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Are you covered to drive through flood water?

July 10th, 2023  |  Auto Insurance

If you’ve ever thought about driving through deep water on a flooded road you may want to think again.

A B.C. driver learned the hard way when the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) ruled recently in favour of the province’s public auto insurer after it properly classified a water-damaged vehicle under collision coverage.

The issue was whether Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) correctly determined water damage fell under collision and not comprehensive coverage, as driver Michelle Kovacs had argued.

CRT dismissed the dispute, finding Kovacs drove onto a flooded road and “collided” with water. ICBC determined the vehicle was a write-off and found Kovacs responsible for paying a $500 deductible.

ICBC’s Autoplan Optional Policy terms define collision and comprehensive coverage as follows:

“Collision coverage” means coverage for loss or damage caused by upset of a vehicle or collision of a vehicle with another object, including, but not limited to… the roadway being travelled on or an object on, in, under, over or adjacent to the roadway, including… any body of water…

“Comprehensive coverage” means coverage for loss or damage other than loss or damage to which collision coverage applies and includes coverage for loss or damage caused by… rising water…

Relied on original report

In ruling for ICBC, the tribunal vice chairwoman Andrea Ritchie relied on Kovacs’ original report to the insurer indicating she drove through a flooded road. Ritchie referenced an engineering report from ICBC that found the water damage could not have been caused by having water splash onto the vehicle as Kovacs pulled over to the side of the road, as the driver later claimed.

“The problem for Ms. Kovacs is that her explanation of the incident, and in particular whether she drove into the water, is inconsistent,” Ritchie wrote in Kovacs v. ICBC, released May 30.

The incident occurred on Nov. 16, 2021, in Langley, B.C., during the historic atmospheric flooding — the costliest severe weather event in the province’s history.

Kovacs argued the incident should fall under comprehensive coverage because the damage was due to rising water while her vehicle was stopped at the side of the road. ICBC contended Kovacs drove into a body of water and collided with an object (the water), causing damage to the car’s engine and interior.

“On the information before me, I find it more likely than not that Ms. Kovacs attempted to drive through the flooded road, which caused her engine to seize and stop running,” Ritchie wrote in the decision.

Deep water can be dangerous

This case is just one example why driving through deeper water can be costly. The best advice is don’t do it.

Engines aren’t designed to flush out water. They are designed to combust gas to create motion. If water gets into an engine, it has nowhere to go. To add to the problem, water doesn’t compress, so when pistons move, water can cause components to bend or break which can cause engine failure.

Did you know:

  • Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most car doors.
  • According to OntarioCars,12 inches of flowing water can move your vehicle, and
  • 24 inches of standing water can float your vehicle.

An additional concern is you don’t know what’s under the water – there could be rocks, debris or newly formed (and large) potholes.

Similar to water backing up in your basement, it’s also not clean. A flood on city streets can contain dangerous bacteria from sewers and drains. Deep water on rural roads can be contaminated with agricultural chemicals and animal waste. Remember, anything that stalls your car puts both you and your passengers at risk.

Ground clearance vs water fording

It’s also important to understand the difference between your vehicle’s ground clearance and water fording. The terms are not interchangeable. According to, ground clearance is the minimum amount of distance between the lowest part of your vehicle’s underbody and the ground.

Water fording, on the other hand, is the depth of water a vehicle can pass through without taking on water. It's measured as the distance between the point touched by the car's tires and the engine's air intake system.

Generally, for most vehicles, the water fording measurement is higher than it’s ground clearance. That means water which reaches the lowest point of a vehicle body may be safe (with the exception of hidden dangers you can’t see). In order to be absolutely sure, consult your owner’s manual.

However, the best way to stay safe and avoid damage when you approach a flooded road is to turn around.

-With files from Canadian Underwriter


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