Can you Drive an Electric Car Through Water


Since childhood, our parents have always cautioned us not to dip our toys or any electronic gadget in water, many of us alive today grew up with the belief that water ruins anything that uses electricity. Today we are going to find out if water actually destroys an electric car or it is a myth?

With our focus on electric cars, I know some of you folks have had this thought run through your minds before: Can I drive my electric car through water? You can drive your electric car through a relatively low amount of water. Water in its purest form is not an enemy of electronics, it is the impurities in water that cause damage.

Water in its purest form is a very bad conductor of electricity. Submerging your electronics in pure water is like wrapping it in saran wrap, nothing is going to happen.  But the impurities and ions in water can cause a short circuit in the electric components resulting in a fault.

Should you drive an electric car  through puddles

Since electric cars are the cars of the future, let us begin our discussion with the dinosaur of cars, the gas car.  They experience the highest amount of breakdowns during the wet weather. Water can easily enter through the air vents and clog the engine.

Fossil fuel-powered cars are more susceptible to damage from water than electric cars due to numerous entry points. The transmission mechanism and car fluids can be damaged by moisture.

Well, but what about the components that make up an electric car such as the battery pack, induction motor, and the controller? How safe are they?  Electric cars are safer than fuel-powered cars when driving through a puddle.

The CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk tweeted after the release of the Tesla Model S, that the Tesla could literally float in water and could be used as a speed boat via the wheel thrust.

But Tesla is not the only car automaker making a James bond style kind of vehicle, the BMW i3 has this to say about their electric car; “Drive through calm water only and only if it is not deeper than 9.8 inches/25 cm and at this height, no faster than walking speed, up to 3 mph/5 km/h.”.

This new trend has caused automakers to make cars that are not only bulletproof but waterproof as well. Both the internal combustion-engined cars and electric cars have a water depth that they can easily go through.  Although electric cars are the safest choice in this instance.

Why are Electric Cars Safer to Drive Through Water Than Conventional Cars?

While electric cars do not have an internal combustion engine, they do have electrical components that can cause an electrical hazard if they are drenched in water. This can be hazardous to the occupants and to people around the vehicle.

The question remains, what makes an electric car safer than conventional cars when going through a puddle?

Firstly, all electrical components of electric cars are meant to pass through what is called an Ingress protection rating which is the IP rating. This rating is an international standard formed under the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to measure the resistance of electronic components to water and dust.

You must have heard high-end smartphones from popular brands being IP certified. An IP chart shows the level of resistance that an electric component has against solid objects such as dust and liquid material such as oil and water.

An example of an IP rating is IP65. The first number after IP refers to the level of solid intrusion while the second digit refers to the level of liquid of intrusion. A rating of IP65 means that the component is completely dust-tight and has protection against low water pressure water jets.

The battery pack inside an electric car has an IP66 rating meaning is completely dust-tight and is protected against high pressured water. The electric motor and controller all have an IP rating greater than IP66.

There are plenty of videos of electric cars from different automakers being driven through puddles and flood-like conditions such as the BMW I3, Nissan leaf, and Telsa Model S.

Even as an electric car matures, it still may not become an electrical hazard in watery situations. The protective case that houses the electrical components could possibly corrode over time, but electric cars have a strong safety system that will cut off all power to the car.

This blocking of power happens when a sensor senses that a short circuit or a collision is happening.  This shutdown feature protects the battery pack that is at a high voltage.

What Water Depth Could a Tesla Deal with Safely?

If you have never taken the time to measure how high your car is from the bottom of the ground, now is the perfect time to do it, especially if you own an electric car.

Most cars have a ground clearance between 100mm to 200mm. This includes electric cars. The 100mm level is usually for sports cars that need a low center of gravity.  200mm is common for a 4×4 SUV.

If you have a conventional car, you need to be concerned about having a high clearance since you need to ensure that water cannot enter into the exhaust pipe and air intake pipe.

Most automakers advise fossil-fuel-powered car owners to be wary of puddles deeper than four inches.  Electric cars have the upper hand, as the recent BMW I8 can go through a puddle that is 25cm deep. This feat can be achieved because the components are well-sealed and protected and there is no external pipe leading to the engine.

