Water Hazards Maintaining your drivetrain is a must during the wet season

During the winter and early spring months, there's a good chance your hunting rig is going to spend some time in the water, crossing storm-swollen streams or logging miles on rain- or snow-covered streets. Four-wheel-drives are very capable in wet conditions, but prolonged exposure to water can damage vulnerable drivetrain components unless you take the right precautionary measures.

CHECK THE DEPTH

When you arrive at a water crossing, get out and check its depth first to make sure you won't swamp your truck. What was a shallow stream in the fall could be deceptively deep come spring if it's being fed by rainfall or melting snow.

How deep is too deep for your truck? A good rule is to stay out of water that's deeper than bumper height, in order to keep the cab and, more important, the engine compartment dry. There's a lot under the hood that can be seriously damaged or destroyed if submerged, from ignition components and computers to the engine itself. Don't worry too much if your tailpipe is at or just below water level. Exiting exhaust gas should keep the water out.

IF YOU'RE DUNKED

If you find your engine compartment submerged, shut off the engine immediately. That should minimize damage from water being sucked into the cylinders. Once you're towed out, remove the spark plugs and turn over the engine so the pistons can push out any water through the plug holes.

Even during crossings at a safe depth, water can leak into wheel bearings through worn or broken seals. Frequently inspecting your bearing seals can prevent freeze-ups caused by water leaking in and removing grease.

Water can also find its way down through the breather tubes that ventilate the transmission, transfer case and differential cases (the "pumpkins" in the axle housings) and contaminate the oil in those components. Differential or transfer-case gear oil turns from black to gray when contaminated, and transmission fluid goes from red to a frothy pink. In both cases contaminated fluids must be changed. If your rig is frequently in the water, you might want to extend the breather tubes beyond their factory length to keep water out.

If you find yourself regularly hood-deep, however, it's time to take more drastic measures, such as relocating your air intake through an external snorkel and protecting electrical components with watertight connections and containers. The boating industry also offers a wide array of waterproof engine and electrical components should you need a rig that's more swamp buggy than pickup truck.

Hold the Salt

How do you protect your truck against damage caused by corrosive road salt? According to the car-care experts at Mother's Wax (800-221-8257, www.mothers.com):

1. Apply an undercarriage coating to help keep water and salt away from the chassis and fender wells.

2. Flush the undercarriage with water frequently to remove or at least dilute salt.

3. Wash the truck's painted surfaces as often as possible with an automotive soap to remove damaging chemicals.

4. Polish and wax the painted surfaces periodically.

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