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How to Cross Water in a 4WD: Our Top Tips


Australia is home to some of the most stunning rural and outback landscapes. However, many of the best stunning escapes are hidden – inaccessible for many. Luckily, that's where 4WD cars come in! Britz has 4WD vehicles available to hire so you can see more of Australia.

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Safety Tips for Crossing Water in a 4WD

It’s important that you familiarise yourself with our safety tips before you attempt crossing water in a 4WD. 4WD essentials like understanding water depth, tire pressure, speed and more, are important to understand before attempting a water crossing in a 4WD. Here are a few safety tips to consider:

Understand your wading depth

Wading depth is a 4WD term used to describe the maximum height that a car can be immersed in water before causing damage to the engine. It’s important to know your wading depth (simply put – how deep you can go into the water) so the vehicle isn’t damaged and you don’t find yourself stuck.

Always check out the water before you drive in

Before diving into any water crossing, it's important to know how deep the water is to ensure you don’t find yourself out of your depth (quite literally). Here are a few quick tips to check water depth:

  • Get out of the car safely and check the depth
  • You may need to walk through the river to check the depth if it’s fairly deep
  • This will help you to understand the ground underneath the water as well - understanding if its rock, sandy, has deep holes, is there a firm base to get grip and so on will help you decide if you want to proceed
  • Be mindful of wildlife - be sure there’s nothing lurking in the water before you enter
  • If the water looks like it will be more than 30cm deep or more than halfway up the wheel height, do not cross
  • Never drive in beach/salt water

Reduce tyre pressure for grip

Reducing tyre pressure is another one of the top 4WD essentials for beginners and experts alike. In short – reducing the tyre pressure increases the amount of rubber on the road, and thus gives a maximal amount of grip and traction when a 4WD car is exploring varied off-road terrain.

Plan a path across the water

Before setting off, it’s good practice to check your route across the crossing. Planning where you will enter, the path you will follow and exit the water is going to give you the chance to assess the area if it’s at different water levels and to make a plan accordingly.

Go in slowly

When you have made a plan and have all the other necessary precautions in place, it's time to begin your 4WD water crossing. When you do – remember to cross slowly and steadily (at less than a walking pace). Even though you have checked the terrain, you never know how the terrain may change, especially when flowing water comes into the mix.

How to cross water in a 4WD

First things first, make sure you are engaged in full 4WD mode. Then follow our top tips below:

1. Check and lower your tyre pressure

If the far bank looks slippery, you might benefit from the extra traction of a lower PSI. Release pressure from your tyres by taking off the valve cap and depressing the valve spring that looks like a little stalk inside the valve. It’s important not to use anything that could cause damage.

Top tip: The head end of a bullet-head nail is a good tool for this!

2. Have your windows down

Next, ensure you have your windows rolled down before entering the water crossing. This is a safety precaution so you can exit the 4WD if something does go wrong – though you shouldn't be in water anywhere near that deep!

3. Enter the water slowly

Begin by slowly creeping into the 4WD water crossing at less than a walking pace. As a general rule of thumb, second gear in low range is the usual gear of choice.

Top tip: for more information about low range and other 4WD terminology, check out our full blog about how to drive a 4WD.

4. Accelerate gently

Once you are in the water, maintain a steady pace to create a bow wave. At this point it's good to avoid changing gear if possible, as this can let water into the clutch plates and increase slip.

5.Coming out of the water

Planning an exit from a 4WD water crossing will greatly depend on the bank (or lack of it) on the far side. Overall it's a good idea to go slow and steady, avoid wheel spin and let the car climb out. Once you are on dry land again, dry your brakes out. You can do this simply by driving slowly and lightly touching your brakes.

What to do you if you get stuck in the water

If you take the necessary precautions listed above, you will likely find yourself crossing without a hitch! However, if for some reason you find yourself stuck in the water, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep the engine running. This stops water from entering the engine from the exhaust end
  • If you stall, restart the engine and move on. Sometimes that might mean backing up before going forward again or finding another way
  • If you do get stuck somewhere you can’t get out of, stay with the vehicle and await help. If it’s too much for the vehicle, it’s certainly much too much for you. You will find other people will be generally happy to help out
  • And of course, the Britz team are just a phone call away if you need​ it

4WD adventure checklist

While every outback Australia adventure requires a little bit of specialized equipment, 4WD adventures require a few additional considerations. Here are a few essentials to add to your 4WD packing list:

  • Footwear - bringing along a pair of waterproof shoes is a must-have for checking water depth
  • Clothing - In addition to your outback adventure gear, its worthwhile bringing waterproof clothes so you can get in the water (including spare clothes to get changed into)
  • Satellite Phone - This is particularly important in case you get stuck in the water and need to call for backup
  • Food and water - Explain why e.g. just in case you get stuck
  • Towel - if you do end up getting wet, having a way to dry off will make the trip all the more enjoyable

Things to do before you begin your 4WD adventure

Like every outback adventure, it's important to plan for a 4WD road trip. A few things to check before you begin your 4WD adventure:

  • Check the weather - be on the lookout for heavy rain that may flood water crossings and make them inaccessible
  • Have a practice drive in your vehicle in an easy spot - this will help you to understand how everything works
  • Research your itinerary - in addition to planning your route, its important to understand the area, what the terrain is like, and what wildlife you may encounter on your 4WD road trip and so on.

The best itineraries to follow in your 4WD

Australia is hands-down one of the best places to rent a 4WD car with endless driving Routes in Australia to explore! These are some of the best 4WD itineraries to consider for your upcoming campervan trip.

Broome to Darwin

Broome to Darwin is a quintessential outback adventure - perfect for a 4WD adventure. This 15 day road trip spans the stunning red sandy beaches of Broome, past the iconic Bell Gorge, into the depths of El Questro and up into the famed northern beauty of Darwin.

Kakadu and Katherine from Darwin

The trip from Kakadu to Katherine is best known as Nature's Way – and it is aptly named! This Northern Territory road trip itinerary tours through some of the most iconic (and stunning) natural scenery that the NT has to offer. From the wild beauty of Kakadu, the temperate waters of Katherine Hot Springs, all the way to the lush forests of Litchfeild – this travel itinerary delivers untouched nature the 4WD way!

Alice Springs

4WD Roadtrip around Alice Springs is the perfect week-long adventure for travellers looking to get a taste of the Australian Outback and experience the 4WD lifestyle. This travel itinerary loops through Uluru, Ormiston Gorge, Kings Canyon and more – making this the perfect introduction to 4WD cars and outback Australia.

The Outback Way

The Outback Way road trip travel itinerary is another popular Australia road trip for 4WD cars. This trip comfortably takes around 11 days to cover 3000km. In addition to exploring the stunning scenery of Australia’s red centre, this itinerary weaves its way through top Australian attractions like Uluru and Australia’s dinosaur capital: Winton.

Ready for your 4WD adventure?

Australia is a 4WD van road trip dream, with endless opportunities for exploring the wild beauty of the Australian outback. Whether you are setting off on your first 4WD adventure, or a 4WD van lover looking for a new challenge, 4WD water crossing can be simple and fun with a few of these 4WD essentials.

Ready to start planning your 4WD adventure? Hire your Britz 4WD today online or at your local Britz branch. Looking for more tips and tricks on how to drive a 4WD or 4WD essentials to pack for your adventure? Check out the Britz blog. Still have questions? Our experienced team at your local branch can answer all your questions when you pick up your 4WD camper from us at the start of your trip.