How to drive an electric car through a puddle

The first thing that you need to do is to avoid going through a puddle. Try to see if you can find an alternative route. It’s best to keep you and the car safe rather than re-acting a scene of fast and furious.

If you cannot safely avoid a puddle, just be aware that electric cars can safely drive through 23 cm of water.  Nevertheless, drive through the puddle with caution, and try to stay on the highest part of the road. Also, drive as slowly as 10 km/h.

Going through a puddle very fast can create a scenario known as hydroplaning.  This can occur when sufficient water build-up between the road surface and the tires, causing the car to lose traction. However, this can be avoided when you drive slowly through a puddle.

When you emerge from the other end of the puddle, pause for a moment so that water can have time to drain from the wheel wells.

You should be OK if you had followed the above tips and your electric car will be able to continue on its merry way.

Laws applicable when going through a puddle

It might surprise you to find out that there are laws regulating how drivers drive through puddles. In the UK, you can get a fine of £5000 for splashing someone with water.  The 1988 Road Traffic Act gives the UK court the power to punish a person with the offense of “careless and inconsiderate driving” if they drive without practicing due care or without paying attention to others that are using the road.

But according to Pete Williams, road safety spokesman for the Royal Automotive Club (RAC), the majority of road users who committed such offense will face a €100 fine and three warnings. If they refuse to honor the warning then a magistrate could impose a fine up to £5000.

Is it safe to take your electric car to a car wash?

Since we have concluded that electric cars can move through a puddle easily, what about taking your electric car through a car wash? If you drive your car in a dry dusty city such as Chicago and you are a busy person, there is a high chance you will take your car to a car wash, but is it safe to take your electric car to a car wash?

Plenty of would-be electric car owners have had this question run through their minds.  Nevertheless, did you know that all cars including electric cars pass through a series of tests: freeze tests, monsoon tests, and drizzle tests. These tests can last up to sixteen hours. They mimic the world’s harshest weather conditions from coldest, wettest, driest and hottest conditions.

All these tests ensure that the car is safe, sealed and watertight.  So taking your tesla model 3 to the car wash will do no harm because it has already been tested under far more stressful conditions.

Nikki Gordon @ green car reports. wrote in her blog how she and her team took the 2011 Nissan leaf to an automated car wash.  The manager noticed that the car did not have an exhaust pipe and was reluctant on letting them use his facility.

But after they accepted to bear any loss that occurs, he allowed them. The only thing that changed about the car is it came out of the car wash cleaner than before it went in. The team said that there was no damage whatsoever.

What happens if an electric car is flooded?

Heavy rain and floods are two weather hazards that drivers do not want to be caught in. Many internal combustion engines quickly develop faults in floods due to water clogging up the engine pipes. But how about electric cars, what happens to an electric car that is caught in a flood?

Although the internet is littered with videos of many electric cars going through floods, such as the Nissan leaf, jaguar i-pace, tesla model S, etc, in fact, a particular YouTuber with channel Rich rebuilds had become famous for buying $14000 flooded electric car (tesla model S) and rebuilding it.

Here is a video of a Nissan Leaf driving through water that is quite deep.  The video is rather old, but it proves that an electric can handle going through lots of water without damaging its various components.

Now back the story about Rich: His model of tesla was badly damaged by saltwater during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which is harmful because electricity and water can be tolerated, but electricity combined with saltwater is far more dangerous.  The ions in saltwater can cause short circuits.

When Rich inspected the battery pack in the flooded tesla model S, he found out that water has somehow entered the battery case and twelve out of the sixteen battery modules were in good condition.

This illustrates how reliable batteries of an electric car are, most manufacturers give up to 8 years/100,000 miles warranty on their batteries.

Beyond that, if your car electric car is flooded for a long period of time, there is a high probability that you might need to see an expert. Although the damage differs based on if the electric car was flooded by saltwater or freshwater.  Freshwater does not cause much of a problem.  You might only need to sun dry some components. Saltwater can cause more damage to an electric car.

An electric car is your safe bet if you find yourself inside a heavy rain, flood or puddle.  You may want to be inside an electric car because the losses are less than with conventional cars.

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