Managing Water Crossings When Driving Off Road
Taking your 4WD, with camper hitched, across a water course, ain’t for the faint-hearted. Before embarking from one side to the other, any driver should, at the very least, have undergone some sort of 4WD training with a qualified and recognised training school. Further, it’s also advisable that anyone attempting a water crossing has at least some experience being a passenger during a previous instance. Above all, in general — regardless of skill level: no-one should attempt to cross water if feeling in any way wary, unconfident or unprepared
Caveats aside, water crossings can be one of the main reasons you’ve decided to take up off-road 4WD capers in the first place — the undoubtedly get the blood pumping and are a test of skill. Like all things that test extremities though, a water crossing can be dangerous and perhaps expensively damage your vehicle. Always take time to consider the problem before you and think-out a logical strategy and course.
Obviously: Keep it low range and slow but steady. But also, have a plan B and emergency option should things go haywire. Water crossings need to be approached with the right level of momentum, or you will do damage. Too quick and you risk pushing a heap of water into your engine bay, and too slow and you risk getting stuck. What you are looking for is to create a bow wave, that leads your 4WD through the crossing.
Make an appraisal of the water condition. If the water is flowing and is deep enough to flow up against the vehicle’s side panels, the force generated has more surface area to push against. The speed of the water flow will also come into play. It’s a question of physics. But without a physicist present with you on the river bank as you scratch your head and whisper sums to yourself, it’s a calculation you’ll have to make yourself. A raging, fast flowing river needs less surface area to threaten a wash-away. Be wary of fast flowing water. Water that’s completely still poses much less of a conundrum.
Before setting off on your trip, know how deep your vehicle will allow you to go in still water before it starts to float. Some 4WDs float easier than others.
If anticipating anything that’ll flow half way up your wheels, install a snorkel before setting out. If you think you’ll probably encounter water depth of this magnitude, chances are it’ll be twice as deep. Better to be over-prepared.
Work out the ins and outs of attaching and fixing a tarpaulin to the front of your vehicle so water is pushed out of flooding the engine bay. A tarp stretched out in front of the engine grill will dramatically reduce the quantity of water that flows into your engine bay. These are cheap insurance, and work extremely well.
If the crossing is deep then wind down your windows before you enter the water. In an emergency, hopping out the window is the easiest and quickest exit.
Spray your under-bonnet electrics with a water repellent (such as WD-40)
As you stand on the bank, considering the optimum route…
Wait for your engine to cool! Sudden cooling can crack your engine block. If this happens there’ll be no need to worry about crossing, coz you’ll need to replace the engine.
Make sure it’s safe! Walk the crossing first. Check current using your own body. If it’s difficult to stand when water is only up to your knees, for instance, it’s probably going to be making you unsteady, especially if the bottom is slippery.
Take note of any holes or obstacles. Mentally rehearse the optimal path to the other side.
Select the right gear for the crossing, one that allows you to maintain a steady speed. Second gear low range seems the most likely state, but this depends on the particular situation.
Prepare for the worst. Attach recovery straps before setting off. Fix them to secure and manageable vehicle anchor points. Pre-attaching recovery gear allows for quick recoveries.
Adjust tyre pressure before you enter the water taking into account the conditions of watercourse bottom and exit point on the other side.
During the crossing
Enter the water slowly and accelerate gradually. Maintain a steady speed, allowing a bow wave to form in front of your vehicle. This assists with keeping water out of your engine bay.
Stick to the pre-imagined route and do not change gears while in the water.
Once across and out of the water, let the water drain from your vehicle. Aim to get the vehicle well clear of the water and onto flat ground before pausing to do this.
Asses the state of your vehicle, check engine bay and brakes. Take time to analyse the state of things and identify any possible failures before continuing onwards.
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