In technical terms, engine seizure due to water ingression is known as a hydrostatic lock.
It usually happens when a person tries to start the engine of a vehicle that is submerged in water. It can also happen when your car switches off when you are driving through a waterlogged area and you try to restart it multiple times. “As such events are not ‘accidents’, they are not covered," said Sanjay Datta, chief, underwriting, claims, reinsurance and actuarial, ICICI Lombard General Insurance Co. Ltd.
However, a few precautions can help you get over the problem. If your car is submerged, wait for the water to recede and don’t try to start the car. Inform the insurer about the situation and ask it to suggest the next steps. “In such cases, an insurance company could ask you to tow the vehicle to the closest garage in its network for inspection," said Datta. Unless you have a roadside assistance cover as part of the policy or as an add-on, you would need to bear the cost of towing the car to the garage.
Also, avoid inspection from a local mechanic. If the car was submerged to the extent that the water entered the cabin (passenger seat), it can damage sensors and electrical equipment. It is, therefore, best to get the car inspected from an authorized garage. “In case components inside the cabin are damaged, the insurer would only pay for factory-fitted parts. Anything installed by the dealer would not be covered unless the policy states so or you have an add-on cover that reimburses for the extra fittings," said Animesh Das, head of product strategy, Acko General Insurance.
Moreover, hydrostatic lock can be disputable. The driver might not be aware of the level of flooding when driving through the water logged area. In such a case, it can be considered an accident. But if the driver tries to start the vehicle multiple times, it’s negligence. “In some cases, hydrostatic lock can fall under the grey area where the policyholder can take the view that it is an accident," said Das.
The best thing to do is to park the car if the water level is above the tyres. This would show that the driver took adequate precautions to avoid any damage.
To avoid disputes with the insurer, opt for an engine protection add-on that covers all kinds of damages to the engine, including hydrostatic lock. “But if you haven’t purchased the add-on at the time of buying the policy, you have to wait for renewal," said Abhishek Bondia, principal officer and managing director, SecureNow.in, an insurance broking firm.
If you live in a city that is prone to flooding, opt for an add-on that covers accessories. “To reduce the cost, opt to cover accessories that are exposed, or you believe can get damaged. A fog light, for example, has higher chances of damage," said Das.
So the next time you renew your policy, ensure you opt for roadside assistance and engine protector add-on covers.