pools of water and check that your head gaskets are working properly before entering and using your vehicle.
Some drivers can believe that a pool of water is much shallow that it turns out to be, causing them to take a risk and drive through it. Choose the safer option and re-route to avoid traveling through water.
Water, metal, and fire don’t mix. Don’t take your chances to water or other fluids entering your engine cylinders or you might end up with a hydrolocked engine that can cost thousands of dollars to repair.