TECHNIQUES TO IMPROVE YOUR OFF-ROAD DRIVING
Many off-roaders, myself included, taught ourselves. I never had any form of off-road driving instruction or tutoring. I started learning to off-road with a beaten-up Toyota and a full tank of petrol when I was 21. As a result, my off-road driving technique, as far as I can explain it, was get from point A to point B without crashing, rolling, getting stuck, or overheating.
But recently I decided to take an off-road course. I was sceptical initially. At my age I am complacent and had a “there’s nothing more I need to learn” attitude. But I ended up taking a lot away from it. For the first time in my life I learnt techniques, and the reasoning behind why we do what we do. I thought I would share these with anyone who would care to improve their off-road driving, but doesn’t have the time or inclination to bother doing a course themselves.
This is an often-repeated motto in the off-roading community, but loads of people still make the same mistake; keep your thumbs on the outside of the wheel. With all those obstacles in the road, your vehicle could slip into a trench or rivet and cause the steering wheel to turn unexpectedly. If your thumb is stuck on the inside of the wheel, you may find your thumb rapidly turning with it, which can make for a nasty broken thumb.
Don’t fight the wheel. You shouldn’t need to wrestle the wheel to force the vehicle to change direction. This is how you force the car to do something unnatural and cause something to break. With modern power steering, holding the wheel loosely and guiding the vehicle where you want it to go is far better for the 4WD and your arm muscles.
ENGAGE FOUR WHEEL DRIVE
So many off-roaders are reluctant to engage the vehicle’s four-wheel drive capabilities. As soon as you are on terrain that you wouldn’t want to traverse in your family hatchback, engage your four-wheel drive function. It is true that constantly driving in 4WD mode on tarmac can cause damage to the transmission, but this doesn’t mean you have to drive in two-wheel drive until you reach tough terrain. The second you couldn’t tackle this terrain in your mum’s Honda Civic, engage all four wheels.
USE THE ENGINE TO SLOW THE VEHICLE
Particularly useful when descending a hill or in conditions with limited traction, slowing the vehicle with the engine rather than the brake will give you more control. Using the brake could cause the wheels to lock and induce a skid, but putting the vehicle in first gear slows the revolution of the wheels to a more manageable fixed speed. This gives your tyres more traction.
HELP YOUR SUSPENSION OVER TOUGH OBSTACLES
If you have to quickly slow because you are approaching an obstacle you didn’t spot, like a rock or root awkwardly sticking out, release the brake just before impact. When you brake, the momentum shifts all the weight onto your front suspension, lowering the front of the vehicle slightly. But if you are hitting an awkward obstacle, you want the suspension to be at the normal height to absorb the shock as best it can. Release the brakes just before you hit the obstacle to give the suspension the chance to reset and best absorb the impact.
These techniques just wet my appetite to learn more. I have already booked another day course so will keep you posted on other useful driving tips and techniques I pick up. The more I learn the more I realise I don’t know. I have rediscovered my passion all over again.
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