How To Water Crossings, Part 4 – Time To Get Out
In Unsealed 4X4’s Part 1 How To: Water Crossings we looked at how to make sure if your vehicle is properly prepared to tackle deep water, while in Part 2 we examined how to check the water crossing itself before plunging in, then in Part 3, we discussed the best techniques for safely driving across to the other side. In this final part on water crossings we’ll talk about preparing for the worst, and what to do once you get across to the other side.
Ready for trouble
Let’s assume you have the best-equipped vehicle for water crossings (with a snorkel, diff breathers, gearbox breather, transfer case breather, water blanket, watertight door and tailgate seals etc.) and that you’ve thoroughly checked the depth of the water crossing, the speed of the water and looked for any potential problem obstacles, and that you’ve selected the right gear and you have your speed right for the crossing, but then something still goes wrong…
It can happen, and if it does you want to be prepared…
I’m the first to admit I’ve stuffed up in water crossings before. I remember one time when I checked under a vehicle I was testing to make sure it was fitted with recovery points… just in case I got stuck. I had all my recovery gear handy, there was a vehicle on the other side to drag me out if necessary and I had selected low-range second before I started driving across. The water in the river was flowing at a decent rate, but not too fast, and it was only a couple of feet deep, but then I got hooked up on a rock that I hadn’t spotted. I tried backing up, I tried going forwards again and I turned the steering wheel from side to side, but it wouldn’t budge.
I reached into the back seat, grabbed a snatch strap I had handy and a couple of bow shackles. I opened the door, stepped gingerly into the icy-cold water and made my way around to the front of the vehicle. I reached underneath to feed the bow shackle through the recovery point and that’s where I ran into trouble. You see, the vehicle had been fitted with a factory optional bashplate that was positioned so close to the recovery points that there was no way a shackle would fit in there.
The solution in this case was less than ideal (sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do) but we managed to carefully pull the vehicle out of its predicament and carry on, but the scenario taught me a valuable lesson: always prepare for the worst when tackling water crossings.
How to prepare
If you’re about to tackle an unknown water crossing, and you reckon it might be a bit iffy, attach a snatch strap or recovery rope to your vehicle before you start driving across. Some water blankets will have a pocket to keep the snatch strap in, or you can throw it up on the bonnet or even feed it in through your window so it’s close at hand if you need it.
If you’re travelling solo, make sure you have your winch ready to go. Check the position of any isolation switch you may have fitted, make sure you have your controller ready and give the winch a quick try out before attempting the crossing. You should also have a good look around to check on the best anchor points in case you need to perform a winch recovery.
Also bear in mind that your winch is not guaranteed to work under water, so if you have a hand-winch, make sure it’s all there and ready to go.
If something goes wrong
The usual advice if you get stuck when driving off-road is to check that everything is safe and then take your time to thoroughly assess the situation before deciding on the appropriate response, whether that be attempting to drive out, trying to dig your way out or resorting to a vehicle-recovery operation.
If the vehicle is in peril, such as there’s a rising tide or, in the case of a water crossing, it’s filling with water or starting to wash downstream, there might not be a lot of time for assessment, so you’ll be thankful you were prepared before diving in.
No matter the situation, always try to keep a level head. If you start to panic chances are you might miss something important, or safety might go out the door, and someone could get hurt.
If the engine takes in a big gulp of water and it starts to stutter, shut it down before it suffers a hydraulic lock. This is where the piston will try to compress non-compressible water in the cylinder, and it can bend conrods and cause all sorts of expensive damage.
After the crossing
Once you’ve made it to the other side, if it’s safe to do so, let the water drain from the vehicle before driving out of the exit point – this will minimise the potential for track damage and make it easier for other vehicles.
Once on dry ground, pull up and have a good look around and under your vehicle to make sure there’s no damage and to check for anything that might have got caught up such as branches and sticks. Have a good look where stuff can get stuck such as around brake lines, fuel lines and electrical conduit.
Keep the engine running and have a good look under the bonnet to check that the fan is okay, and that everything looks and sounds as it should. Open up the airbox and check that there’s no water in there and that the air filter is dry. If not, you’ll need to replace it or dry it out.
If a petrol engine is misfiring, it might just need a squirt of water displacement spray such as WD40. If the engine stalled midstream and you had the sense to shut it down, you’ll have to pull the spark plugs out and crank it over a few times to expel any water in the cylinders.
If water has entered the cabin of the vehicle, you’ll want to dry it out as much as possible, as soon as possible. Likewise, check that the gear in the back of your 4×4 is dry, especially if driving a ute as the water sealing of an OE tub us usually next to useless.
When you get home
There are more vehicle checks to perform when you get home after driving through water. Examine the state of the oil in the engine, gearbox, transfer case and diffs – if it’s cloudy it will need to be drained and replaced. Also check the fuel filter and any water separator fitted, and drain if necessary.
Have a good look at headlights, spotties, indicators and running lights to make sure there’s no water or condensation in them, and open and dry if necessary.
Feel the carpets and if damp have a good look underneath to make sure there’s no standing water that could cause problems down the track, such as bad odours or corrosion.
Finally, if you’ve been driving through saltwater, you’ll need to give your vehicle a thorough clean. A truck-washing facility that can spray underneath the vehicle is great, but if you can’t access one of these you could always run the garden sprinkler under there for a while. Whatever method you use, just make sure you get all the salt out because it will cause problems down the track, corroding parts and fittings and causing chassis and body rust.