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Car Snorkels: How They Work (Pros & Cons)

When off-roading, having the right equipment is crucial. One such essential accessory is the car snorkel.

A car snorkel is an add-on feature for off-road vehicles. It prevents contaminant and water ingestion and raises the engine’s air intake. The snorkel draws in clean air by extending the air intake to the vehicle’s roof or A-pillar.

In this guide, we will explore various snorkel types, functions, and working mechanisms. In addition to its technicalities, we will look more closely into the installation process and the advantages and disadvantages of this attachment.

Yellow Off-Road Vehicle With Snorkel

What Does a Car Snorkel Do?

First, let us briefly revisit what a car snorkel is and what it does for a vehicle.

A car snorkel is an accessory designed to provide a raised air intake for a vehicle’s engine. It consists of a vertical pipe or duct that extends from the original air intake location to a higher point on the vehicle, an intake adapter, and a head. As to its purpose, it primarily prevents water ingestion and reduces dust and debris intake.

Different Types of Car Snorkels

Car snorkels like in the Rugged Ridge 17756.31 AmFib Low/High Mount Snorkel System (view on Amazon) come in various designs and configurations, catering to different vehicle makes, models, and specific requirements. Let’s explore some popular types based on design and construction:

Ram Snorkel

A ram snorkel, also known as an air ram, is a type of snorkel with a raised air intake located on a vehicle’s A-pillar or roof. It ensures a consistent supply of cool and clean air to the engine while effectively blocking water, dust, and debris.

The snorkel’s design facilitates the inward movement of dirt and water (which are subsequently expelled through its upper vents), allowing purified air to flow from the ram head down to the engine.

Raised Air Intake Snorkel

A raised air intake snorkel includes a vertical pipe that connects to the engine’s air intake system. This pipe extends from the original air intake location to a higher position on the vehicle’s body, often the roof or A-pillar (similar to an air ram).

Doing so enables a consistent flow of fresh air to the engine while significantly reducing the chances of water entering the intake system. This design also ensures optimal engine performance and mitigates the risks of water ingestion during off-road or water-crossing situations.

Raised Differential Breather Snorkel

This snorkel variant is considered a 4×4 car snorkel type, designed specifically for off-road vehicles equipped with a raised differential breather system. It effectively directs the differential breather to a higher position, safeguarding it against water ingress during water crossings.

By preventing water from entering the differential, this snorkel type also ensures the optimal function of off-road vehicles in challenging terrain and water-logged situations.

Vortex Snorkels

A vortex snorkel is a type of car snorkel that incorporates a unique design to enhance air intake efficiency. Its curved shape creates a vortex or swirling effect, optimizing the air entering the engine.

This design helps separate and remove water and debris from the airflow, ensuring cleaner air reaches the engine for improved performance and protection.

Mushroom Snorkels

Otherwise known as mushroom head snorkels, this snorkel type has a distinct rounded shape resembling a mushroom cap (hence the name) and is designed to provide a raised air intake for the engine.

Operationally, the mushroom snorkel allows the engine to draw in cleaner air from a higher position, reducing the risk of water, dust, and debris entering the engine. Its unique shape and placement contribute to improved engine performance and protection and is, in a way, a hybrid of ram and vortex car snorkel designs.

How Does It Work?

A car snorkel comprises several components that work together to ensure the engine’s optimal performance and protection. Holistically, these components include mounting brackets, filter elements, drainage hoses, and even silicone sealant.

However, three main parts deserve more attention due to their significance. Let’s explore each of these primary components and how they function:

Snorkel Head

The snorkel head (view on Amazon) features a water separator and pre-cleaner positioned at the top of the snorkel’s vertical pipe. The water separator prevents water droplets from entering the engine, while the pre-cleaner filters out larger debris and particles, ensuring only clean air reaches the engine.

Vertical Pipe

The vertical pipe connects the snorkel head to the engine’s air intake system. It is carefully designed to maintain airflow while preventing restrictions or turbulence.

By extending the air intake to a higher point on the vehicle (typically the roof or A-pillar), this pipe allows the engine to draw in cleaner air, minimizing the intake of dust, debris, and water during off-road or water crossing situations or when in challenging environments.

