Taking your 4x4 off road for the first time is loads of fun, as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into. Here are seven tips for a new 4x4 driver.
This article was originally released on 22 June 2017, we have updated this article to include some helpful videos and we have added some useful content to make this information more valuable to you.
Let’s be honest, everyone should own a 4x4 (or at least get to take one off road once in their lifetime). Nothing is quite as liberating as taking your Jimny into the bush and challenging yourself to a competition of “man vs. nature”.
Here’s a video explaining the mechanics behind why your 4x4 tackles the terrain as well as it does:
However, if you’re a first timer, it can be dangerous out there - unless you know what you’re doing. Here’s some tips to help ensure you don’t find yourself spending the night stuck in the mud, cold and alone in the wilderness.
1. Always drive with a buddy. There’s safety in numbers - especially if you’re new to driving off road. Having a second vehicle with you will ensure that you’ll be able to get out of any sticky situations (yes, we mean literally getting stuck in the mud).
2. Have a rope on hand. If you’re going to be taking your 4x4 off the beaten track, then a strong tow rope should be your new best friend. Do keep in mind that your tow rope is useless if you don’t have a buddy to tow you - so again, emphasis on the need for travelling with a minimum of two vehicles.
You might also want to invest in a couple of other off road tools, like a bush knife to cut away any pesky branches that get in your way and possibly some sort of multi-tool.
3. Don’t drive with a “death grip”. A lot of first timers learn this lesson the hard way - don’t let yourself be one of them. There are two reasons why you shouldn’t drive with a tight grip - the first one being that you might break a thumb. This isn’t an exaggeration. When you have your thumbs folded tightly around the inside of your steering wheel, any sharp movements can strain, dislocate or even break your thumbs.
The second reason not to drive with a “death grip” is that you need to allow your wheels to centre themselves - otherwise they could be headed off in slightly different directions. Gripping onto the steering and fighting the terrain will only slow you down. Loosen your grip and stick to gentle movements.
4. Understand the terrain. You’ll find four main hazardous terrains out there; mud, rocks, sand and water. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could find yourself stuck or even worse, causing major damage to your vehicle. Be sure to understand these terrains (and how to drive through them) before you set off on your adventure.
There’s Mud Out There, a South African 4x4 enthusiast channel on YouTube have a great series on handling various terrains. Their first episode (below) deals with how to navigate your way through the mud. You can find their other episodes (dealing with all sorts of other 4x4 tips and tricks from rocks, sand and water to what tools you should pack and which modifications you may want to invest in) on their channel.
5. Momentum vs. acceleration: know the difference. Bridgestone, tyre manufacturer, writes that momentum is “the speed that the vehicle has already built up that allows you to go through that muddy patch or sand.” Acceleration is what you do to gain this speed. Essentially you don’t want to accelerate when you should just be leveraging your momentum.
Driving through mud is a good case in point - if you accelerate rapidly in the mud, you’re going to begin digging yourself into a hole (and end up horribly stuck). Accelerate before you enter the mud and then glide through using the momentum you’ve built up.
6. Always stay straight on the slopes. If you try to take a hill diagonally you’re running a higher risk of rolling your 4x4. Try to keep your car as straight as possible when going downhill and if you feel you’re beginning to slip sideways, slow down.
7. Clear obstacles one wheel at a time. If and when you encounter an obstacle (like a fallen tree) approach it at an angle that allows you to climb over it one wheel at a time. The other three wheels give you the traction you need to lift that wheel over the obstacle. Be very careful when you’re doing this (especially if there’s a possibility that the obstacle might shift) because this can cause damage to the undercarriage of your car.
Now that you have a feel for the basics, go out there and have some fun! We’d love to hear some of your funniest 4x4 stories (especially if you have pictures) in the comments.