Recently, a hurricane came through the state of North Carolina where I live. As I plan my next Jeep build, it got me thinking about the impact of rising water and just how deep a stock Jeep can go in the water. I decided to do a little research and write this blog post about it.
So, how deep can a Jeep Wrangler go in the water? 30 inches is what Jeep says the Jeep Wrangler can safely ford water. Recently though, they have changed this to 19 inches as a safe fording depth.
19-inches is a good starting point. The reason for this is you never know how firm or soft the creek floor will be. If the ground is really soft or full of silt, the weight of your Jeep could cause you to sink into the muck causing your real fording depth to be much greater.
What To Watch When Driving In the Water?
It is not always about how deep the water is you are driving in, but how you are driving and the speed you are driving. I have seen videos of Jeep owners ruining their Jeep when crossing just ten inches of water!
The biggest risk to your Jeep when fording water is getting water inside of air intake. The factory air intake is located behind the passenger headlight and above the fender well. When you drive your Jeep in the water, you need to prevent water from going into the air intake horn. If enough water gets into the air intake it could hydrolock your engine and potentially ruin it.
What Is A Hydrolocked Engine?
What Is A Hydrolocked Engine? A hydro-locked engine is also known as a hydrostatic lock. It is a condition where liquid gets into the engine cylinders. A Jeep’s engine cylinders normally compress air as it works. When the engine gets water in it, the water gets compressed and can cause catastrophic damage when the piston tries to compress the water.
Can a hydro-locked engine be fixed?
Can a hydro-locked engine be fixed? Yes, the engine can be fixed but it could cost you a whole lot. If your engine gets hydro locked, do not expect the vehicle warranty to help you out any. It is likely going to be handled between you and your insurance company if anyone is going to offer you any financial assistance.
How much does it cost to fix a hydro-locked engine?
If your engine is hydrolocked, I hope you are sitting down when you read this…
So, how much does it cost to fix a hydro-locked engine? For most hydro locked engines to be fixed it cost between $2,800 and $8,300! If you think this price is high you need to realize fixing a hydro-locked engine can require a lot of labor time for a mechanic to fix.
What does it mean to “ford” a river?
What does it mean to “ford” a river?. The word “ford” means to cross a river or body of water with a vehicle not using a bridge or a boat to get from one side to the other.
How Do I Properly Ford Water in a Jeep?
The first thing you want to do when fording water in a Jeep is to drive at a moderately slow pace. You will want to drive in either first or second gear and stay in that gear all the way across. I often suggest second gear for most crossing, but I suggest you give each gear a try and see which works best for you.
As you enter the water do not go too fast. The goal is to ease into the water at a decent pace to create a wave in front of your Jeep. As much fun as it is to hit the water with speed and cause a massive splash, this could easily result in water getting in the air intake and cause hydrolock issues.
Remember, the curved hood can push splashed water up and into the air intake.
As you make your way through the water try to maintain a constant speed which will create a wave in front of your Jeep. You do not want the wave to get above your headlights on a stock Jeep. You want to move forward, pushing the wave until you safely make it to the other side of the body of water.
This is how you properly ford water in a Jeep. Sure it is more fun to just go romping around making the biggest splash possible, but it could cost you dearly if your engine gets hydrolocked.
How can I make my Jeep better at fording deep water?
To me, this is the fun part. There are two modifications that can greatly improve how deep your Jeep can go in water. Technically, with the right modifications, you could fully submerge your Jeep and it would still drive! Let’s discuss a few Jeep mods…
The first Jeep modification to add for taking your Jeep into deep water is a snorkel kit.
what is the purpose of a snorkel?
So, what is the purpose of a snorkel? A snorkel on a Jeep can have multiple benefits to your vehicle.
Snorkel Benefit #1:
A snorkel moves the air intake from under the hood to the outside of the hood and away from the heat of the engine. This clean cool air is beneficial to your Jeep and helps the Jeep operate better during extreme conditions.
Snorkel Benefit #2:
Better air filtering. Your air intake has a filter to catch dust and dirt before it enters the engine. With some aftermarket snorkel kits, they offer a pre-filter. This helps extend the life of the primary air filter and provides cleaner air to your engine.
Snorkel benefit #3:
Your Jeep can go through deeper water. Just like people use a snorkel to stay underwater longer and to look at sea life, your Jeep uses a snorkel to go into deeper water than a stock Jeep would allow. Technically, with a big enough snorkel, your Jeep could be fully submerged underwater and still function.
What Snorket Kit Do I Recommend?
There are plenty of snorkel kits on the market. I really like this snorkel kit because it has three different configurations. It has a low mount snorkel, a high mount snorkel and it also has a pre-filter snorkel option. Amazon Link
Another great way to increase how deep your Jeep can go in water is to add a suspension lift kit.
What Is The Purpose of a suspension lift kit?
What Is The Purpose of a suspension lift kit? The primary purpose of a lift kit is to get your vehicle higher off of the ground. This offers many benefits offroad. A lift kit makes it easier to crawl over rocks and boulders, clear logs and tree stumps and also cross through deeper water than a stock Jeep.
