Should you drive into that water? (Kenya version)

So it just rained heavily! You are in your car or you want to attempt to use it to get from A to B. If you really can’t wait for the rain to stop and for the rain water to drain away, get on the road. But first, plan your journey to ensure you head towards roads that you know are on hills or higher ground. Also consider information already available in the news and on social media about the state of various roads.

However, in Nairobi, chances are that regardless of your planning, somewhere along the way, there will be a mini-lake. What should you do? These are just a couple of pointers and considerations before you decide to drive into the water or to take an alternative route.

First things first: Try to make out the level of the water. A rule of thumb is that you should not drive in water that is higher than the mid point of your car’s rim.


Probably the safest level of water. Anything above this and you are attempting to be a badass | Image Courtesy

Be selfless. Let other cars pass first. Preferably SUVs with big tyres or significant ride height. By doing this, you will get to see how deep the “lake” is. Also note the path the car(s) took. If they make it through safely, you can attempt to use the same path. But let the water settle first before you go through it.

If you are in total and absolute darkness about the depth, step out of your car, hike up your skirt/roll up your pants or take them off if no one is watching and use an umbrella or a stick to gauge the depth of the water as you map out a route.

In situations like this, it also helps to know the level of your air intake/air filter box inlet. In most cars, it is at around the level of the bottom of the battery. Driving in water higher than this level…see the point below.
Unless your car is fitted with a snorkel connected to the air filter box, chances are it will suck in any water that reaches the opening of the box

Unless your car is fitted with a snorkel connected to the air filter box, chances are it will suck in any water that reaches the opening of the box

If the water is fast moving, do not risk it. Aside from the fact that fast moving water can sweep away your car, it can also rise above the bonnet level which may fry electrics like the alternator and get into the air intake effectively drowning the engine.

Another important thing to consider is your tyre tread depth. Grip is important on tarmac. It is even more important on wet tarmac and even more “importanter” when there’s nothing but water between the tarmac/murram and your tyre. Do not risk going into the water with tyres with little or no tread left since you may end up spinning them like a ferris wheel without moving the car.

Switch on those fog lights (if you have them). If the water is deep enough, your fog lights may be submerged in it. Water refracts light but that could work to your advantage to see things in the water that may not be easily visible from the surface.

Snorkels do work but remember, there are still electrics and the interior of the car to consider

Snorkels do work but remember, there are still electrics and the interior of the car to consider

If you must drive through the water, use gear 1 for a manual transmission car or L for an auto. Do not change gears as water can block the exhaust and choke the engine. As you drive through the water, ensure the accelerator pedal is depressed at all times. Brake with your left foot if you must but do not at any point release the gas pedal. Remember to drive slow. Gunning it through the water may work in YouTube videos or in motorsport rallies but there’s a lot that goes into making a car ready for such antics.

So you went in and it was too deep. If it is to late to retreat and the car has stalled, do not try more than thrice to crank it. You will do more damage to the engine. If you can reach the bonnet, disconnect the positive battery terminal and close the bonnet and keep it closed. There is no point soaking the engine from above as well.

Left foot braking illustration

Left foot braking illustration

So you went in and by the grace of God, you made it through! Hallelujah! As you drive away, immediately dry your brakes by lightly pressing the brake pedal with your left foot while accelerating with your right. This can take a bit of practice but don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of it. It is also a helpful technique that has been used in motorsports since time immemorial. There are countless YouTube videos on how to do this.

Prepare to aquaplane! As you drive off, remember that standing water on the road is still a hazard. Steer clear of any pools or streams of water on the road if you can. If you must go through one, drive through it slowly without attempting to steer.

Hydroplane illustration

Hydroplane illustration

The YouTube video below has helpful tips on what you can do in case you experience aqua/hydroplaning.

Hope this helps. Have any more tips? Beg to differ with any of the ones above? Comment below.

Be safe! Drive safe!


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