Why you should snorkel your 4WD, and not just be­cause it looks cool


In my early days of wheel­ing, I thought that the in­take snorkel was one of the coolest things you could mount to a 4WD. It por­trayed the ve­hi­cle as a true off-roader, a ve­hi­cle that gets well into the depths of Canada’s wilder­ness and whose progress would not be stopped by any creek or stream.

My views on the snorkel have changed over time, how­ever. On a gaso­line-pow­ered 4WD, I thought that the snorkel be­came more of a poser’s add-on, since the distributor would cut spark from go­ing to the spark plugs once water got to that level re­gard­less. It re­ally only seemed to make any sense on a diesel-pow­ered 4WD.

So let’s look at the pros and cons of mount­ing a snorkel.

The cons: An­other ex­pen­sive bolt-on mod­i­fi­ca­tion to add to the al­ready out of con­trol list. You have to cut through the fender, which is hard for some to do and if not prop­erly sealed, will pro­mote rust­ing. If you don’t prop­erly seal the snorkel, water and de­bris will still get in, negat­ing the en­tire pur­pose of the snorkel.

The pros:

Yes, it does look cool. A snorkel is grab­bing cool fresh air from out­side the en­gine com­part­ment. A snorkel cre­ates the abil­ity to add se­condary fil­tra­tion for ex­tremely dusty en­vi­ron­ments. The most im­por­tant rea­son for a snorkel, you raise your in­take up out of the way of water.

This is why we rec­om­mend a snorkel; water get­ting into your en­gine usu­ally ends in cer­tain doom, and I’ve seen my fair share of hy­dro-lock­ing car­nage. Air can be com­pressed to cre­ate a pre­ci­sion ex­plo­sion to keep the pis­tons mov­ing up and down – water can not. Once you get water into the com­bus­tion cham­ber, one of sev­eral cat­a­strophic con­se­quences can oc­cur when the in­take valve seals shut. The re­sult­ing in­abil­ity of the water to com­press will ei­ther bend a con­nect­ing rod, blow you head gas­ket to pieces, shoot your spark­plug straight out of the head or even lift the head up off the block. Long

story short, the en­gine is go­ing to bend in some way be­fore the water disrupts the laws of physics.

The­ory would say that a wet distributor or coil pack would shut down the en­gine be­fore water by­passes the air fil­ter and works its way into the com­bus­tion cham­ber. Prob­lem is, not all ve­hi­cles, even off-road fo­cused ones, put an em­pha­sis on water get­ting into the en­gine bay. While air fil­ters may sit higher in the en­gine bay than the ig­ni­tion sources, many in­take sys­tems pull air from the fend­ers or even down be­low the en­gine, scoop­ing up water be­fore the level rises in the en­gine bay. Water is also a very dy­namic vari­able in and of it­self. It does what ever it wants to, and if there is any kind of weak­ness in the in­take sys­tem, it will find its way in when slosh­ing around in­side the en­gine bay. It splashes and sprays into ev­ery nook and cranny.

Now, we’re not say­ing ev­ery 4WD must have a snorkel on it, it is just very im­por­tant to know why you may need one. If your usual off-road trails are void of water cross­ings, or at least any that will chal­lenge the pub­lished wad­ing depth of your par­tic­u­lar make and model, then there is no point in cut­ting into a perfectly good fender. How­ever, if you like to chal­lenge the posted wad­ing depths on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, mi­nor in­take mod­i­fi­ca­tion should be looked at as a min­i­mum, and the ad­di­tion of a well built and sealed snorkel should put all fears at ease. As we like to say, the in­stal­la­tion of a snorkel is much cheaper than re­build­ing the en­gine… or at least that is what we like to tell our bet­ter halves.

If you do man­age to suck some water into the in­take and have man­aged not to blow your en­gine, tune in next is­sue when we’ll give you the trail fix to get you back up and run­ning, dry com­bus­tion cham­bers and all.

While also look­ing very cool, a snorkel will help fend off hy­drolock­ing your en­gine.

A sim­ple sealed ex­ten­sion to the in­take sys­tem helps grab air from high above any pos­si­ble water line.

A snorkel also al­lows the op­tion of a se­condary fil­ter, a pop­u­lar piece of equip­ment in the dusty deserts of Aus­tralia and Africa.

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