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Water Fording in Jeep Wrangler

If you hit the trails often enough, sooner or later you’ll have to cross some water. Usually it’s a small stream but sometimes you’ll want to consider crossing a shallow/deep lake. In this article we’ll discuss some of the most common pitfalls and things to look out for when water fording.

JK Wrangler Getting Winched

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Wrangler Breathing Tube Locations

Before heading out on the trails, in an area you feel could have some water crossing, its good to do some preliminary prep work on your Wrangler. The first things to look into are the breather tubes for the front and rear axles, transfer case and automatic transmission. These tubes are designed to relieve pressure in the system, if the tubes are submerged under water, the water will enter the system and contaminate the oils used to lubricate the gears.

Front Breathe Tube

Front Breather Tube on a Wrangler

Rear Breather Tube

Rear Breather Tube on a Wrangler

Upgrading the Hoses for Insurance

One of the first things to do if you plan on taking your Wrangler into deep water is extend those breather hoses. A very simple way of doing that is through tube extensions. Some companies like River Raider offer kits that come with everything you need. The kit from River Raider will tie all your hoses together and re-routes them to your air box, elevating your water depth to the height of your air box. You could also buy most of the parts separately and extend them yourself. First you will need 5/16” rubber fuel line, 3/8” hose mender if you plan on extending the factory hose, if you plan on replacing everything you don’t need the mender. Finally, you will also need small hose clamps to secure all the ends. Next, extend the hose either with the kit or your own method. Your goal is to raise them as high as possible and ideally work them towards the air box. Once you’ve located a good spot, secure them in place. If you are routing them to the air box, its important to first remove the air box and properly seal all the holes and seams to prevent any water from entering through the bottom or sides.

Wrangler Snorkels - Keeping Water Out of Your Engine

If you are still looking to drive through deeper water, a snorkel is the next step. A snorkel system will extend your air intake, often up to the Jeep’s roofline. This greatly increases its ability to submerge in water. There are a variety of different snorkels available. Rugged Ridge’s modular system allows you to run a low or high mount intake, depending on the demand you might need. Their pre-filer attachment, filters sand or dust from entering the snorkel and making its way to your air filter, clogging it and preventing air from entering the engine. With breather tubes safely sealed in your air box, this option provides the best level of prevention from water entering the Jeep’s drivetrain. Snorkels do a great job of providing air to the engine at a safe height, in some cases more air is brought in than normal. At first you might actually see a gain in your fuel economy but the fuel regulation system quickly adapts to the additional volume of air and evens things out. On colder days you might also see a gain in performance as colder/denser air is brought into the engine.

Misconceptions of Snorkles

A common misconception/fear is that rain will enter through the snorkel and get into the engine. The reality is that most of the rain will flow around the snorkel as air rushes in at a faster rate. The few drops that manage to get into the snorkel are insignificant and usually evaporate before reaching the filer. The pre-filter option that sits at the top of the snorkel creates a centrifuge that spins any water to the sides of the canister, allowing only clean air into the snorkel tube, down to the air box.

Determining Your Wrangler's Water Fording Capability

You’ve down all the prep work and you’re ready to cross, but how deep is too deep? Jeep claims that the stock JK Wrangler can safely get through 30 inches of water at a slow speed, a safer estimate would be around the 20 inch mark because, depending on the lake bed, the Jeep’s weight will cause it to sink several more inches. If you’ve extended the breather hoses, your new point of depth is now at the end point of those hoses. If the hoses were routed to the air box, then that becomes the top point. If you’ve installed a snorkel the depth is theoretically now increased to the snorkel inlet. However, you should make note that important relays and ECU, within the engine bay, are located at about the height of the wipers. Once the water reaches that level, the engine will be completely submerged and sensors/electronics exposed to the water could be severely damaged.

How to Cross a Body of Water

Once the Jeep’s capability is determined, you should walk through the water you plan on crossing, taking note of the depth, floor stability and any obstacles in the path. This pre-run is important because serious obstacles like boulders, tree trunks or foreign debris might cause serious damage to your tires or underbody. Remember, all these elements will not be visible while crossing and you are often doing so blindly. Typically you should look to cross along the edges or shore line where the water isn’t as deeper and the floor isn’t as soft. Crossing through the middle often leads to muddier conditions that you could get stuck in. Once you begin crossing, its important to go at a slow steady pace, creating a wave in front of the jeep. Its also critical not to go fast or stop if at all possible, these sudden motions will cause water to splash and for waves to flow back into the Jeep, raising the level of water.

Once crossed, it’s important to keep the engine running and allow the water to drain. Check that the brakes are still working, as water could have gotten between the pads and rotors. If water came into the cabin, lift the carpet and remove the drain plugs, so it could properly drain. Once everything has drained, do a walk through to inspect any damage that might have occurred while crossing. When you are comfortable there is no significant damage and the Jeep is safe to drive, you can continue on the trail. Finally, it’s important to also keep in mind of your environmental impact, especially when crossing lakes. Exposure or chemical leaks could be deadly to wildlife. Also, avoid disturbing natural damns or re-routing of water. As always, tread lightly and have fun.

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