river fording
Top Tips

Water Wading … crossing the wet stuff

To complete your first water or river crossing in your 4×4, it has to be said is fulfilling to say the least, but a word of warningdeep and wet to the inexperienced, planning is everything. Even the experienced can fall foul of the wet stuff, as many will tell, in a split second everything can wrong, with seriously expensive or fatal mistakes.

A 4×4 is not an amphibious vehicle, nor is it waterproof.  Even those 4×4 vehicles that have been modified to tread water have their limitations when crossing through deeper waters. The depth to which a vehicle can be submerged depends greatly on the vehicle itself.  Those factors not only apply to the vehicle but the age of the vehicle as seals deteriorate.  As a rule of thumb, the depth limit of a vehicle is about the top of the tires and that could be too deep for some models.

Think Ahead and Plan

Ok, so you pull up to the waters edge and there it is, your first crossing of unfamiliar waters, what are you to do?

As an off roader you should be aware of your vehicles wading depth for axle & gearbox breathers, air intake and electrical water fording levelcomponents etc. failure to know this can spell disaster at the very start of the manoeuvre.

Park up and take a good look on foot, choose your departure point study the ground and entry area. How does the water current look? Depth of water? Is the riverbed firm, mud, stone, rocks, all of this has to be considered. Can you see an exit point? Are there vehicle tracks exiting the waterline?

wadingNow we get to the job of the walk. The worst bit is always the long walk in the underwear, great if your in the warmer climates, a bitch if you’re not, but a must do. The water walk will tell you if it’s a go or no-go exercise. By walking the whole crossing in a zig zag pattern you have a better chance of picking up any deep holes, drop offs, hidden rocks, ground consistency and water flow speed. If you find underwater problems, mark them with sticks as points to avoid. Remember, clear water acts like a magnifying glass, so the bottom may look close, but stepping in will confirm everything. If the flow is too fast to walk in then that’s a good bet it’s too fast to drive into, certainly to cross in a straight line. If this is the case you may consider entering further upstream to exit lower down, but this is judged by experience, only a fine line lies between success and a dangerous failure.

water coverOnce you are happy with your route, dried off and booted up again (hopefully to stay that way) prepare your vehicle for the departure. By now your vehicle should have cooled down whilst you were busy with your water walk. This is recommended as hot steel engine parts like exhaust manifolds etc. don’t like instant cooling water dumped onto them, which can cause fracturing and costly repairs.

Some people fix a tarp or temporary cover to the front of the vehicle, this prevents the deluge of water entering the engine bay, assists in creating the bow wave, less chance of water ingress to the air intake, wet electrics and also reduces the chance of fan warping which may damage the radiator.

Secondly, make all of your recovery gear only at arms length, you don’t want to be rooting round the back of your half submerged motor in the middle of a cold river. Consider fitting straps to the front and back recovery points before entering the water and trap them in the windows for quick release if needed, this could save a lot of discomfort if you do have problems.

The Drive

So we are ready to go, remove your seat belt and wind down your window as a precaution. Select the right gear for you and4x4 water xing your truck, this will come with experience but as a general rule second low range @ 1500 to 2000 revs is most commonly used, as for auto’s, low range and drive, easy.

This gear should provide enough torque for the crossing, as you do not want to stop or change gear half way through the task. For the drive across you will need to create a bow wave from the front of the vehicle, this will in turn create an air pocket under the bonnet of the vehicle to protect your vitals. Too much speed will cause water to flow over the bonnet and on to the windscreen, causing temporary loss of vision and water thrust into the engine compartment.

If you start to loose traction do not start to over rev, try to regain grip with the front wheels by simply gently turning the steering wheel from left to right. If you do stall or stop, it’s advised to climb out of your window to try and protect your interior components.

Hopefully all will go well and you pop out on the other side with one huge grin, job done, well not quite.

Dry Down

So all went well, but there are a few things to remember once back on dry land. Let the vehicle stand for a while to drain off from all of the nooks and crannies, while this happens check over your engine bay, electrics and interior for any seal failures. Check your brakes with a few stabs of the pedal when you do move off.

If it was your first water crossing it’s advisable to check you axle and gearbox oils for water contamination for your own peace of mind and also preventing surprise future water damage costs. Water contamination will give your oil a cloudy or milky look, if this is found, replace it.


With all of the above set in your mind you now just have to get out there and put it into practice. Take some friends for moral support and enjoy a dip.