Wading depths and why your 4X4 needs a Snorkel

Our recent article on Water Crossings has certainly got a lot of people thinking. With many providing feedback regarding this article being helpful to them in understanding Water Crossing preparation. We are planning on going …

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Dec 21 2022
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Our recent article on Water Crossings has certainly got a lot of people thinking. With many providing feedback regarding this article being helpful to them in understanding Water Crossing preparation.

We are planning on going into detail with some of these topics raised, and the first “in-depth” discussion is created from a great comment from “Steve” relating to Snorkels and manufacturers wading depth ratings.

Vehicle manufacturers provide specifications for just about everything associated to their vehicles. The important information we are going to discuss relates to specified vehicles wading depth limits.

In the last year we have been involved on many photoshoots of the new Ford products and feel that this model would be a great place to focus on.

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It’s an amazing piece of gear developed in Australia by people who obviously understand what 4WDers need. As a new vehicle, I think this is one of the best “bang for your buck” vehicles available on the market today with so many features that assist the 4WDer to enjoy his or her experience anywhere in Australia.

We have photographed and filmed 12 variations of Ford Rangers for 4X4 Australia Magazine and ARB4X4 Accessories in various locations around Australia. These vehicles have ranged from stock standard to fully loaded with the best ARB accessories and ready for any adventure. I should identify that I am definitely a fan of what the team at Ford have created.

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Now Ford specifies a wading depth of 800 mm for the 4X4 model which is incredible for a vehicle with no snorkel.

The following is taken from Fords online 2022 Ranger Owner’s Manual and can be found as below. It’s a really good guide for how vehicle wading depth should be understood.

It states as follows:


“Your vehicle is designed to operate in water depths up to 800 mm. However, as the water depth increases, vehicle speed must be reduced to avoid potential vehicle damage.”

– Always determine the depth before attempting a water crossing.

– Proceed slowly and avoid splashing water any more than is necessary.

– Be aware that obstacles and debris may be beneath the water’s surface.

– Keep the doors fully closed during the water crossing.

“In an emergency, you can drive your vehicle through water to a maximum depth as shown and at a maximum speed of 7 km/h. You must take extra care when driving through flowing water.”

“When driving in water, maintain a low speed and do not stop your vehicle. After driving through water and as soon as it is safe to do so:

  • Press the brake pedal lightly to check that the brakes are functioning correctly.
  • Check that the horn works.
  • Check that the vehicle’s lamps are fully operational.
  • Check the power assistance of the steering system.

Note: Engine damage can occur if water enters the air filter.”


It’s extremely important to understand what this all means.

Ford have gone to a lot of trouble to assist the 4WDer to understand how this specification should be used, so let’s pull this apart and get to the important parts.

For any vehicle which has a wading depth specified by the manufacturer, it’s important to understand why they have specified this height and how you should drive your vehicle in relation to this specification.

Is it to do with the height of the air intake? Is it relating to the breathers on the running gear like diffs and transmission or maybe it’s to do with the computer system.

If you open your engine bay, you should be able to track down exactly where your vehicle engine is collecting the air from. Many vehicles pick up clean air from directly up front, just under the bonnet, while some will take the air from within the guard cavity. Understanding where your vehicle pulls in this air from, will help you in your decisions of where you should drive your vehicle.

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In Fords situation as can be seen here in the engine bay of an image captured for a 4X4 Australia Ford Ranger Wildtrak Review, which is worth a read…

The air intake is clearly identifiable in the engine bay. Its great design suggests much effort has been made to pull clean air into the intake to feed the powerful V6 diesel engine.

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Whilst the wading depth suggests that you should be good to drive into water which is less than 800 mm deep, and at under 7 km/h, it should be noted that we are not usually driving through static water crossings.

As a guide, that’s around the height of the tyre on a new Ford Ranger. In the following image, you can see that the bow wave pushes up a lot higher in front of the vehicle than that of the original waters depth.

