Snorkels are an excellent addition to your 4×4, giving peace of mind that the air intake has a reliable and water-free air flow.
You know you want one, but choosing between plastic and stainless steel snorkels can be slightly confusing.
In this guide, we cover the pros and cons of each and run through common concerns and mistakes people often make when choosing.
How a snorkel is constructed is of greater importance than what it is made of. The three most important features to consider when buying a snorkel are:
Not only does a snorkel need to deliver enough air to the motor, but it also needs to deliver it in dusty, harsh conditions.
A sealed snorkel and air intake, for those who plan to make water crossings, and a snorkel head that isn’t collecting dust, is a good start.
Also, a forward facing snorkel head isn’t necessarily the best snorkel; some snorkel heads deliberately open at an angle to avoid ingesting debris and rain (air is pretty happy to change direction so an air ram design isn’t mandatory).
Most snorkels are a DIY project, so how a kit is assembled on a car correctly and how much cutting is required depends not only on the vehicle but also on the snorkel’s research and development (R&D).
Snorkels should last as long as the vehicle, and the same goes for the fittings used for installing them.
Weld quality, rubber seals, and attachment to the air box all come into play.
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Stainless Steel vs plastic snorkels: Key similarities
It might surprise some that there are numerous similarities between stainless steel and polypropylene plastics.
Either a stainless steel or plastic snorkel is going to be an accessory that won’t add much weight, with either coming in between five and eight kilograms.
Regardless of the material, a snorkel should bring the same benefits. They should flow a large amount of clean air and limit the possibility of water ingestion through the intake system.
Protection from the elements
Stainless steel’s biggest benefit is its resistance to rust, thanks to the addition of chromium. This should put it in good stead to last many years.
Most plastic snorkels are made with UV-resistant polyethylene, which stops them from fading and drying out.
Stainless steel vs plastic snorkel: Key Differences
Plastic snorkels dominate a market that caters for almost every 4×4 model out there. You’ll find myriad options ranging in style and price.
If you’re specifically looking for stainless steel snorkels, you might be lucky to get one or two to choose from to suit individual vehicle models.
The lack of choice doesn’t work in favour of the consumer if looking for steel; prices start at around $700 and only go up.
Plastic snorkels, on the other hand, start at less than $100!
The acoustic damping effectiveness of polyethylene makes for an overall quieter drive, but that might also be a reason for some owners to install a stainless snorkel; more induction noise.
Plastic snorkels come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, thanks to the ease with which roto-moulded products can be made.
The designs can be better integrated with the lines of the vehicle and, thanks to computer-aided design, optimised for both airflow and vehicle aerodynamics.
While stainless steel snorkels can also have various shapes, because they need to normally be welded together or bent to make turns, the costs are higher and the design options are far more limited. Normally they’re mostly constructed with circular tubing.
Some stainless snorkels still utilise plastic parts in any case, highlighting the limitations that come from working with steel.
Polyethylene has good impact resistance, and can absorb a surprisingly high impact before cracking. The problem is once it’s cracked it is difficult to repair.
Stainless steel will take a big knock before being damaged, but it might dent badly enough to reduce airflow, as if it was crushed like a can.
If the snorkel head and body are well-designed, then cleaner air potentially means more engine power, and greater fuel efficiency as well.
However, with plastic, you can achieve much more varied results thanks to the range of shapes that can be formed to influence airflow.
Based on the sheer popularity and options available, a polyethylene snorkel is going to be the choice for most 4×4 owners.
Snorkel choice often comes down to looks, regardless of the material. That said, steel looks tough and it is definitely less common.
It is subjective that a stainless snorkel will outlast a plastic one; either material should last decades (if it is high-quality snorkel to begin with; you get what you pay for).
The labour involved in welding steel is what keeps the price high, and their lack of popularity compared to plastic.
Is a stainless snorkel worth the extra money? Hard to say, but we’d be inclined to say no, it isn’t.