What You Need To Know Before Driving Your Jeep Wrangler Through Water

Ethel Walsh

If you’re an off-roading gearhead or an outdoor enthusiast, chances are you’ve come face to face with water that needs crossing. It could be a small and shallow stream or a deeper ford to cross. Whichever the case, tackling water poses a unique set of risks not just to your vehicle but also to the driver and passengers. If you expect to drive through water on your off-roading adventure, we recommend preparing yourself mentally by knowing the terrain, outfitting your vehicle with the right gear, and bringing your hard-won driving skills with you.

Now, when it comes to off-roading, few SUVs can match the capabilities of the legendary Jeep Wrangler—the iconic 4×4 that has conquered every terrain, from the blistering WWII battlefields to the harsh deserts of the Sahara and the harrowing landscape of the Rubicon Trail. The Jeep Wrangler can help you stay safe out there, but you’ve got to know what you’re doing. We have tips for you.

Needless to say, don’t attempt water crossings unless it’s inevitable. Ideally, only drive through approved and designated areas. We realize that such regulations fly out the window in the face of Mother Nature, like the recent Hurricane Ian that hit the Carolinas and southwestern Florida. It’s only natural to think about your Wrangler’s water-fording capabilities and how prepared you are when push comes to shove.

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The Best Jeep For Water Fording

Red 2022 Jeep Renegade off-roading
via: Jeep

Jeep vehicles are some of the most capable and safe off-roading vehicles on the market, with the 4WD drivetrain allowing a safe passage through the harshest trails and terrain, while the purpose-built suspension ensures the passengers within are as comfortable as possible. But which Jeep is perfect for water fording?

Now, Jeep probably won’t top our list of the best vehicles to handle the increasing cases of flooding around the world. The primary reason is that you’re looking for cars with the best wading depth and other water-fording capabilities. In this case, the Land Rover Defender would top the list with its water-wading capacity of 900 mm. The Ford Everest is also up there on the list of the best cars for flood-prone areas, boasting ground clearance of 225 mm or 8.9 inches and a wading capacity of 800 mm or more than 2.5 feet.

You’re right, wading depth isn’t all that matters, but it certainly is the most important because a high wading capacity protects the vehicle’s electrical systems from damage at showtime. But we’re Jeep fans here, and the fact is any Wrangler can take on adverse terrain with ease compared to other models. However, some Jeeps are more off-road-capable than others. In their order of capabilities, we have the Willys, Rubicon, and Rubicon 392. You’re looking at, among other things, more ground clearance and fewer openings in the front.

Furthermore, if the Wrangler’s boxy, military styling isn’t your cup of tea, the Renegade Trailhawk is a viable option – tamer but feature-packed, including an AWD option, great ground clearance, and a smaller front grille suitable for wading water. The Renegade’s turbocharged 1.3-liter inline-four sounds unimpressive, but is a beast when pushed to its limits. It has an optional 2.4-liter engine if you want to get more torque out of the Renegade.

How Deep Can A Jeep Wrangler Go In Water, And What Are The Risks?

2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Off-Road
Via: Stellantis

If you asked the automaker this same question, they’d tell you they already answered it – 30 inches. That’s right. Jeep claims that the stock JK Wrangler can safely ford 30 inches of water at a slow speed, but later added that 19 inches would be the safer estimate because – depending on the lake bed, the Jeep’s weight will cause it to sink several more inches. What if it rains? Your Jeep’s interior is water-resistant, but not waterproof.

Speaking of which, your future Jeep might go further from fording water and climbing rocks to submerging completely underwater without power failure. As part of a larger 2021 EV Day series, the automaker teased a video of future product innovations, including a fictional Jeep Wrangler submerged in water moving through a waterway.

“There is a little wink we have at the end, which is probably post-2030, but I know a lot of enthusiasts and a lot of our communities are requesting it,” Jeep CEO Christian Meunier told The Detroit News last July. To achieve the vehicle’s maximum 33.6 inches of fording depth, the Jeep Wrangler needs to have the new Xtreme Recon package, Jeep’s answer to Ford’s Bronco Sasquatch Package.

So, what are the risks to watch out for when fording water in your Jeep Wrangler? It’s not always about the depth, but your driving skill and speed. Resist the temptation to gun it because the biggest risk is water getting in the air intake. It won’t matter if the water depth is just 10 inches. The right amount of water in the intake could hydrolock your engine and potentially ruin it.

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Safety Tips For Driving Your Jeep Wrangler Through Water

Red 2023 Wrangler SUV

It’s recommended to test the waters before subjecting your jeep to unknown depths. If the depth or flow makes the water unsafe to travel on foot, it’s generally not safe to drive either. Testing the waters on foot also allows you to spot obstructions like boulders and potholes.

If you’re going to drive through, fording wisdom 101 says to enter the water (slowly in second gear or “Drive” for automatic transmission) slightly upstream of where you want to exit if there’s a moderate water flow. The reason is that moderate flow could push your vehicle downstream while you cross. Otherwise, never drive upstream, and don’t restart the engine if it dies in the water.

Furthermore, prep your jeep for water fording. Installing extension tubes on the differentials helps protect them from taking water, and you want to avoid driving into a depth above the air intake’s height. A snorkel would be ideal, and the new Xtreme Recon package has you covered on that count.

You also don’t want to go in there with hot axles and risk having them cool rather rapidly, and lower the air pressure in the differential housing, as that will lead to the breather tube drinking up. You know about water bras, right? Your engine needs one to stay safe from water coming through the front grille. Finally, keep your overlanding gear within easy reach – tow straps, winch, and all – just in case. Always better to get prepared for the worst-case scenario.

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