Memories of a life-changing typhoon named “Ondoy” 11 years past came flooding back just a few days ago when “Ulysses” stormed into Luzon, inundating communities along major rivers in eastern Metro Manila and Bulacan Province, and even as far north as Tuguegarao City in Cagayan Valley and Isabela (where property damage and human casualties are still being assessed as of press time).
Images taken by media and netizens showed widespread flooding, with murky waters breaching the upper floors of houses and commercial establishments, stranded people on rooftops waiting for rescue, and hundreds upon hundreds of light vehicles either completely submerged or only their roofs above water. Personally, the only images I found more heart-wrenching were the sight of dead pets and farm animals—many of them still chained to the gates or locked in their cages—left in haste, no doubt, by their owners or human companions as the rest of the family evacuated to safer grounds. All these lives lost—human and animal—will never be brought back, and I extend my deepest sympathies to the families of those who lost loved ones, humans and animals alike.
Fortunately for those who own their own precious fantastic but “drowned” metal beasts, there is still a way to restore them back to their proper running condition. From my trusted sources who haven’t tired of answering the same questions year in and year out (because storms and their floods do keep happening and submerging cars year in and year out), here are their timely tips.
1) Have your car’s ECUs checked. The engine’s electronic control unit (ECU) box is like the brain. A short circuit will ensue if this brain is soaked even for a few minutes. The short circuit can happen even if the ignition is off, as there is still electric current flowing as long as the battery is connected. The ECU is one of the most vulnerable, and expensive, key parts if a car gets totally submerged.
“In a high-end car, there may be at least five ECU boxes. Possibly more,” quipped Ferman Lao, former Philippine-based auto tuner.
Vitaliano Mamawal, Toyota Motor Philippines’ technical consultant, said that “seven ECUs per car would be typical.”
Mamawal urges that flooded ECUs of airbags and anti-lock brake systems and other safety functions be replaced, if not repaired, as soon as possible. “They may malfunction at the worst possible time, leading to injuries,” he said.
2) Have your electrical wirings checked or replaced. After the tires, the car floor is the first point of contact with floods. Naturally, service centers are obliged to remove the floor carpet and mats to inspect, or at least dry out, the network of wires located there. Dirt and water could make the insulators of these wires stick or adhere to each other and make them brittle. And once these insulators crack and the wires themselves are exposed and eventually touch one another, a short circuit may result.
3) Lubricate stick shift bushings. For manual transmission cars, the lubricating grease for the stick shift bushings may have been diluted by dirt and water, the resulting reduction of viscosity can hasten the corrosion of internal parts.
4) Replace AT fluids. Cars with automatic transmission, on the other hand, should have their AT fluids checked or replaced, as water may render the lubricating fluids inside the mechanism useless.
5) Clean the brakes. Electrical engineer Bong Rosal, Gateway Group’s head of South Luzon dealerships, recommended that brakes—especially drum brakes—should be cleaned. Particular attention should be given to hard-to-reach places where brake linings and brake piston could suffer getting stuck-up. Hand brake and foot brake cables should also be checked to make sure they don’t feel “sticky”.
6) Check or replace wiring harness and fuse box underneath the dashboard. Lao calls it the “multiplexer”, others the “body control module”. Whatever it’s called, it’s the main switchboard for most of a modern vehicle body’s electrical components. It’s the switching device that distributes or regulates the voltage control required by the ECU.
7) Have the in-car radio and entertainment systems checked as well. Lao said virtually every electronic device in the vehicle is subject to damage when submerged.
8) Get expert help and advice. For such sensitive works on ECUs, electrical systems and electronics, it would be best to have your authorized casa or dealership work on your water-damaged car. Sure, you might be paying more now, but you won’t be drowning in follow-up repairs and botched patch-up work in the long run.