Remember the scene from 1997’s film, Dante’s Peak, where the USGS Volcanologist Dr. Harry Dalton travels to Dante’s Peak, Washington, and is escaping what was thought to be a dormant volcano, and plunges his snorkel-equipped K-body Suburban into a river?
The water is immediately over the hood of the truck and is filling the cabin through the door seams. Dr. Dalton reassures the frantic passengers that it is ok, the vehicle has a snorkel and eventually pilots the ‘suburbaboat’ through the water and onto the bank on the other side.
Ask about the snorkel to any off-roader in the United States who was in public school when this film came out, and Dante’s Peak is almost a guaranteed response as to how they gained their knowledge on the topic.
Snorkels were first introduced in military application as a way to supply air for the engine, allowing total submersion for deep fording. The maximum depth of a vehicle’s fording ability is limited by its air intake for the engine, so the purpose of the snorkel was to pipe that intake up to the top of the vehicle, generally around the same height as the head of the operator. Vehicles, like tanks, that featured fully sealed crew compartments were able to have snorkels that were much higher than that of the crew.
For off-roaders like ourselves, there are dozens of kits available for popular vehicles, and many kits can be adapted or universal ones constructed if you are savvy enough. Typically, snorkels are routed from the air-box through the fender, and along the outside of the vehicle and up the windshield A-pillar. Older vehicles that have few-to-none electronics are quite a bit easier to prep than modern day vehicles and their plethora of electronics and connections.
While key electrical systems in vehicles are generally well-waterproofed, it’s encouraged to disassemble these connections and liberally apply dielectric grease to ensure the connection is not contaminated by water and shorted. Other components like digital dashboards, radios and other sensitive equipment are usually not waterproofed and more than likely going to suffer if exposed to water. Also key is to extend any vent lines from the engine and drivetrain components so that water is not introduced to the lubricants.
Generally with all the electronics that modern vehicles have, snorkels are used as insurance—if the front of the vehicle is submerged, the engine is not exposed to water intake and subsequently hydro-locked. Also, snorkels are widely used in dusty conditions as a means of placing the air intake high, up out of the way so that cool clean air can be consumed, rather than the dust and silt of the road.