Credits via Practical Motoring
Driving through water can be an intimidating experience for novices and experts alike and there are pages that can be written on tip, tricks, accessories and more. But if you simply want to know the short in and outs of what to do when you come across what looks like a relatively easy water crossing, it is pretty simple.
Water crossings can be one of the most exciting parts of an off-road driving experience, but they can also be dangerous and result in potential vehicle damage. Like most off-road driving, if in doubt about the water crossing then don’t drive it, but if you’ve deemed it’s safe to do so, maintaining a steady pace is the key to a successful crossing.
Before you drive in…
The first thing to do when confronted by an unfamiliar water crossing is to stop, get out of the vehicle and have a good look at what’s in front of you. If the water looks too deep to safely drive across or if it’s flowing too fast, you’re going to have to look for an alternative route.
If you think the crossing looks safe, you’ll want to determine the depth of the water, how fast it’s flowing and what lurks beneath the surface. Sometimes the only way to do this is to walk the crossing first. Of course, you wouldn’t want to do this in a crocodile infested creek, but walking the crossing will give you a good idea as to what the bottom is like – if it’s hard gravel, sand or thick mud – and if there are any submerged obstacles or deep holes that need to be avoided.
You’ll want to calculate your intended route before driving into the water and, importantly, determine your exit point.
Another advantage of stopping before a water crossing is it gives your vehicle a chance to cool down. Plunging hot metal into a river can result in water making its way past oil seals in diffs, the transmission and other components.
Make sure you know your vehicle’s wading depth before tackling water crossings. With many 4WDs, it is around 800mm when travelling at a steady speed of up to 7 km/h; this is the depth the vehicle can safely drive through with without the engine ingesting water. It’s a good idea to know where your vehicle’s air intake is, as you don’t want water being sucked into it, but if you don’t exceed to the manufacturer’s wading depth limit you should be okay.
If you think you’ll be encountering a lot of water crossings in your travels, ask your dealer about fitting a snorkel.
Entering the water
Once you’ve determined the crossing is safe, and you’ve planned your route, roll up to the water’s edge after selecting low-range and then enter the water at a walking pace. Second gear low-range is usually the best gear, as you want just enough speed to get through without damaging the vehicle or the environment. In deep crossings, you want enough speed to create a bow wave in front of the vehicle.
If the bottom is rocky and the vehicle is bouncing around, you can brace your right foot between the accelerator pedal and the foot well to help maintain an even throttle position. Try to avoid gear changes while you’re driving in the water; in low-range most four-wheel drives will crawl along nicely in the correct gear for the speed (7km/h in the Ford Ranger we’re using here) and hold onto that gear as needed.
Try not to lose momentum when crossing water, and never intentionally stop; your engine could ingest water or you could become stuck.
If the exit point out of the water is steep then make sure you carry enough momentum to climb up out of the water. If it’s an easy exit then stop at the bank to let the water drain out of your vehicle. This will ensure you don’t soak the track as you leave which can cause damage to it. You only need to pause for a moment or two to let the water drain out. Once you’re moving again give your brakes a squeeze or two to ensure they’ve dried out and are working as they should.
Remember these simple steps:
Walk it first – Unless you can clearly see the depth and what’s underneath, hop out and use a stick to check and even walk it.
Water crossing preparation – If it’s a deep crossing, you’ll need a snorkel on the car. Other accessories such as a cover or radiator blind (car bra) can also be fitted – in this Ranger we’re within the water wading depth and safe to cross without any accessories.
This Ford Ranger has a water-wading capability of 800mm, which should be more than plenty to keep you dry.
Driving across water – If you have lockers, now is the time to engage them. Even if the surface beneath the water isn’t very slippery, you’ll want all the traction available to you.
Select the correct gear for the crossing. On many vehicles, this will be low-range second gear, which should provide enough speed to build up a decent bow wave in front of the vehicle without it splashing all over the bonnet and up the windscreen.
When you get home – If you’ve been driving through deep water, you’ll need to make sure it hasn’t made its way into critical vehicle components. When you get back home, lift up the bonnet and have a quick look in fuse boxes and around other electrical items. Check your radiator and cooling fan for any signs of damage. Pull out the engine and transmission dipsticks to make sure the oil isn’t cloudy and grey, which will signify water ingress.