DRIVING OFFROAD TIPS YOU SHOULD KNOW
I was dying to go on a 4WD adventure into the bush but kept putting it off. Finally, I asked myself why I was reluctant to take the plunge and go for it and realised that I was nervous. I wasn’t sure if I had the necessary skills to drive in those conditions, so I made sure I became clued up and several years later I have had many 4WD adventures and never looked back.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT CAR
It should be a given, but don’t try and go bush bashing in a sporty modern 4WD. It wasn’t built for the bush and it can’t hold its own on this terrain. Similarly, your car needs to be well maintained and reliable. If you don’t care for your car all year round and keep it turning over well, it could let you down in the middle of a tight spot in the outback where “Road Service” won’t come and get you.
One of the best tips I learnt was to reduce the tyre pressure. When driving over soft terrain the forward thrust of your 4WD creates small sand mounds in front of each wheel, so your 4WD is constantly climbing a slope. With fully inflated tyres more sand is pushed in front of your vehicle and you can just fall back down the slope. Deflating your tyres to a low tyre pressure provides a larger surface area and the weight can be distributed over a wider area which allows the vehicle to gain forward momentum more easily and reduce the likelihood of becoming stuck.
A decreased tyre pressure can also help on rough and corrugated terrain as it helps alleviate the pressure on the suspension. A soft tyre will help absorb some of the vibrations which would normally be handled by the suspension. You need a reliable pressure gauge to make sure you manage your tyre pressure correctly.
River crossings were the most nerve-wracking thing as an inexperienced 4WD driver. I was terrified of being taken by the current in a crocodile infested river. But when you successfully complete a river crossing, it can be the most rewarding thing you do in your 4WD.
Check the current first, if it’s going too fast don’t even attempt a crossing. But if it’s calmer and you feel confident enough to be able to wade in and check the depth then make sure the spot you’ve chosen is shallow enough for your vehicle.
Getting the speed right is key. Too fast and you will aquaplane and could end up in a deeper part of the river, too slow and your bow wave could escape you and come back and flood your engine. Entering the water at around 8km/h and maintaining that speed is usually about right.
If you stall or things go sour, remain calm. Get a winch or some rope and get a mate to help you out. Don’t try and drag the car forward on its own.
Off-road driving isn’t like city driving. Keeping your hands at 10 and 2 or quarter to three won’t help you off road. With uneven terrain, your tyres find the spaces in the track and your steering column is often forcefully pulled away from without warning. I have known this to break bloke’s fingers and thumbs if they are holding the wheel too tightly or have their fingers interlocked inside the wheel. Keeping your fingers outside the wheel in a more relaxed and looser grip will mean that if the 4WD hits an unexpected rock and your tyres are pulled into a gap, the wheel can spin freely as the tyres find their way between the rocks and you guide it back on course.
LEAVE YOUR EGO AT HOME
If something doesn’t seem safe. Don’t plough through it and hope for the best. The bush can chew you up and spit you out, it doesn’t care about how expensive your car is, or how many years’ experience you have. If you try and career through the bush at breakneck speed and hope for the best, it will destroy your car and it will be expensive.
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