Whoever named an aftermarket part for cars after diving equipment that helps humans breathe underwater, is singularly responsible for hundreds of stalled, waterlogged cars around the globe’s water bodies. Automotive snorkels are grossly misunderstood and, therefore, misused.
This misunderstanding has led to the over-enthusiastic, yet under-informed, 4×4 enthusiast attempting to wade across a relatively shallow river and stalling just a few metres in. The long and short of it is, snorkels don’t help your car breathe under water. They help it breathe better on land!
Snorkels were first used in the Second World War tanks, where the air filter was fitted to the top of a pipe, allowing tanks to breathe as they forded through rivers and swamps. Thereafter, a group of innovative Australians developed the idea for off-road cars, but instead of fitting the air filter at the top of the snorkel, they left it where it was and instead directed clean air to it through a pipe.
The general idea is that air close to the ground has a mix of dust particles and exhaust fumes and tends to be hotter on account of the black tarmac. This dirty air clogs up the air filter fast, resulting in lethargic and thirsty performance from the engine. The air from the snorkel, located higher up and away from the contaminants is cleaner, thus leading to better performance from the engine. This is, especially crucial for tour vans and rally cars that spend the majority of their time on dusty trails that would clog up the air filter in no time.
Snorkels can be fitted to almost any serious off-road car, but it has to be of quality able to withstand prolonged exposure to the elements. Important to note also is the smoothness of the airflow, as more aggressive corners in the pipe will raise the temperature of the air as it flows through, negating some of the benefits. But don’t for a second assume that just because your beefy 4×4 is fitted with a snorkel that it can make like a fish and swim across a river.