You’ve got yourself a four-wheel drive and you’re keen to take it out and get it covered, from tow bar to tail light, in mud. So to ensure your trip is memorable for all the right reasons, check out our handy guide to hitting the road less travelled.
1. Plan your route
Your vehicle might be capable of going almost anywhere but when you are diving deep into the unknown, it is always best to first do some research and learn a bit about the area you intend to explore. Even if you have driven a road relatively recently, there is a chance it has changed drastically since you were last in the area.
Due to the isolated locations of most 4x4 trails, they are often not maintained or checked regularly. A storm or accident could lead to circumstances that make the road impassable, killing your fun pretty quickly.
Make sure you know whether or not there is mobile phone service, and if not, ensure that you are equipped with a satellite phone and/or have friends close by – just in case you end up in the wilderness without a ride home.
2. Learn how to get out
An essential skill for anyone keen on 4WDing. At some stage in your off-road career, you will more than likely come across another vehicle needing help to get out of the mud. There’s a very good chance you will need assistance yourself at some stage and helping each other out is a big part of the off-roading community. Learning how to do this safely and efficiently will help a great deal.
But what if you are on your own? If you don’t have a winch there are a number of techniques that can be used to get a vehicle out of deep mud.
- Don’t spin your tyres in frustration. The reason you are in this pickle in the first place is because your tyres are struggling to gain traction in the mud or snow. If you attempt to drive out at all, do so slowly and wait for the tyres to get traction before accelerating away.
- Keep a shovel in your boot. You can use this to dig out around your wheels and to compact the surface within which you are stuck.
- Keep a bag of sand or kitty litter next to your shovel. You can create traction where there is none by laying down course material for your tyres to grip on to. Alternatively, you can use tree and leaf matter to provide a base as well.
- Put some elbow grease in. Get your mates to help you out by pushing as you gently accelerate to help gain traction as pressure is added to the tyres.
- If you are on an incline, you can always try rolling back to a point where the ground is less soft. Get your co-driver to guide you if visibility is poor or you might just end up in a worse position than before.
3. Gear up appropriately
If you’re planning on driving deep into the desert for a 350km round trip over dunes and rocky terrain, you had better have the vehicle and accessories for the job. Not all 4WD vehicles are suited to all kinds of off-roading. Research the terrain you are going to be crossing and adjust your vehicle’s set up accordingly.
In some cases, your four-wheel drive simply won’t be suited to the kind of terrain you want to drive. Before purchasing a vehicle, do your research and make sure it’s worthy of the conditions you throw it at.
Driving through snow? Snow tyres will help you get traction and it’s best to have a set of chains in the boot in case things get really icy. Bashing some dunes? Lower your tyre pressure to create a greater surface area and reduce the amount your 4WD sinks into the sand.
4. Don’t overload
A classic mistake people make when they start driving off-road is to assume that their big 4WD is capable of handling the mud and carrying the whole family and a much gear as you can jam in it – all at the same time.
Reducing weight is key to a successful drive. A few sacrifices before you leave could mean the difference between enjoying your camping holiday and spending your first night in the boot on top of a generator.
5. Do a course
It would be impossible for us to explain all the necessary steps to a successful day out in your new 4WD. The best way to learn the ropes is at an accredited 4WD course.
Spend a day with other keen four-wheel drivers, make some great friends and learn all the techniques and safety procedures from a trained pro that (you will ever need to know) and learn how to have fun in the mud.
If you are planning on towing a camper or caravan, make sure you also complete a course specifically focused on this aspect of four-wheel driving. It’s a lot different from towing a trailer to your local dump.