How to Get the Best of Your New 4x4 When Driving Off Road?
Everybody loves travelling, not everyone some people likes long road trips. Maybe that is because they have never driven a new 4x4 off road, if they did they would realise that one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip is actually the road!
In particular pay attention to how the 4WD system operates and if it requires any driver input, such as selecting 2WD or 4WD, changing between high or low ratio, manual differential locking or whether the front hubs are freewheeling type where the hub must be locked by hand.
Tyre choice is very important to off road performance. Even the most capable 4WD platform can run into problems off road when fitted with street oriented tyres, as is the case with nearly all new 4x4 vehicles, but by the same token, dedicated off road tyres will have less traction on wet tarmac and be considerably noisier than road tyres; there is always a compromise.
Wheel size too is a factor; large diameter rims with low profile tyres look good in the city but have very little off road capability, and off road tires may not be available to fit them. When possible, fitting mud-terrain (MT) or all-terrain (AT) tyres will dramatically increase the off road car ability of any new 4WD vehicle and will provide the most flexibility. By checking the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended range of tyre sizes and choosing an off road tyre as tall and as wide as possible, not only will traction be improved, but the taller tyres will also increase the ground clearance.
Upgrading shock absorbers to units designed for off road use, while not strictly necessary, will improve handling and compensate for taller heavier off road car tyres where fitted.
Control is the name of the game when driving an off road car. It is easy to spin the wheels by applying to much power when driving on loose surfaces but this should be avoided. Sharp objects hidden by a soft surface layer increase the chance of tyre damage during wheel-spin, while spraying gravel and rocks around will chip that new paint finish all the sooner.
Traversing soft surfaces such as sand is better accomplished by airing down the tyres to 1/3 of their normal pressure. Doing so will make the vehicle track in a straight line and use less petrol when compared with driving on fully pressurised tyres which sink deeper into the ground and reduce directional stability, making the vehicle wander even when the steering wheel is held firmly. A small 12v air compressor is a wise investment to re-inflate the tyres quickly when firmer ground or tarmac is encountered after driving in sand.
The chances of getting a puncture are much higher when travelling off road so check the spare wheel beforehand. If it is a space-saving donut type it is well worth acquiring a full size spare fitted with the same type of tyre as the other wheels. Standard equipment jacks may also be inadequate for off road tyre changing. A high lift jack makes changing a wheel much easier.
Depending on the area, off road trail driving may involve fording streams. Always check the maximum depth at which a new 4WD vehicle can be driven in water and what measures, such as closing axle vents, need to be taken before attempting stream crossings.
Driving on rocky or very uneven terrain requires awareness of underbody clearance and front and rear overhang to prevent being hit by a rock or high-centered on a bump. If not already fitted at the factory, protective guards can be bolted to the most vulnerable areas such as the engine sump, differential housings etc. to prevent them being damaged.
Swapping the front bumper for a sturdier aftermarket item, or fitting a set of bull-bars helps prevent damage from overhanging branches or rocks and, for when the terrain gets really tough, allows a winch to be fitted more easily.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hugh McInnes was looking for an off road car with a good price and he found it. He bought a new 4x4 and now he is able to enjoy the adventures that the roads can offer.