CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Fording a creek

I ford a creek daily, have 2005 Honda CR-V w/100,000 miles. Husband has same car, few more miles. Thinking one of us should get a new car. Better mpg would be nice. Can’t afford to build a bridge, prop taxes would go up also. Need good ground clearance. Local Honda shop has been doing lots of repairs lately, last one $900. Didn’t expect that on a well-rated Honda. Looking at: Mazda CX-5, but front end doesn’t slope down like Honda. Worried low front profile may scrape driving down gravel, uneven hill to creek from home. Needs to be regraded. Fun to drive, good price. Should I be worried? Also Toyota Rav-4, Hyundai Sante Fe. Used would be OK, but generally for good mpg new seems to be better. Any advice?

I don’t know how much water you have to go through, but you might want to pay attention to the position of the engine air intake. If the engine sucks in water while it is running and hydrolocks, it turns into a very large, expensive paperweight.

How about another CRV? The new ones get about 3 MPG better than the 2005 model. The RAV4 would be another option. There’s the Forester as well, but it gets worse mileage than you’re currently getting.

If it were me though, and I was fording a creek on a daily basis, I’d get something more robust, fuel economy be damned. But that’s just me. As doubleclutch pointed out, if you get a vehicle not built for what you’re intending to do with it, and you hydrolock the engine, that’s going to be a pricey repair, like 5 grand or likely more. So you could potentially be money ahead with going for a vehicle that’s equipped to for water fording rather buying a glorified Civic and just hoping for the best. You know the old saying; Plan for the worst and hope for the best.

What about a crew cab Toyota Tacoma or Nissan Frontier? You can get a ground clearance over 9-inches with the Tacoma PreRunner and a little less than 9-inches with the Frontier. You have to get the 6-cyl if you want 4WD, and that will reduce your gas mileage.

We don’t know anything about the creek. How deep does it get during a big rain storm? If it’s never more than 5 or 6 inches, then just about anything will do.

Fording a creek is like Jeeping one, just cheaper.

More info on the setup would be nice, pictures would be most helpful.

@jtsanders:
The CX-5 offers 8.5 inches of ground clearance with much better mpg numbers. 21/25 vs 19/23 vs 26/35 for the Tacoma, Frontier and CX-5 respectively. If you add automatic and/or 4/AWD, then you’ll drop off some MPGs

Do you think the unexpected repairs have anything to do with the road you drive on? Don’t be impressed by a car based SUV ground clearance. Add a little weight and and independently sprung car based clearance disappears. I suggest one of your vehicles is a truck. ( I like the Tacoma) the ground clearance is ligitimate with the solid axle and it’s better made to handle the roads you have. If you’re having “fun” driving rough roads and fording streams in a car based SUV, your car isn’t. I recomend a truck or real off roader like a 4Runner, Pathfinder or even the cheaper Jeep Liberty which is decent. You can then have fun with fewer rough road related repairs.

Also, you can dump stone over the creek bed to stabilize the driving base and minimize the depth…that shouldn’t affect taxes.

Dont blame the vehicle you arent having problems because its a Honda,you are having problems because of what you are asking it to do-I know the way creeks behave,you probaly need a Hummer.Look at a Silverado( a 1500) your on road milage will be better then you think-Kevin

No matter which of these suggestions you purchase, the very FIRST comment by doubleclutch is PARAMOUNT to fording streams.
– THE AIR INTAKE – distance from the ground.
( My big Expedition’s air intake goes in from the fender side and is 30" from the ground. in other words I had better see the top of my tires or I’m in too deep. )

There are other deep water considerations , but if you ingest water into the cylinders…:frowning:
( I’ve seen some cars hydrolock just from deep puddles )

Some vehicles can be ordered with deep water ability and may be the route to go.
Jeeps, hummers, and I think the Toyota FJ cruiser too can either be ordered with, or a kit added for deep water.
The axle vents, air intake, fuse box, alternator, and floor/firewall access plugs are some things that need addressed for deep water.

