How Does A 4WD Snorkel Work? (Updated for 2021)

Safari Ram 4wd Snorkel
Safari Ram-type 4wd Snorkel

One of the first 4WD accessories I seriously looked at was a snorkel as it seemed at every four-wheel drive you seen had one. As I learnt more about them I realise that there not just for river crossings, they provide

A Snorkel, when fitted to your four wheel drive moves the engine air intake from under your bonnet, to roof height. This has many advantages. The main advantages are:

  1. Less chance of water entering the engine when crossing rivers
  2. Access to cleaner and cooler air
  3. Help to reduce engine wear and tear  and improves engine performance

Make sure you read as we break down the different types of snorkels and how to make sure they work for you.

What a 4wd Snorkel does

The idea of trying to supply clean air, free of water and contaminants has been around for a very long time. The Snorkel is one of the bests ways to get the cleanest air to your engine and is used in everything from Tanks to Tractors, this is purely because it’s simple in design and works so damn well. At its core, the intention of a snorkel is:

  • To raise the level of the air intake to reduce the chance of water entering your engine when crossing water
  • A higher air intake will reduce the amount of dust entering the system
  • To allow cooler air to enter your engine
  • To produce a ‘ram effect’. The air is rammed into your engine using your vehicle’s forward motion rather than the engine sucking air in.

Does A Snorkel Improve The Performance of A 4WD?

Location of a Standard Air Intake On A Landcruiser, Not A Great Spot To Get Air
Photo: Landcruiser Owners Online

If you told me you intend to never take your 4WD off the bitumen in most circumstances I would tell you not to worry about a snorkel. But you do get off the blacktop and on offroad adventures, I would argue that it’s almost a must-have.

In saying that the jury is still out on whether there is a fuel efficiency improvement from ramming cooler air into your engine, some people actually say that adding an extra meter of pipe for the air to go through actually reduces performance and economy but one thing is for indisputable.

Moving your engine’s air source from underneath the front inner guard away from the dust and warm heat to up high where the dust and warm air is minimal will ultimately result in lower servicing costs in the long run. I like to think of it as a bit of an insurance policy against a plugged air filter ruining your trip (or even worse, your engine)

How Much Does a Snorkel Cost

The thing with 4WD Snorkels is people think that they are just a simple pipe treat it as such, you couldn’t be any further from the truth. Snorkel manufacturers like Safari and Aetco and spend a lot of time and money engineering a snorkel specifically for your vehicle and its engine airflow requirements. Because of this, a good vehicle specific snorkel from a reputable manufacturer will cost at least $300.00. I’m all for pinching the pennies but please don’t skimp in this area, I would rather you didn’t have a snorkel than buy a generic all-make model Especially if you own a newer 4WD.

As for the fitting cost, It really depends on the location. I have been looking at some forum posts and the general consensus is if you can get yours fitted for $250.00 to $350.00 you’re doing alright. If your fancy rolling up your sleeves and doing it yourself, you can do the job for less than $30.00 but make sure and follow the instructions and template provided, because once you start cutting you can’t press the undo button, and PLEASE!! make you completely seal the unit to your Airbox otherwise you might as well not have fitted it.

If you are in the market for a snorkel, make sure you check out as they sell safari snorkels. I personally buy most of my gear from them as they are basically the Repco of the online world without the inflated pricing.

I find of all the online 4WD shops out there Sparesbox is the easiest place online to navigate and find what you’re looking for. They are also based in Australia, have a 1300 number and you can even chat to them online if you need help and best of all its free shipping over $50.

The Different Snorkel Types

There are 2 main types of snorkel Ram Snorkel and a Vortex Snorkel

The snorkel heads Both are designed to achieve similar results, but they do so in different ways.

Ram Snorkel

When the vehicle is stationary, the air is sucked into the engine through the snorkel as usual. Air filters etc clean the dust and moisture out of the air.   As the vehicle starts to move forward, the air is rammed down through the ‘scoop’ of the snorkel.

The heavier dust and moisture particles are forced against the back of the snorkel head and are then vented through the drain holes at the bottom of the snorkel head.   Clean, moisture-free air is rammed into the air intake. Additional cleaning of the air is performed by the standard air filters in the engine.

Safari Ram 4wd Snorkel
Safari Ram-type 4wd Snorkel

Vortex Snorkel

When the vehicle is stationary or in motion, the air is sucked through a series of ‘blades’ at the bottom of the snorkel head. These blades cause the air to rotate around the snorkel head. Centrifugal force then throws the particles aside where they are collected in the bottom of the bowl. The clean, moisture-free air is then drawn into the snorkel and down into the engine.

Safari Vortex 4wd Snorkel
Safari Vortex-type 4wd Snorkel

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