Taking your vehicle off-road for the first time is a thrilling adventure if done correctly, with unknown terrain to be explored and experienced. However, there are many things which can go wrong so it is essential to be prepared before you hit the track.
Here Are Five Things You Must Know Before You Head Out Off-Road:
1. Make Sure You Know the Terrain
It’s never a good idea to head out somewhere completely unknown without checking out the terrain first. You need to know what dangers might lie ahead. After all, you don’t want to end up stuck somewhere in the middle of nowhere because the track you have chosen is impassable.
Do some research before you go but also be aware while you are driving as things can change quickly. If you are on a treacherous track, get out of the car and scout ahead on foot, to make sure it’s not about to get a whole lot worse.
While you are out, make sure you always have an eye on what’s coming up ahead so that you can anticipate any problems, or moves you might need to make. For example, if the trail suddenly disappears it most likely means a steep slope downwards is coming up.
Anticipating what you might have to face will better prepare you to deal with it more effectively.
2. Be Aware of Your Gears
Make sure you put your car in four-wheel drive as soon as you leave the road, or if your vehicle is all-wheel drive, make sure you lock the center differential straight away. The reason is, it’s easy to forget to do this and if you get stuck somewhere, it might be too late to try to free the vehicle as changing at that point won’t help.
If you are driving across a rough trail then you will most likely need to use four-wheel drive low range gear set as well, which helps you to drive more slowly but with more control, helping your vehicle to climb over boulders and rocks better.
The general rule for off-road transmission gears is to drive as slowly as possible, and only as fast as necessary. For a manual four by four, you should generally stick to first gear to climb over rocks, but use a higher gear to drive over softer soil, to help keep up the tire momentum. If it’s really muddy and sticky then a high gear will allow the wheels to have more speed which might help clear the tires better.
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3. Be Prepared For the Worst
The last thing you want when you go out off-road is to find your vehicle stuck, with no way of freeing it. Make sure you always go out equipped with recovery gear so that you can free your vehicle and get home safely.
No matter how carefully you drive there is always a risk of getting stuck out there so always be prepared.
Things like rugged floor mats, which you could slip under your tires, can help get you free, but for the really tough situations, make sure you always carry a heavy duty tow strap which can be attached directly to your vehicle’s frame.
If you are on your own, then an electric winch is also a vital recovery tool to invest in. It’s also worth making sure you have a survival kit for yourself – a change of clothes, torch, warm blanket and food and drink, just in case you do have to wait around for help to come. That way you can make sure you don’t suffer as a result.
4. Reduce Your Tire Pressure
If you are going off road reducing your tire pressure will help to give your wheels more traction, meaning the tires can mold around rocks and obstacles, making it much easier to grip and creating a smoother ride.
If you are riding over sand or snow, lower pressure will also help the vehicle to ride over the surface and prevent your vehicle from digging down and getting stuck on the softer surface. Just be careful when lowering the tire pressure, that you don’t lower it too far otherwise your tire might just pop off leaving you with a flat. You will also have less ground clearance when your tires are lower so you will need to bear that in mind as well.
It may be that you will require adjustments in your tire pressure, according to changes in the terrain you are driving through, so make sure you have a portable air compressor and tire gauge packed in your survival kit.
While having increased grip from the reduced tire pressure, tires can still slip and get stuck so it’s worth practicing a technique which can really help increase traction. Instead of instinctively going for the accelerator, ease off it and move the steering wheel back and forward to try to move your tires onto a new surface and get some grip to pull the car through.
5. Know Your Vehicle’s Capabilities
When we spoke to Big Motoring World about this subject, they said: “There are plenty of obstacles and issues out there. So make sure you know and understand what your vehicle can and can’t do”.
And how true this is! For example, make sure you know how deep you can take your vehicle through water should you have to. And always measure the water before you go drive into it as you can’t see from the surface, just how deep it might be.
Likewise, make sure you know your undercarriage height, particularly if you have reduced your tire pressures. You need to know that there is enough clearance for your vehicle to get over particular rocks or boulders without hitting the back. Make sure you know the angles which you can use successfully without grounding your vehicle over an obstacle.
There is no doubt that driving off road is a great experience and can open your eyes to a whole new world that you can’t imagine from the tarmac. Make sure you follow these five key pointers to preserve your safety and take care of your vehicle while enjoying the off-road experience.