Air Intake Adapter

The air intake adapter connects the vertical pipe to the engine’s air intake system. By creating a sealed pathway, this adapter ensures a secure and airtight connection and effectively prevents any leaks or contamination from entering the power mill. The resulting filtered air lends to more efficient combustion, which translates into better engine performance.

Despite creating a closed air intake system, these three components do not make your vehicle impervious to water seeping through nooks and crevices.

Having a car snorkel doesn’t mean you no longer have to check on exposed parts and electrical components. Likewise, it is not equivalent to throwing caution to the wind and leaving your vehicle submerged in deep water for hours or just going ham on deep water crossings.

Car Snorkel Installation

Truck Snorkel

1. Choose a compatible snorkel for your rig.

Select a snorkel type specifically designed for your car make and model. Ensure that whichever you choose has a proper fit and aligns with the existing components of your vehicle’s air intake system.

2. Gather all necessary tools and materials.

Before starting the installation, gather all required tools and materials. These include wrenches, screwdrivers, a drill, silicone sealant, mounting brackets, and instructions that came with the snorkel kit.

3. Prepare your vehicle.

Park your vehicle on a flat and stable surface. Open the hood and find the air intake system components to understand the installation process better. During this step, it is advisable to disconnect the vehicle’s battery to avoid any accidental electrical shorts during installation.

4. Remove the factory components.

After prepping your vehicle, remove factory components like the air intake, fender liner, and any obstructions that may interfere with the snorkel installation. Again, follow OEM instructions or guidelines specific to your vehicle model as you move along.

5. Position the snorkel template.

Your car snorkel should come with a snorkel template. Place that template on the designated installation area (usually on the A-pillar or roof of the vehicle). Ensure the template is aligned properly and securely fastened in place, as you will use it as a guide during the installation.

6. Drill holes and cut the opening.

Now comes the fun part — drilling holes! This is where the template becomes important, as you will use it as a guide to drill holes in the marked areas.

Be careful and precise while drilling to avoid damage to your vehicle. Once the holes are drilled, cautiously cut the opening for the snorkel using a cutting tool.

7. Install the snorkel components.

Assemble the snorkel components according to OEM instructions. Attach the vertical pipe or duct to the snorkel head and ensure a secure fit. Then use mounting brackets or hardware provided with the kit to secure the snorkel assembly to the vehicle’s body.

8. Seal and waterproof.

Apply silicone sealant or rubber gaskets at connection points and around drilled holes to ensure a watertight seal and prevent water or dust from entering through gaps.

9. Reconnect and secure.

Reconnect any electrical or mechanical components that were disconnected before or during the installation process. After which, double-check all connections and ensure they are secure and properly tightened.

10. Test and inspect.

Once the snorkel is installed, test your vehicle to ensure proper functionality. Check for any air or water leaks, and inspect the snorkel system for loose or misaligned components.

Remember that these are general guidelines so they may differ for some car snorkel types. Hence, it is important to follow specific instructions from the snorkel kit and adhere to OEM recommendations.

If you are unsure about any step in the car snorkel installation process, consult a professional or seek assistance from experienced individuals.

More Pointers

Before you perform the installation procedure detailed in this section, there are a few things you need to consider. Ultimately, these pointers will help you to pick the most appropriate car snorkel for your wheeler. They will also help you determine if installing a car snorkel is appropriate or can even be supported by your vehicle in the first place:

1. Find out your rig’s rated wading depth.

A vehicle’s rated wading depth encompasses protection for the air intake and electrical, mechanical, and electronic components vulnerable to water damage during water crossings. It also considers the effectiveness of the cabin’s water intrusion sealing — and whether or not you would need to reinforce door seals and waterproofing.

Several 4x4s may have identical intake heights but entirely different rated wading depths. One good example is the Isuzu D-Max and the Chevrolet Colorado. The latter has a much higher rating than the former.

Conversely, some vehicles may not even have a rated wading depth. If you own one, do not attempt to install a car snorkel. Your car’s fluid reservoirs and electrical components may not be safeguarded against water intrusion.

2. Confirm if systems are available for your four-wheeler.

Treat the car snorkel installation like a modular attachment. The best way to guarantee a perfect snorkel fit is to get one made specifically for your car.

It eliminates the need for a custom part and minimizes installation costs since you need not tinker with other vehicle systems to fit your snorkel snugly in place. Moreover, it reduces the propensity for leaks.