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This really does create some issues for the driver to make the correct decisions of how they tackle a deep-water crossing. Making the right moves to ensure that you don’t overdo your speed and watching carefully that you are not creating too big a bow wave and certainly don’t drive into that deep hole in the middle of the river. If you are heading directly across a stream of running water you might be ok, but the water is sure to build heavier on the upstream side of your vehicle creating a taller bow wave. If you are travelling downstream as you cross, obviously the water will be travelling with you and therefore should not create the same issue. But if you are heading upstream in the crossing, your speed will be influenced by the waters movement towards you, essentially increasing your speed through the water and will likely create a bigger bow wave than you might have anticipated. If the water is flowing at 7km/h and you are travelling at 7 km/h, you have increased the speed travelling through the water to 14 km/h which exceeds the manufacturers specifications. This will build a taller bow wave and potentially create problems for you with water travelling into the air intake.

This can create a lot of stress for an individual in making the decision of whether to cross a stream or not. For the 4WDer, unless you can catch a ferry to the other side of a river, at some stage you will need to tackle a decent water crossing.

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As I have previously stated in our Water Crossing article, you should always check the depth and walking the water to check for obstacles and deep holes is highly recommended. Taking a ruler out into the middle of a stream is not something that you probably will see, but even if you did measure the waters depth to keep yourself under the recommended wading depth and you find the water does not exceed the vehicles specified height, the bow wave which you create while crossing, could build the height to a level which might create problems.

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This leads me to my point in the article relating to of Water Crossings where I stated

“It goes without saying that a snorkel will assist anyone to tackle those river crossings providing a safe wading depth for your vehicle to get to the other side. It provides a lot more confidence to the driver as the engine takes clean air well above the water level.”

When it comes to setting up your 4WD, building a better 4WD which boosts your confidence means at the same time, it will build your enjoyment as you will be able to tackle tracks easier and safer.

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There are a few ways of making water crossings a safer experience to protect the engine.

Wrapping a tarp over the front of the vehicle is one way to help this situation.

But for just over $150- you can have a professionally designed “Water Crossing Bra” from MSA4X4 which assists in creating an air pocket where the air intake exists. This provides the vehicle coverage where it counts.

For the ultimate protection for your air intake, a properly designed snorkel will assist you. Most people buy these for water crossings, but they are extremely helpful in reducing dust in your air intake. That’s if you buy the right one. My personal preference is Safari Armax Snorkel which is a fully sealed product with many advantages over other brands. Apart from being properly sealed, the air intake is high above the possible water line allowing for your vehicle to enter water of depths specified by the manufacturer with confidence that if a bow wave rolled over your bonnet, your engine will still be taking in clean dry air, giving you the assurance that your engine will be safe from water ingress. For probably less than $1000- its possibly one of the best additions to your vehicle.

These are available for most models of 4WDs from https://www.arb.com.au and for more information about Safari Snorkels visit https://safari4x4.com.au/

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Now there are many snorkels on the market, some good and some bad. I’ll put together a story about snorkels good and bad plus air filters and maintenance required down the track but for now, i’d like to talk about the standard one which comes on a Landcruiser 79 Series which is not a real Snorkel. It’s more of a raised air intake. Toyota state on their website that it is a Snorkel, but as it comes in two parts and the join is only sealed with foam, similar to the weather strip applied to reduce draft in a window of a house. The join is around bonnet level and if this component goes under water from a bow wave which you create, you are sure to take on water through the join. This would be a devastating experience for the vehicle owner.

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When photographing a Landcrusier GX 300 Series for 4X4 Australia recently, we discovered the standard snorkel fitted also had a join and this similar foam. This would also have the potential of a catastrophic failure in a deep-water crossing. I am really not sure what the team at Toyota are thinking. Any thoughts on this would be extremely appreciated.

If you are going to head out and really want to ensure you can take your 4WD through river crossings at the manufacturers specified wading depths, do yourself a favour and go prepared with the right gear for the job… at least a water crossing bra, or a sealed snorkel like the Safari products. Oh… and make sure your insurance covers you for this kind of 4WDing activity. I know I’m covered… are you?


-Michael Ellem

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