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Avoid Costly Repairs: A Guide to Fixing a Hydrolocked Engine

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¬†We know that a combustion engine-powered vehicle needs fuel, usually in liquid form. In addition, essential fluids like engine oils, transmission fluids, etc., aid the engine in its smooth operation. But that doesn’t mean every fluid has a place inside your car’s engine. There’s one fluid you should never let inside your engine, and that’s water. Water getting trapped inside the engine causes a phenomenon called hydrolocking, and today we’ll discuss how to fix a hydrolocked engine in this article. ¬†¬†

What is a hydrolocked engine? 

Before we explore the ways to fix a hydrolocked engine, let us get to know what exactly a hydrolocked engine is.   

So, hydrolocking or water-locking, in simple words, is the situation where the engine seizes or fails when there’s a considerable amount of water trapped inside its cylinders. As water is not easily compressible, it impacts the compression activity of the engine, giving maximum stress to its mechanicals. This hinders the crankshaft from rotating freely, leading the engine to seize up.¬†

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What causes a hydrolocked engine?  

The two common causes of a hydrolocked engine are:  


Water entering the engine is one of the major causes of hydrolocking in cars. This can happen when cars are subject to floods.   

When cars are partially or fully submerged in flood waters, water enters the engine through its intake manifold and eventually gets collected inside the cylinders. This mostly happens in cars with cold air intakes, as these are exposed and devoid of an air filter housing. This can happen in stopped as well as running engines.  


Did you know that engine coolants can also result in a hydrolocked engine? Failure of the head gasket can cause coolant leaks, which then seep into the engine cylinders.   

This coolant can fill up the cylinder compartment to its head, leaving no space for the piston to move freely. The pressure buildup here causes serious harm to the engine components, resulting in hydrolocking.   

So, if you notice an unusual drop in coolant levels in your car, make sure to inspect the engine for chances of hydrolocking.  


How do I know if my car’s engine is hydrolocked? ¬†

Hydrolocking causes your car’s engine to run rough for a few seconds as the cylinder fills up, accompanied by loud knocking noises. The engine will then shut down with a loud thud.¬†

How do you fix a hydrolocked engine?  

Engine repairs are costly and time-consuming, and fixing a hydrolocked engine is no exception. However, this depends on the extent of the damage.   

Minor fixes like spark plug replacements and an oil or fluid change would suffice in the case of minimal hydrolocking damage. However, this is clearly not enough if your car has been partially or fully submerged in floods for a longer duration, as it requires an extensive inspection and analysis of the engine components.   

These are the common steps followed to fix a hydrolocked engine:  

  • Completely drain the water or fluid inside the engine cylinders.¬†¬†
  • Dismantle the engine and carefully separate all its components.¬†¬†
  • Inspect the engine components, like bearings, pistons, and cylinders, for damage.¬†¬†
  • Replace the faulty parts.¬†¬†
  • Reassemble the components and conduct pressure tests to confirm that the engines are running perfectly.¬†¬†

What damage does a hydrolocked engine cause?  

Hydrolocking can also cause problems with the metal parts of an engine, such as corrosion, rust, and serious damage. It causes engine components such as bearings, pistons, and cylinders to bend, break, or crack. Furthermore, it affects the engine speed to a significant extent and eventually causes it to seize up.  

Are hydrolocked engines expensive to fix?

Engine repairs are heavily labor-intensive and can cost a bomb. Expect to shell out around $3000 to $10000 to fix a hydrolocked engine, depending on the extent of the damage.  

Is it okay to drive with a hydrolocked engine?  

No. It is always better to refrain from driving a hydrolocked engine. If you experience signs of hydrolocking while driving, it is better to pull over and tow your car to a mechanic to get it fixed. This is because the excessive stress caused by hydrolocking can cause the pistons to bend, cause crankshaft cracks, and cause severe damage to the cylinder walls and the oil seal.  

It is not okay to let water seep inside the engine in any amount. It can be dangerous and can cost you a hefty sum to repair it. Furthermore, it can also render your car irreparable in some cases.   


Cars are machines, and like any other machine, they break down and become damaged over time. Strictly adhering to the service schedule and taking other preventive measures can help you avoid these costly mishaps. In the case of hydrolocking, where floods are the main culprit, the best you can do is find a safe place to park your car. Hydrolocking can cause a lot of trouble for your car, but if you catch other problems early, like coolant leaks or blown head gaskets, you can avoid pondering over the ways to fix a hydrolocked engine. 

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