ESSENTIAL 4X4 DRIVING TIPS
It’s a well-known fact that momentum plays a key role when tackling off-road terrain, but there’s often a tendency to confuse momentum with speed. Ideally, you want to match your speed to the terrain. But more specifically, you want to maintain that speed without making any major adjustments halfway through, because altering your speed once you’re in an obstacle often leads to a loss of momentum, traction, and control. To be clear, this doesn’t apply only to backing off the throttle, but applies to sudden throttle inputs, too – which is where most folks go wrong.
When driving through an off-road obstacle, there’s a strong tendency to increase speed when a loss of momentum is detected. It’s an instinctive reaction: when the vehicle slows down, your natural response is to accelerate. Unfortunately, most ditches, dips and obstacles have been created by previous vehicles which have wheel-spun in the same location, and the chances are that the same will happen to you if you increase your 4x4’s wheel speed.
There are many tricks that can be employed when driving off-road, but the single most important factor is momentum, and (specifically) getting the approach-speed right so that major adjustments are NOT needed. If you don’t get it right the first time, simply reverse your vehicle and give it another go – a fraction faster.
Which brings us to the second most important 4x4 driving tip: reading the terrain.
Travelling on holiday in your 4x4 is far riskier than taking part in any 4x4 challenge. This may seem like an absurd statement, but most 4x4 competitions have dedicated recovery vehicles on standby. In contrast, a trip through Namibia’s isolated northwest region requires the utmost care and respect for your 4x4. Each obstacle should be treated as a threat to your vehicle and your travelling safety. A breakdown in a remote region could see you stranded for weeks before another vehicle chances along.
For this reason, it’s crucial to read the terrain before entering an obstacle. This means taking the time first to exit your 4x4, then to assess the road ahead of you, (is it loose, rocky, sandy or slippery?) and finally, to find the path of least resistance (the risk).
What’s more, you should engage your vehicle’s driving aids before entering the obstacle. Never wait to engage your vehicle’s 4WD system, diff-lock or traction control: off-road driving aids work far better as preventative tools than as recovery ones.
The same applies to a set of recovery tracks: use them before you need them. Generally speaking, recovery tracks are designed to give traction to a bogged-down 4x4; but if you suspect the terrain ahead is loose or soft, or if there’s a steep ledge to climb, don’t wait to find out – place your recovery tracks where they’re needed most. In short, you want to minimise your risks and the potential limitations of your 4x4.
This brings us to our last Back to Basics driving tip: practice makes perfect. Spend as much time as possible driving your 4x4 off-road. You want to familiarise yourself with your vehicle’s strengths and weaknesses, while learning how to read the terrain and gauge the necessary momentum.
- If you’re unsure of an obstacle, exit your vehicle and read the terrain.
- Choose the path of least resistance.
- Drive as slowly as possible, and as fast as necessary.
- Maintain momentum − resist the urge to make sudden throttle inputs.
- Engage 4WD on loose gravel roads − it’s safer, and you’ll have more traction.
- Never attempt an obstacle in 2WD. You’re likely to damage your vehicle, get stuck, or at the very least, cause harm to the environment.
- Engage your vehicle’s off-road driving aids before you enter an obstacle.
- If you have a set of recovery tracks, put them in place before you enter an obstacle – prevention is better than cure.
- When entering a river or water crossing, be absolutely sure of the depth before wading through.