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Keeping the nose out of it

By: Vinod Nookala
Photography : Mahindra Adventure

Why do you need a snorkel? Years and years of mucking about on off-road terrain teaches you a lot of things. Apart from the driving skills you pick up you also learn about the right equipment to use and when to use it. Now if you’re thinking of getting a snorkel for your new Thar then please note that a snorkel is used to keep the air intake free of dust or water (if you want to splash about) and also for increasing your cool quotient with the boys you hang with

Most SUV fanboys such as us have grown up seeing big Sahara/Amazon swamp crossing SUVs with big mud terrain tyres, chunky bull bar, AUX lights, expedition roof rack and last but not the least a high air intake snorkel. An expedition look isn’t complete without it. At Mahindra Adventure we have learnt about snorkels the hard way as our activity involves hardcore off-roading and have also been through some tough expeditions over years. Here are our real life experiences for you to make an informed choice.

Besides obvious deep water crossings, a high air intake snorkel is effective in improving the service life of your air filter. For a healthy engine operation, it’s essential that the cold air that is fed in is as clean as possible. Besides regular oil changes, few owners realise that the air filter plays an important role in improving the longevity of the engine. Fine dust particles if sucked in can damage the internals of the engine thereby reducing overall engine life in the long run. Snorkels are a must if one regularly operates in dusty and hot environments. Upper air is usually cooler and cleaner. Air sucked in from the top of the snorkel is much cleaner than under the bonnet. Install a snorkel if dusty environment operation is on the cards, especially when a convoy type of an expedition is an everyday affair.

Dusty expedition application: The ones following the lead car can suck in a lot of dust. At Great Escapes/ Club Challenge, we have lost an engine or a two while route making. Sudden unexpected holy dip in a water hole meant game over. A higher air intake would have been a life saver. Install a snorkel if one has to cross flooded streets, deeper water crossings above 3/4th level of the standard tyre on a regular basis. Needless to say, one must attempt deep water crossings only as an exception and under tremendous care and skillful guidance. No matter how high the snorkel is, you can still drown your SUV or even get swept away if not done properly. Unlike the popular belief, the snorkel doesn’t make an SUV amphibious. A deeper water crossing takes a lot of experience and training.

Yet it is best avoided if possible. If and when done, that occasional water over the bonnet won’t hurt you if the snorkel is professionally made and installed.
Deep water crossings: Snorkel joints must be air and water tight before undertaking deep water crossings.
What kind of snorkel should one choose?
If you do a lot of competitive off-roading drives that involve body damage, it’s best to avoid a fibre snorkel. If not well engineered, they are prone to breakages. This learning came out of our Lonavala Great Escape wherein my Thar slid into another Thar on a super slick surface in slow motion and my snorkel broke. Another time, when we were on the thick, narrow jungle trails of Vagamon, a branch hit the neck of the fibre snorkel, breaking it into pieces. This made us shift to proper stainless steel snorkels for our Great Escape (GE) fleet later. Despite that, I would also advise people to install branch deflectors to avoid unseen branch hits that can crack/bend the body of a snorkel. For applications in the desert and/or on dusty, wide open trails, a fibre one would just work fine.

How high should a snorkel be? I seldom understand the reasoning behind placing the snorkel head just a couple of inches higher than the roof of their 4WD. It’s unlikely that the vehicle would keep going when the driver himself is submerged inside the cabin under a couple of feet of water. A snorkel head should ideally be placed slightly above the height of the driver and not above the roof of the vehicle. This experience also comes out of our Mahindra Adventure Great Escape off-road events, wherein we have lost a couple of snorkel heads that were placed above the roof line of our recovery Thars. How? Courtesy low hanging tree branch hits as drivers often misjudge the overall height of the vehicle. Do return them in case you still find them under a thick canopy of jungle trails at Sakleshpura.

What is the ideal location of the snorkel on the body work? An automotive high intake snorkel is more than a simple pipe extension all the way to the roof line. It must be designed and installed properly to avoid being a potential hazard to the engine. I have seen some home installations where there are either too many bends, the pipe is too thin or thick and is not water or air tight. The whole purpose of a snorkel is defeated in such a case. When too thick and placed over the A pillar, it could lead to a potential blind spot resulting in an accident. Too thin and too many bends along the route could starve the engine leading to excessive fuel consumption and even power loss.

Ideally, a good snorkel should have the following qualities: Should be able to take punishment and shouldn’t break/warp at the slightest hits or at extreme temperatures. It shouldn’t extend out of the original body work of your SUV to prevent damage. Engine should rev and breathe freely as it did prior to installation. There shouldn’t be an effect on fuel consumption and filter indicator should never show clogged status after installation. Opt for a snorkel that has been specifically made for your SUV. One size doesn’t fit all. Go for genuine accessories if available. Choose your air intake snorkel company and installer wisely. This involves drilling of holes on the bodywork. A professional installer would go a long way in ensuring longevity of the body and effectiveness of the snorkel. A good snorkel installation shouldn’t increase your blind spot.

This brings us to a question – if a snorkel has so many advantages then why don't manufacturers give them as a standard fitment? The answer is simple. Here we are talking about specialised equipment for a specialised application. Most of the Mahindra SUVs already feature very high air intake system in terms of wading depth, keeping safe user application and environment under consideration. The Thar 2020 features a high wading depth of 650mm. A snorkel is a good addition only if pushing boundaries is the goal.

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