Like everything in life, the 4WD industry follows a number of trends, and one of the latest trends is fitting a stainless steel snorkel.
These are pretty easy to tell; its smooth tubing that is generally mandrel bent, and installed like the usual plastic snorkels are. Most of them are left plain stainless, but some people are painting them.
What is the point of a snorkel?
Fitting a snorkel to a 4WD is a fairly common modification, and its done for a number of reasons. Essentially, a good quality snorkel is a raised intake that is completely sealed from the air box to the top of the snorkel, where the air is sucked in.
Its worth noting that some factory snorkels are not sealed, and although they won’t allow dust in it is possible for water to get in through the joins between the snorkel and the air box.
A snorkel allows your 4WD to suck air in that is at around roof height. This is good for a few reasons; its not sucking hot air off the ground, nor the dust that is so often thrown around off road.
By having your air intake up another metre, you can hugely reduce the amount of dust being sucked up, which keeps your air filter cleaner and reduces the chance of dust going through your motor.
Dust into your motor will result in its demise very quickly, as many 200 series Land Cruiser owners have found out.
Traditionally, black plastic has always been the go to material for making 4WD snorkels. Its easy to work with, durable and a quality plastic snorkel (like the Safari Snorkel) will last for 30 + years, even out in the weather.
However, a few years ago people started making snorkels out of stainless steel, and now its quite a common modification.
Who makes stainless steel snorkels?
Just as you can’t knock a plastic snorkel up in your shed (unless you make it out of PVC stormwater piping, which I have seen done!) most people will not be able to make a stainless snorkel. It is possible if you use silicon elbows and joiners, but most stainless snorkels are either bent, or lobsterback bent to get the correct profile.
These are done primarily by talented fabrication shops, and without the right gear they are quite tricky to make. You also need to make sure they are well finished so nothing from the fabrication makes its way towards your motor!
Fitting a stainless snorkel
Stainless snorkels are generally fitted in the same way as your traditional plastic ones. The only difference is that often more of the guard is cut away, to allow the snorkel to sit in further. Plastic snorkels tend to be moulded to the guard, which means they don’t need to stick out as far.
The actual connections to the air box are usually done using silicon joiners, or reducers as needed, with hose clamps to hold it all together.
Painted or unpainted
A lot of stainless steel snorkels are unpainted, and when made correctly they look pretty neat. The only downside is that when they are shiny, they can reflect the sun which is unpleasant for yourself, and others on the road.
Forward facing or rear facing
Another trend of late is to have snorkels that face backwards. This means that rather than having the air rammed down the snorkel as you drive along, its sucked in from the back.
I believe that having them forward facing doesn’t really offer any benefits in terms of air being rammed down, as you’d have to be driving at huge speeds (faster than a plane) for it to have any real benefit.
Traditionally they’ve been forward facing to allow the rain droplets to hit the back of the snorkel, and run out before going down into your air box, as your motor doesn’t run too well with water going into the intake!
Rear facing snorkels would certainly have less chance of catching any branches when off road, which is a bonus.
What is the benefits of a stainless steel snorkel?
A lot of people go for a stainless snorkel as it looks cleaner, and better finished. I have to say, when done well they are probably nicer than a lump of black plastic hanging off your 4WD, but that’s not something we’ve really cared too much about.
Some people believe the stainless steel is stronger, and when you have a stray branch that knocks your snorkel, this can be important. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a good quality plastic snorkel damaged from a tree branch knocking it, but they will knock the tops off, or break the plastic grill if they are hit too hard.
Potential for greater air flow
The performance side of 4WD’s has grown in leaps and bounds over the last few years, and those who are really looking to push their vehicles will go for a stainless snorkel in a larger size, as it allows for more air flow. This is needed when you are running huge amounts of boost, and you can get 5 inch stainless steel snorkels that will give you more air than needed.
I’ve seen the Safari Armax snorkel is fairly common on 200 series Land Cruisers, which is the plastic version that allows for greater air flow, and it would be interesting to know the differences between that, the normal safari snorkel and a 4 or 5 inch stainless snorkel.
It wouldn’t surprise me if a 5 inch snorkel is total overkill for any normal 4WD, but people don’t always do things for functionality. They do it to be the first, or to stand out from the crowd, or for bragging rights. What ever floats your boat.
What’s the downsides of stainless snorkels?
Of course, there’s no free lunch here and fitting a stainless steel snorkel will have some downsides that you need to think about. There’s always downsides of fitting 4WD accessories!
For starters, a stainless snorkel is going to cost you a heap more than a plastic unit. If you are happy with a no name eBay plastic snorkel you can get them for $150. I would not recommend fitting one to any 4WD that you care about, but even for a quality plastic unit (like Safari) you are only looking at about $450.
Compare that to a stainless steel snorkel which usually starts off at about $1200, and you can see there’s a fair chunk of money to be saved.
If you go the traditional way with a stainless steel snorkel and have it rear facing, it will be significantly noisier than a forward facing alternative.
Your 4WD consumes a staggering amount of air, and having it whoosh right past your window (or your passenger’s depending on what side the snorkel is on) can be unpleasant. Of course, this is made worse when you have performance modifications done, and are consuming more air.
When changing gears on a turbo vehicle, you’ll hear the whoosh, and at highway speeds the noise from a rear facing snorkel can be similar to the drone that you get from running a bigger exhaust without adequate mufflers.
There are a lot of fabrication shops that are making and installing stainless snorkels. Not all of them have Australian Design Regulation compliance, and that means that the snorkel doesn’t comply for road use.
Now, its unlikely that a snorkel is going to cause you to have an accident, but if it was to injure someone and was not ADR compliant, you could find yourself in hot water. Food for thought.
Depending on how the stainless snorkel is made, the installation time can be much longer than that of a plastic snorkel, and that translates to more cost, and more difficulty.
If you are decent on the tools (and have the right gear) its not much a problem, but it is a step beyond just drilling a couple of holes into your panels and mounting a pre-made plastic snorkel.
You wouldn’t believe the number of people who’ve ended up with significant amounts of water in their air boxes by running stainless steel snorkels. They are essentially a bit of tube with very little engineering, and that means in heavy rain you can end up with a lot of water going into your motor, and the results can be catastrophic. One teaspoon of water into your motor is enough to seize it, and do permanent, super expensive damage.
For this reason alone, I’d stick with what’s engineered and works, but each to their own.
So, plastic or stainless steel snorkels?
At the end of the day, its personal preference. The good quality plastic snorkels have proven themselves, and although they might not be the most attractive things, they work, and that’s the most important thing for us.
I wouldn’t ever buy a cheap snorkel as I’ve seen them degrade with UV light (sitting in the sun), but each to their own. I’m also too tight to buy a stainless snorkel as I don’t see any reason to do so, but they do look neat, and those who make them have some pretty amazing skills.
Overall I don’t think they are a good choice, as you risk sucking water in, and they don’t offer any major advantage over a properly engineered snorkel.