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The Basics of Off-Road Driving

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With a few well-thought-out modifications and a dose of common sense, just about anyone could become an off-road adventurer with a 4×4 truck.

If you already own a 4×4 and can’t wait to get off of those boring paved-to-perfection roads to see what it is truly capable of, or you are just looking for a 4×4 and want to know what to consider, this article on the basics of off-road driving is a good read for you. 

In this article, we go over some basics of off-road driving and how to ensure that your off-road adventure is as safe and, above all, fun as possible!

The Requirements for a 4×4 Vehicle

If you don’t already own a 4×4 with which you can tear through the mud and any other terrain you will encounter on your trail of choice, you may be wondering what to look for when you are in the market for a new vehicle. 

The type of off-road vehicle you need depends on exactly what you plan to do with it. The heavier 4x4s such as the Land Rover Defender or the Toyota Landcruiser 70 series can handle just about anything you will throw at them. 

But when in doubt, you want to pay attention to the vehicle’s ground clearance in any case. The ground clearance is how high the 4×4 stands on its wheels. This height must be at least 18 inches to be able to cross the more complicated circumstances of off-road trails safely.

The Basics of Off-Road Driving: Be Prepared

working on an engine

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Before you embark on your next 4×4 off-road adventure, always check your vehicle and your emergency supplies. You don’t want to end up on the trail facepalming yourself that you forgot to restock your first-aid kit or your spare gas tank. 

Double-check your car battery and make sure your hoses are in good condition. Also, check the fluids in your car and you are good to go.

Low Gearing

What is also extremely useful when you drive a 4×4 is low gearing, which is also known as terrain acceleration.

Off-road vehicles can switch between high and low ranges. High gearing is similar to the setup of the average car and provides a high top speed. Low gearing, on the other hand, is useful for off-road but also for towing heavy loads in a hilly area. Low gearing usually can be engaged with a lever or button while standing still. 

When planning to go off-road, being comfortable with the driving manual is a definite must and lifesaver. So you may want to get comfortable with that stick (or that button) before risking the back-country dirt.

The Basics of Off-Road Driving: Additional Equipment

Off-Road Driving Additional Equipment

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You should also consider taking extra equipment with you when you plan to ride the rougher trails with your off-road vehicle. It will always be useful to have a towing rope or cable with you. Don’t skimp out on buying the cheap brandless knockoffs either; if you end up stuck and a cheap cable breaks, you will wish you hadn’t. 

Other than an excellent towing cable, pack a shovel, gloves and either heavy boots or a set of dry socks and shoes with you. You can even choose to fit specific terrain tires or just go with a proper set of all-terrain tires and have a winch for the heavy work. 

If you are going on an extended 4×4 overlanding trip, have your vehicle thoroughly checked a few weeks before departure to ensure that if it needs any repairs, there is time for parts to be ordered and replaced. Ensuring your trip won’t be delayed. 

The tires, in particular, have a hard time when you are driving off-road with a 4×4 vehicle. So the basics of off-road driving necessitate that you make sure you know how to change a tire and take at least one spare tire with you.

And also, don’t forget to pack a socket wrench, a hydraulic jack or a high lift jack, and a base plate as they are indispensable especially if you are unlucky enough to get stuck in the sand.

Shifting Gears

In general, you are driving a 4×4 in 2nd or 3rd gear with a low gear engaged. If you’re driving in rough terrain, it’s best only to shift gears when it’s really necessary and make sure you don’t break on the clutch to avoid adding unnecessary stress to your engine and gears. This is about as fundamental as you can get with the basics of off-road driving.

Choose the right gear well before an obstacle, and then keep driving until you pass the block. So never shift gears on a hill! This action takes away your forward momentum, and getting that back will put more stress on your engine than pushing forward.

And just always count on your car getting dirty from top to bottom inside and out. Because it most likely will, dirt truly is part of the charm here. 

The Basics of Off-Road Driving: Never Shoot Straight

 

off-roading in the sound

photo by Nneirda via iStock

Familiarize yourself with the approach and departure angle of your vehicle. On some trails, you can only drive diagonally. If that is the case, concentrate on keeping the tires on track and moving forward slowly.

A vehicle usually tends to slide before it would tip over. If that happens, steer the car in the sliding direction and use your acceleration pedal to get the vehicle straight down. If that does not work and tipping over is unavoidable, try to turn the engine off and hold on to your seat and steering wheel. Hopefully, the seatbelts will do their job and you will just “enjoy” the ride. 

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