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Hema's Tips To River Crossings
The thrill of water crossings are at the heart of any good 4WD offroad adventure, but half the satisfaction comes from making it to the other side. There’s a bit of an art in successfully crossing a river or a creek and it often comes down to two aspects, knowledge and judgement, especially when every crossing is different. We’re here to offer a few tips for the next time you face a flooded crossing.
Make sure you do as much as possible to seal your 4WD and van against water penetration. There are often little gaps under the carpet of the cabin and on the firewall that should be sealed up. While you will never get it 100 per cent watertight, you want to get as much sealed off as possible. The engine oil dipstick should be nice and snug and double-check the engine’s breather setup as well as the air intake, which should also be watertight. Consider using a snorkel! If you have an old petrol engine, do your best to keep water out of the electrical components, such as the distributor, coil and high tension leads. Use a high-quality sealant and carry a can of water displacement to give everything a spray before crossing. Also, store your spare parts like air and fuel filters in sealed plastic bags for extra protection.
Before crossing by vehicle, walk through on foot first if safe to do so — make sure there are no saltwater crocs and be mindful of causeways in case they have collapsed mid-way through. If you can’t walk through with ease, you shouldn’t drive through. Monitor the water’s depth, the strength of the current, any dips, low spots and holes as well as if there are any rocks and boulders. Once crossed on foot, determine the safest line to drive through and stick to it. Also, make sure you’ve had a good look at the entry and exit points as they can change dramatically over time as well as in different seasons.
Let your vehicle cool down first before driving through to reduce the likelihood of things like your brakes steaming up or getting distorted, warped, brittle or damaged due to the temperature difference of hot metal and cold water. Monitor your engine’s coolant temperature and make sure the cooling fan isn't active when it’s submerged in water as it can bend the fins to the point that it impacts the radiator. It’s a good idea to keep your air-conditioning system switched off too as it can activate the cooling fan when the air-con condenser gets hot.
Keep your vehicle in 4WD and on low-range gears to give you maximum engine torque to push through the water and give you more control over engine rpm and vehicle speed. If you have lockers, make sure to use them. Try to avoid having water spraying all over the place and instead, go for a speed that creates a gentle wave in front to help lower the water level in the engine bay. Avoid changing gear too when in the water as the water can get between the clutch assembly components which rely on friction to work properly.
Choose your gear before you enter the water and stick with it. You’ll want one that offers enough speed to create the wave in the water, yet enough torque to push through without relying on pure vehicle speed, especially if the floor of the river is rocky and bouncy. If your engine does stall and you get stuck, try and start it up instantly unless you think there could be water in the engine, in which case, don’t to avoid internal damage.
If your 4WD starts to float, be extremely careful. If your wheels don’t touch the ground, you lose control and traction and there’s a risk of tipping over or getting carried away downstream. The heavier the vehicle, the less buoyant the setup is. For camper trailer owners, it’s usually the trailer that floats first which can drag the entire vehicle downstream if there is a strong enough current. It might be best to seal your entire trailer to add weight and keep you on the ground.
Play each crossing as they come and use these tips to enjoy the challenge of crossing rivers while four-wheel-driving.