How Deep Can I Drive My Pickup Truck Through Water?

The aggressive look of your truck with raised suspensions and large off-road tires will surely turn heads on the streets. But with this aftermarket improvement, does it make you invincible while driving through floods? To what depth can your ride go through water and not have a problem?

If you live in a flood-prone area or often visit flooded off-roads during your expeditions, that’s the big question to answer. The same is true, especially if considering a suspension lift to overcome problems while driving through floodwaters.

What Could Go Wrong When Driving Through Floods?

Before going straight into the floodwater to know if your pickup truck can handle it, it’s best to know your vehicle’s wading depth rating. It’s simply the manufacturer’s measurement of the water depth that a truck can safely drive through.

If you drive a Toyota Tundra, its wading depth is about 19 inches (48.3 centimeters).  Check your truck’s wading depth and ensure it’s higher than the floodwater depth.

Here are some possible occurrences if you drive beyond the vehicle’s wading depth.

Aquaplaning risk

Where the floodwater is still, the edge can go a couple of inches deeper, increasing aquaplaning risk. You may attempt to hit the water at high speeds, but the vehicle will aquaplane instead. As the truck slows down because of the resistance, it will sink slowly into the water.

Engine stalling

The moment the vehicle’s speed reduces and starts sinking, the engine will become waterlogged. If this happens, your truck will stall, leaving you stranded in the water. Even if you don’t stall right away, the water can seep through the electricals of your car and create malfunctions. In the worst case, an electrical fire may erupt.

Possible Injury

The depth and water current may float the vehicle or even take it away. Once the driver loses control of the truck, the risk of injuries will also increase. Before driving through floodwater, make sure the current of the flowing water is also lower in addition to the depth being shallow.

What’s The Safe Depth to Drive in Floods?

As discussed earlier, every vehicle has its wading depth, which you must adhere to. Unless you’re driving a heavy-duty SUV or pickup truck with raised suspension, you shouldn’t drive into floodwater deeper than half the height of the vehicle’s wheel.

Here are some of the pickup trucks with their approximate wading depths:

Pickup Truck Model Wading Depth (inches)
Chevrolet Silverado 20 – 22
Ford F-150 25 – 30
GMC Sierra 20 – 22
Ram 1500 20 – 22
Toyota Tacoma 19
Toyota Tundra 19

What To Do Before and After Driving Through Floodwater

So, while you may think your pickup truck is invincible in floodwaters, it’s best to be cautious. Don’t drive through floods right away if it looks intimidating to your truck’s capabilities. Try to find an alternative route. if it’s high current floods due to rain, you can wait until the water recedes.

In some circumstances, if all above is not possible and you must drive through, here are important guidelines to adhere to:

Drive in the company of other trucks

Floods can be very dangerous even for pickup trucks with raised suspensions. Don’t attempt to drive alone through floods; always have at least one other truck to provide a winch should your vehicle get stuck. If that’s not possible, at least have two or three other persons with you in the truck.

If you have a backup truck, avoid tailgating. It’s best to have one vehicle cross at a time. that way, you’ll avoid bow waves from the vehicle in front coming toward your truck. Also, if the vehicle in front stalls, you could end up being stuck with no one to rescue you.

Confirm the water depth

Where the water isn’t flowing at a high current, you can slowly walk into it with a stick to measure the depth. Generally, if the measured depth is more than half your truck’s tire height, do not drive through. Also, watch out for any signs of unseen dangers if driving through an unfamiliar area.

Engage 4WD

When driving through mud or floods, you want to make sure every wheel will contribute to the vehicle’s drive power. Always have the 4WD engaged before starting.

Keep the AC off

When the fan of the air conditioning system spins, it can produce splashes that can leak into the radiator or other areas.

Drive cautiously

If the depth and current are all okay to proceed, drive slowly but cautiously. Avoid making a sudden change in direction or turns that can cause your truck to lose traction. While at it, don’t make sudden stops as it may cause the engine to stall or the truck to lose control. Also, driving at high speed can cause water to splash beyond the truck’s safe zone.

Keep the engine on

It’s possible to get stuck even if you’ve lifted the suspension. If your pickup truck gets stuck, do not switch off the engine. Turning the engine off may cause the tailpipe to suck in water.  Should the engine stall while cruising through the floodwater, don’t attempt to start it again. Doing this will only cause more water to be sucked up instead of air.

First get a backup truck to winch your vehicle out of the flood, then attempt to start the engine.

Test your brakes afterward

After crossing the floodwater, don’t continue driving through your journey as if all is well. Take a stop and let the truck drain all the water. Test your brakes by pressing gently to help dry out the rotors.

Give the truck a thorough inspection

Also, do an undercarriage inspection to identify stuck rocks or pebbles by lifting the truck. Check the transfer case, gearbox, and differentials. Just as a precaution, inspect other components such as the electronics and fans to make sure all is well.

If you got stuck in the floods for some time before getting assistance, it’s worth inspecting the grease bearings and driveline fluids. Although the axle seals are watertight, they can be affected if exposed to water for some time. Also, alternators, clutches, AC, and starters are prone to damage if the vehicle was kept in floodwater for a while.

Pickup Trucks With The Best Wading Depths

If your current truck hasn’t been performing well when crossing floods, you can opt for a suspension lift if you haven’t done it. Another alternative would be to get a pickup truck with a better wading depth. There are plenty in the market, including

Ford F-150 2021

This pickup truck offers up to 24 inches of wading depth, making it one of the best if you frequently encounter floods.

Ram 1500 2021

The Ram 1500 2021 is a good off-road performer and can withstand floodwaters of up to 20 inches without a problem.

Chevrolet Silverado 2021

This Chevy has a 20-inch wading depth and is also powerful, making it an excellent choice if you frequent flooded areas.

But even with a truck with the best wading depth, it’s still important to factor in ground clearance, departure angles, approach, and tire choice. Do your research and get professional help to find a pickup truck that will serve you well.

The Final Word

Pickup truck enthusiasts who are often hitting the roughest terrains have certainly done some aftermarket modifications to their rigs. But even then, it still doesn’t make the vehicles completely invincible in floods. Driving through floodwater can be dangerous; only attempt it in unavoidable circumstances.

Always know the wading depth of your pickup truck and compare it with the depth of the water before crossing. If you don’t know the wading depth, use half the truck’s tire height as the safe mark. Otherwise, find an alternative route.

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