It's now been 2 years since stories of flood cars from Hurricane Katrina saturated the world of 'buyer-beware'. But it's not just flood cars that cause problems. Other liquids like spilled milk, snow melt, pressure washed carpeting or a leaking windshield can cause serious problems too. Let us show you just how serious a wet floor can be!
Our expertise is in airbag systems, airbag replacement and airbag service, so we are often called upon to do investigations for insurance companies, attorneys and individuals involving accidental or inadvertent airbag deployment. After inspecting many such vehicles and knowing the serious personal injuries they can cause, the reason for these airbag deployments are shocking. What we have found has a common theme … liquids and electronics do not mix !!
This article will show you exactly what happens; not necessarily immediately, but 6 months, 1 year or even up to 4 or 5 years down the road. Once you know the facts, just being aware of these potentially serious situations and hazards can help you deal with the causes and may just save you from serious personal harm.
Although an estimated 500,000-600,000 cars were damaged by the hurricane and subsequent flood waters, many non-flood vehicles are susceptible to the same type of damages. What damage? Water or moisture collecting under the seats and console damaging highly sensitive electronic components.
The airbag control units for most of the vehicles on the road today are located on the floor, or near the center of the vehicle under the seats and consoles. They are positioned there specifically by the manufacturers in order to replicate, as closely as possible, the effects of an accident on the passengers in the vehicle. But by being positioned at such a low point in the vehicle, they are at risk of contamination from water or many other situations. Some simple, normal, everyday things that happen when you drive a car can have severe consequences. Here are a few.
With winter coming and snow flying in many states, melted snow and ice will now be introduced to the floors of vehicles across the country. Turn on the heater and this snow and ice becomes water, saturating the carpet and ultimately draining to the lowest pint in the vehicle … the floor under the seats.
As vehicles in the 'sun states' get older and sit in the sun day after day, the soft rubber seals around the windshield begin to harden and crack. Once the brittle seal cracks or breaks, any rain or water from the car wash that hits the roof and windshield is now channeled into the car, hidden by the interior trim panels and travels down to the lowest points in the car … the floor and beneath the seats.
Or how about the used car dealer wanting to get the most for his cars? With the best intentions, he power cleans the interior of a every vehicle he gets from the auction. These are not flood cars, just used cars with soiled carpets. With a pressure wand in hand, or a power steamer, the carpets are purposely washed and then dried as well as possible. But it's too late … the water that soaked the carpet during the process has already seeped through, drained under the seats and now collects on the metal floor, saturating the padding on the way and going exactly where we don't want it wet ; around the airbag control unit.
And with so so people eating and drinking in their vehicles, cup holders all over the dash and console, the potential for a spilled soft drink or cup of coffee is greater now than ever. And guess where that spilled liquid goes … Right, through the console to the floor, or between the seats where you can't dry it up.
Whatever the reason, liquids make their way to the carpet and interior of the vehicles exactly where we don't want it … mixing with the electronic control module.
Here's what happens when water and electronics mix. These pictures capture the inevitable results of ignoring the problem of a wet floor. Over time, water can turn the part on the left into the part on the right. Which one is in your car?
The owner of the vehicle this part came from suffered serious injuries as the airbag deployed immediately upon starting her car one morning. She was belted in place, nor was she prepared for the impact of the airbag. She was just starting her car to go to work when she was hit in the face and jaw by an airbag at 200 mph. (General Motors Safety webpage)
Airbags are designed to protect us from injury, but just like so many other conveniences in our lives, they need care and maintenance to insure their reliability. Most car manufacturers recommend servicing the airbag systems every 10 years. Checking the floors for moisture buildup should be included in that procedure and done more often. As a vehicle owner though, it's ultimately your responsibility to care for and maintain your car. After all, it's you who is at risk.
Here are some simple things you can do to identify if your car is at risk. Be aware of any of the following indicators. They may indicate a serious problem brewing:
- Dampness in the floor and carpeting; moisture on the inside of the instrument panel
- Rust on interior screws and other metal parts
- Mildew, debris and mold in places where it shouldn't normally be found
- under the seats or carpeting,
- in the trunk, or
- in the rear floor wells
- Water stains or discoloration of seat belts and door panels
- A moldy odor or an intense smell of Lysol or deodorizer being used to cover up an odor problem