Why You Should Use a Snorkel on Your 4WD

Amarok driving through Barnett river on the Gibb River Road.

“Never let someone else define your adventure, or tell you how to do it. Not even us.”

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The Rough As Guts mandate is that we must always tell it like it is, regardless of popular opinion. Sometimes it may seem like we’re trying to gate keep the word “adventure” when we say things like “real four wheel driving” or “real camping”. That’s not our intent, but what we damn-sure are hell-bent on, is to make sure people are never putting their limitations on others, advising against reasonable risk and lowering the bar for people who just might have gone and done something incredible if they hadn’t been talked out of it.

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Table of Contents

Should You Install a Snorkel on Your 4WD? Which Snorkel Should You Choose

Yeah you should.

What are you doing without a snorkel if you’re planning to hit the tracks and do some touring. A lot of fun lies on the other side of puddles and rivers, but a lot of heartache resides in engines that take on water.

 

Benefits of Using a Snorkel on Your 4WD

Cold Air Intake

I’m sure that 95% of “cold air intakes” belong to misguided JDM or hatchback owners embarrassing their fathers by going to car cruises where they all take turns trying not to scrape their lowered cars on the speed bumps at the McDonalds car park and driving very slowly in general. This might be so, but having colder air does make a difference.

Colder air is denser, meaning more oxygen in the same volume, allowing for stronger combustion.

While I don’t think anyone should install a snorkel just for this reason, it’s a bonus. As the air is not passing through radiator or engine bay, it’s not being heated prior to entering the airbox.

Of course some of this ambient heat will transfer into a metal snorkel, the effect is minimal.

 

Increased Airflow

Most snorkels will increase the available airflow into the airbox, particularly those with a ram head. There’s no constriction point and where the air enters the snorkel, there’s freely available air.

Increased airflow will make the biggest difference if you’re planning to tune your car, particularly if you’re putting in oversized injectors etc. The snorkel will allow enough airflow to match the increased fuel.

 

Cleaner Air Filter – Less Dust

There’s been a few times, such as on a drive out to the De Grey river mouth in the Pilbara, when I’ve hit silt patches that instantly create such a dense layer of fluidised bulldust that I’ve momentarily thought I’d crashed into a very muddy river.

I’ve driven through silt without a snorkel and soon as you get out of it, it’s necessary to take the air filter out and give it a good bashing. The first time I drove through heavy silt patches with a snorkel, I stopped to clean the filter and it was totally pristine. The raised air intake from a vehicle snorkel, keeps a lot of the dust and crap out, saving the air filter from doing the work.

As silt is so light, it would be reasonable to assume that if anything was going to get sucked through a snorkel, it would happen to the silt before it happened to normal dust.

 

Allows for a Pre-Filter

Even with how well snorkels perform at keeping out dust, if you’re gonna be driving through a lot of bulldust, it can be worth having a pre-filter. A snorkel gives you such an option. You can slap a foam type filter, like the Uni Filters you see on dirt bikes, right on top of the snorkel.

 

The Obvious One: Driving Through Water

I’ve done river crossings where the waters flowing on your windscreen with the car starting to float sideways, but with the engine running perfectly fine. Aside from the fact that water getting into your engine will probably bend a conrod and knacker your engine, if you happen to be crossing a flowing river at the time, losing power to your engine might be the difference between getting washed away or making it through to the other side. Prevent water with a snorkel.

Even if you’re not planning anything as drastic, it does let you cross shallower sections of water with more assurance. I have managed to get water into the intake by hitting puddles that were only a foot deep, but hitting them with too much gusto and without a snorkel.

 

Downsides to Using a Snorkel on Your 4WD

Panel Damage?

The only real arguments I’ve heard against snorkels are that they’re usually installed unnecessarily on cars for people who are never going to need them. That’s a valid point, don’t be that wanker who gets all the gear on his rig and never takes it off-road.

The only other argument I’ve heard is that they can increase panel damage if you scrape the car against something, pushing the snorkel into the panel. This is true and I’ve seen it happen, but it’s pretty likely the panel was going to be damaged at that point anyway. Besides, that’s not a good enough reason on its own for ditching a snorkel.

 

Which Snorkel Type is Best?

Plastic/Safari

Stainless steel snorkels are all the rage right now, to the point where there’s starting to be an idea that plastic snorkels are inferior. A good plastic snorkel, such as those made by Safari, are a perfectly good snorkel. I’ve washed bonnets in rivers a few times using Safari snorkels and have never had an issue. I’ve even seen them dragged up against the dirt on steep banks without cracking or coming off.

The problem with plastic snorkels lie with some that come factory fitted, that aren’t true snorkels. A lot of these, such as the ones that came out on Patrols and D22s, are made from several pieces that clip/bolt together. They’re only good for keeping dust out and shouldn’t be used for any water crossings.

The other factor that has led people to believe that plastic snorkels are insufficient is that most stainless-steel snorkels require a custom airbox. As the new airbox is designed specifically for a snorkel and it has purpose-built components to connect everything, the seal is nearly always airtight. Most plastic snorkels are plumbed to the stock airbox by the guy at the local accessories fitting place and let me tell you, quality does vary greatly between these guys.

 

Ram Head

Some people don’t like ram heads on snorkels. A ram head is an accessory that goes on top and faces forward, so that the airflow while the vehicle is moving creates a positive pressure inside the snorkel.

Some just don’t like them because of the look. Each to their own. Some believe that it creates higher chances of water or dust ingress because it’s facing the direction that the water or dirt is coming from. This isn’t true, despite seeming plausible at first glance. The way the water flows from the wheel, sends the mass of water behind the ram head and is actually less likely to suck in dust or water than a rear facing snorkel. If you don’t believe me, film yourself in slow motion going through some gnarly silt and you’ll see the plume go behind the snorkel. Now I know what some of you are thinking, that silt isn’t comparable to water. Silt just shows us how the air is moving and believe it or not, air is a fluid, just like water. Water, being much heavier, wont make it as high as the silt and air.

The only time a ram head presents a problem is in very heavy rain where the water is in the air. Most levels of rain will only provide enough moisture to where it can separate and settle easily in the airbox. If it is really bucketing down however, you can just turn the ram head around.

plastic snorkel on amarok covered in mud
If you take a close look, you can see there’s less mud around the ram head and that if it pointed back, following the contour of the car, it would be in an area that’s more exposed.

 

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel snorkels are awesome. They’re strong, airtight, very durable and they look cool in either exposed stainless or powdercoat.

The only down sides to a stainless snorkel are the cost, which are much higher than that of a plastic snorkel and the fact that you usually have to cut a bit more of the panel out to make them fit snugly. That’s not really a problem though, as there should be no reason to ever take a stainless snorkel off your car.

Freedom does not come automatically, it is achieved. And it is not gained in a single bound; it must be achieved each day”

– Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself

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