Your CR-V requires so many repairs because it is not a true off-road vehicle. It is either a car-based SUV or a cross-over vehicle, neither of which was built for true off-road use you are using it for.

You need a Jeep of some kind, maybe even a Wrangler, something that was made for the kind of off-road use you describe.

Forget about fuel economy. You have more important considerations.

Hondas are highly-rated because most people use them for what they were designed for; on-road use. You need either a truck, a truck-based SUV, or a vehicle that was designed for off-road use, like a Jeep Wrangler. Whatever you do, don’t buy another CR-V, or any other vehicle that isn’t intended for off-road use.

This isn’t just about ground clearance. It’s about having a vehicle that is rugged enough to drive on uneven terrain without breaking or bending anything.

Like others have said, make sure you check the air intake, and consider getting a snorkel for whatever you buy to elevate the air intake as high as the roof of the vehicle.

How deep is this creek? Personally, I have an F-150 and would not want to drive it through more than a foot, foot and a half or so of water, but I’m probably more cautious than most. Also, a $900 repair bill on a seven year old vehicle with 100k miles of any kind, regardless of brand or country of origin of the brand is not unheard of and is not an automatic death certificate. ANY car that old is going to start seeing bigger and more frequent repair bills, and keep in mind if it’s paid for, those repair bills are still cheaper than a payment and insurance on a new car.

I guess if you want a Honda, you could bet a Ridgeline. It is certainly more rugged than a CR-V and has 4WD. You can investigate ground clearance and where the intake is at a dealer. Tell them how you use the vehicle, and see what they recommend. I would guess either a Ridgeline or Pilot. Look under each at the suspension, body, and drive train to see where the lowest clearance is. And open the hood to see where the air intake is. You don’t have to buy either if they don’t look like they will work for you.

Before we get too into recommending studly off road vehicles, we should wait for OP to tell us exactly what kind of creek this is. I’ve seen creeks that are little more than trickles for 99% of the year, and that would be outclassed by a gutter when they’re swollen. I’ve also seen “creeks” that would be called “rivers” if their cartographers didn’t have such a sick sense of humor. :wink:

Personally, I don’t care if it’s a dry creek, I’d still want a real off-road vehicle if I was crossing a creek every day, even if it meant leaving my car at the crossing and riding an ATV the rest of the way.

In the old days the main concerns were the intake and exhaust. Off roaders used to (still do) modify their vehicles with intake snorkles and exhaust outpipes that bring those entry and exit points above the water.

Nowadays there’re other concerns. Modern car-based vehicles, despite their off-road styling, will have things like the charcoal canister and other emissions and operating system devices in places below the cabs. Immersion of these devices in water can and does cause expensive damage.

Besides which, immersion of the lower parts of the cabin, such as the rocker panels and floorpan stampings (which are actually the frame) can cause premature rotting and deterioration of the vehicle to an unsafe condition.

If you truely have to ford water up to and beyond the rocker panels, you need a 4x4 designed to do so. A Tacoma or Taudra 4x4 crew cab would be an excellent choice. It’s a truck-framed vehicle designed for true off road use.

MB, I understand modifying the intake, but why did they modify the exhaust? Isn’t there already water in the exhaust and enough pressure to keep more water out while the engine is running?

I’ve never personally seen a vehicle with a modified exhaust for this type of use.

Yup, absolutely. Don’t assume that the water pressure from a stream cannot overpower the exhaust pressure of an idleing engine, at least sufficiently to prevent it from breathing out.

Here’s an example of an exhaust for true stream-fording.

As long as you’re fording a stream daily you can expect car repair expenses no matter what kind of vehicle it is.

OP, please tell us what repairs you did. Things like timing belt; water pump; and other similar things are not repairs, but routine maintenance at 100,000 miles. A few things like that on some makes can easily approach $900 if you go to the dealer.

Our best mechanics tell us that a car above 100,000 miles will normally require at least $1,000 a year for maintenance and repairs. That is still much cheaper than buying a new $20,000 to $30,000 car.