Driving a 4 x 4 vehicle off-road is definitely a strong experience and makes you feel powerful. Recreation off the highway is becoming increasingly popular and drivers don’t need a special license for that. However, before you get into dirt and sand, there are some safe driving skills you should know in order to avoid getting stuck and damaging your vehicle. Consider the following pieces of advice:
Avoid high speed
Especially on roads covered with ice and snow, going 4WD doesn’t mean you can drive faster than conditions allow. Most 4 x 4 vehicles have a higher centre of gravity and the risk of flipping and rolling is quite high.
Use low RPM
When driving off-road it is recommended to use low gear aside from driving with the optimal speed. Avoid pushing your foot on the accelerator pedal unless you need to overcome an obstacle.
Know your limits
People driving 4 x 4 vehicles often become overconfident. It all ends when you get stuck in the dirt or see your car so damaged you’ll spend thousands on repairs, so remember that driving a 4 x 4 vehicle doesn’t make you invincible. Most of the drivers ending up in a ditch are behind the wheel of an SUV or a similar car because they think it can’t happen to them.
Slow down if you need to brake
4 x 4 vehicles are better with acceleration and traction, but braking and turning capabilities stay the same. Make sure your speed is moderate and allows you stop in case of an obstacle or danger on the road.
Turn off 4WD when you don’t need it
Providing extra power to a second set of wheels lowers your gas mileage. There are many heavy metal parts to spin when you engage the 4WD mode, so don’t go 4 x 4 unless you really need it!
Shift to 2WD when you reach dry pavement
An important rule when you’re driving a part-time 4WD car is to remember to shift to 2WD when you reach dry pavement again. Otherwise, you will damage your differential gears and even destroy the differential case.
Stop your vehicle before shifting to 4WD
In most cars, you need to make a complete stop and put the transmission in park or neutral before engaging these systems. If you don’t follow this rule, you will end up damaging expensive parts in your car and supporting costly repairs. If your 4WD system is automatic, you don’t have to worry about anything, because the car automatically detects the need for more traction and engages the 4WD system by itself.
Assess obstacles before driving through them
Simply get out of the vehicle before going over an obstacle. Have a walk first and then make the decision. In some cases you may find safer alternative routes you wouldn’t have noticed from your cabin.
Don’t change gears when you are in the middle of the obstacle
Estimate what gear you need to use before overcoming the obstacle. Pressing the clutch pedal and changing the gear makes you lose more of your speed and shifting the wheels will cause you to skid. As a result, your car will stop.
Reduce tire pressure if you’re stuck
When nature is so adverse that your driving skills are overcome and you get stuck, one of the things that can help you get over is reducing tire pressure. Let some air out of the tires and you will manage to increase the size of the contact patch and ensure some extra grip. The disadvantage is that you’ll need to re-inflate the tires at your earliest opportunity, so only use this as the last solution when you can’t get free from the ditch.
Reverse when you get stuck
Instead of struggling to forge new tracks into the soil, it is better to reverse out using the same tracks that your vehicle has created. Although it looks very obvious now, many drivers are tempted to go forward in the heat of the situation.
Cut channels for the wheels
Another piece of advice for drivers who get stuck is to clear mud or snow from the car’s underbody and cut channels for the wheels to support progress.
Be prepared for adverse conditions
If you’re travelling through bad weather, you should always have the following items with you: snow chains, recovery equipment, warm clothes, a torch, sand ladders and other traction aids, food and water, a sleeping bag, a snow shovel, an ice scraper, and a GPS system. Without these invaluable items you can get lost and enter a crisis.
So here are the main safety tips you need to follow while driving a 4 x 4 vehicle, especially off-road. Many of these pieces of advice are common sense, but it’s important to go through them even if you are an experienced driver – when circumstances become difficult, you’ll know right away what you need to do.