Typically, a lift kit offers 1 inch to 3 inches of added ground clearance. There are other lift kits available that can raise your vehicle 4 to 6 inches or more, but they can become very expensive because you will most likely have to replace other parts to maintain proper steering and suspension angles.
What types of suspension lift kits are available?
In general, there are two popular lift kits. They can even be used together to provide even greater ground clearance.
A Jeep Body Lift: This is the easiest and least expensive ways to get the body of your Jeep higher off of the ground. A body lift replaces the factory rubber body mounts with new larger body mounts. A body lift kit typically raises the body of your Jeep 1 to 2 inches above the factory height.
A Jeep Suspension Lift: When most Jeep owners discuss a lift kit, they are most likely thinking about a suspension lift kit. A suspension lift replaced the shocks and leaf springs or coil springs on a Jeep depending on what model you own. A 1987 to 1995 Jeep Wrangler YJ will have a leaf spring suspension. A 1997 and newer Jeep Wrangler will have a coil suspension.
Typically a suspension lift kit will increase the ride height of your Jeep in the neighborhood of three inches. There are lifts that provide lower or higher levels of lift, but most are around three inches.
What does a lift kit cost for a Jeep Wrangler?
What does a lift kit cost for a Jeep Wrangler? The price of a Jeep lift kit can range from as little as $300 for what is known as a “budget boost” or in the $2000-$3000 range for a higher end lift kit.
Other lift kits can get in the $8,000 to $10,000 range but these lifts serve a specific purpose outside of the scope of this article.
What Suspension Lift Kit Do I Recommend?
For a 1997 to 2006 Jeep Wrangler I really like this lift kit because it offers great offroad features but maintains an excellent on-road ride quality. Amazon Link
With a suspension kit, your Jeep can run bigger tires.
Do bigger tires help my Jeep go through deeper water?
Do bigger tires help my Jeep go through deeper water? Yes, bigger tires will help you go through deeper water.
The reason for this is the same as a suspension lift. While the lift gets the body of the Jeep higher, it does not raise the height of the axels, engine, air handler and more.
With the added clearance from the higher suspension, you can install bigger tires. If you go from 31-inch tires to 33-inch tires your axels will be higher off of the ground and less likely to hit rocks or other items that may be in the water when fording a stream or creek.
Note: research what size tires your Jeeps axels and gears can handle before adding larger tires.
What Else Should I Be Aware Of When Fording Water In A Jeep?
Axel & Transmission Breather Tubes: Your front and rear axels have breather hoses attached to them. They are typically tucked up under the body of your Jeep. If you plan to ford very deep water, I recommend looking into the process of running these important vent hoses up and into the air filter for your Jeep. If you do not do this and water gets into the breather tubes, water will mix with the axel and transmission fluid and will break it down. This could cause premature wear and tear which leads to costly repairs down the road.
Seals and Gaskets: Water can get into places you never imagined when you ford a river or stream. If you are running around in really muddy water you want to be especially aware of these items. Other items to check are oil caps, gas caps and distributor caps on older Jeeps.
Even if you have new seals, gaskets, and caps you still could get water intrusion into key components of your Jeep if they are fully submerged.
Exhaust: This is a big one! You know how I mentioned not getting water in the air intake… You DO NOT want to get water in through the exhaust system either. If water gets into the exhaust system it can stall out your engine before you get through the water. Don’t worry though, there is a kit for this too.
You can use an exhaust fording kit to make sure you do not stall out while fording water. The key for the exhaust is to have it pressurized with fresh air to prevent any unwanted backflow if your Jeep’s engine stops running while submerged in water.
Electrical System: Your Jeep’s electrical system is critical to protect when water is involved. As you can imagine, water and electrical systems do not play well together. There are plenty of kits on the market that you could upgrade to that include special wiring harnesses and watertight connectors to help protect your electrical systems.
Cooling Fans: This is something people often forget about. Some Jeep models have electric cooling fans. You may want to install a kill switch to disable your fan when you need to ford water. For clutch driven fans, contact with water typically cuts them off to prevent damage but it is not a given.
and my final recommendation for when you are looking for ford a body of water with your Jeep Wrangler is…
Grease Up Your Jeep: I am not talking about rubbing your Jeep with grease. [What you and your Jeep do together in your garage should stay in your garage – LOL]
I mean get a grease gun like this one [Amazon Link] and grease up everything under your Jeep that gets wet. U-Joints, ball-joints, etc. For twenty bucks it is cheap preventative maintenance. Don’t forget to do it before and after you ford water.
Oh, I almost forgot…
Here’s a bonus tip!
If you decide to ford a river or stream that turns out to be deeper than you think and you get water inside of your Jeep, I suggest pulling the carpet and letting it air out.
The carpet itself can dry pretty quickly, but many Jeeps have a jute material underneath the carpet that serves and a sound and heat barrier. This material soaks up water leading to mold, mildew and a really terrible smelling vehicle.
If this happens to you, let me suggest a Professional’s Secret Weapon for getting rid of bad odors! This is a little know secret I use for old musty Jeeps.