3. Avoid cheap car snorkels — they’re not always a steal.

Especially with critical components like car snorkels, skimping on quality is never a good idea. Unbranded snorkels may look similar to the real thing superficially. But when water and contaminants strike, the difference between premium-quality and sub-par plastic will show.

Good-quality car snorkels are typically constructed from tougher materials that can endure the rigors of off-roading and inclement weather. Meanwhile, the reverse is true for generic snorkels.

4. Pick your poison — air intake or better waterproofing?

While both benefits are akin to car snorkels, one is prioritized over the other depending on the type of car snorkel you choose.

If you go for a ram snorkel, you can expect better filtration. Its front-facing duct utilizes high-speed airflow to direct dirt and water toward the back of the snorkel head, where it is expelled through holes in the head or a water dump valve before reaching the air filter.

But should you opt for the snorkel with a raised air intake or differential breather, you are guaranteed a better-filtered air intake (albeit at the slight expense of your vehicle’s power output and fuel economy).

5. Be prepared to make a scrapbook out of your rig.

A car snorkel isn’t for everyone — especially folks who do not wish to put a dent in their car’s exterior. A car snorkel needs to be bolted to the body of a vehicle.

If you are not prepared to affect the surface of your rig by making a hole through the side of its fender or on the hood (where the air tube will pass through), then hold off on installing that car snorkel.

Vehicles with Snorkels — Pros and Cons 

Land Rover Defender With Snorkel


  • Protection against water ingestion during water crossings, minimizing the risk of engine damage
  • Reduced intake of dust, debris, and pollutants, promoting cleaner air for the engine
  • Enhanced engine performance and longevity, especially in off-road or extreme weather conditions
  • Improved wading capabilities, enabling drivers to cross deeper water bodies safely
  • Potential increase in the vehicle’s resale value, mainly if targeting off-roading enthusiasts and adventurers


  • Increased vehicle height, potentially limiting access to low-clearance areas or parking structures
  • Additional cost for purchasing and installing the car snorkel
  • Laborious installation process and the need to carve bolts throughout the vehicle body
  • Improper installation or maintenance leads to leaks and reduces the snorkel’s effectiveness
  • Snorkel placement may obstruct visibility or create wind noise, adversely affecting one’s overall driving experience

Standard vs. Snorkel-Equipped Vehicles

Choosing which is better between regular vehicles and cars equipped with snorkels is largely preferential and purely dependent on the desired application.

Car snorkels offer several advantages to vehicle owners who engage in extreme off-roading and deep-water fording. However, these same benefits can prove inconsequential to the average Jane or Joe whose sole purpose for their four-wheelers is the daily commute.

Nevertheless, it makes sense to have car snorkels installed in your vehicle if you live in an area with sporadic rain showers and inclement weather as a norm. Below are but some of the benefits you will reap by having your rig fitted with one:

  • Engine Protection — Snorkels safeguard your rig against hydrostatic lock, preventing engine damage and potential breakdowns.
  • Cleaner Air Supply — With a car snorkel, the engine receives cleaner air, reducing the risk of clogged filters, premature wear, and decreased performance.
  • Enhanced Versatility — Equipping a vehicle with a snorkel improves its off-roading capabilities, allowing you to explore more challenging terrains without worrying about water or debris intake.
  • Peace of Mind — Especially for off-road enthusiasts, having a car snorkel instills confidence and peace of mind, knowing that the engine is protected and the vehicle is ready for any adventure.

Even if your intended application isn’t muddying or driving in heavy rainfall, having a car snorkel is not a bad idea for the reasons stated. If anything, it foolproofs your vehicle against sudden climatic changes, making it ready to drive in the best and worst of weather conditions — when you need it to.

Conclusion — How Do Car Snorkels Work?

Car snorkels are indispensable accessories beneficial for off-roading enthusiasts and daily drivers. They provide critical engine protection and enable rigs to conquer water crossings and challenging terrains. However, installing one is not to be taken lightly. It can cost you from $30 to $500+ (depending if it’s parts or a full snorkel kit).

By understanding the different types, functions, and working mechanisms of car snorkels, you can decide the best type for your vehicle. Hopefully, with this guide’s help, you can assess if your rig will do better with a car snorkel and whether you’ll enjoy the exhilaration of off-road adventures after installing one.