Responsible 4-wheeling is about finesse. Other features and driving techniques assist in the overall safety of your off-road outing, but finesse is the first and most important portion of your driving repertoire to acquire.
With the availability of trail-ready 4x4’s, both in the traditional truck mould and outside of it, the slow and steady progression of four-wheeling initiation through involvement and camaraderie has been bypassed. The honour-by-association process misses the chance to be taught by the enthusiastic guy who just bought his first real 4x4.
Here are some hints to help you out in this area.
· It’s important always to drive within your ability. There are times when in soft sand, like beaches and washes, speed needs to be moderate and flotation through mud and snow needs to be kept up, hence “within your ability.” Usually taking your time on the trail will allow you to pick a smooth path and allow you time to react to the varieties of terrain you can encounter like moving rocks and logs under the tyres. If you have a ground clearance deficiency, going slow helps here, in that, if you do hit a rock with the differential or another rock grabber, it will usually stop the vehicle on impact or you will lightly scrape over it. If you were going too fast and hit a rock or other obstacle, it could knock a hole in the oil pan, differential, or even knock off the oil filter.
· Avoid surprises by surveying the road ahead before you encounter it. Make sure the trail goes beyond the obstacle, doesn't become a bottomless quagmire, has no backside to the hill (cliff?) or just plain ends. You can get a good idea where to place your tyres and the differentials to have a plan of approach. Follow through to beyond the obstacle.
· Driving diagonally = Rollover. Always drive straight down hills or steep terrain. Know your approach and departure angles, the bumper to tyre distance. Some trails will require off-camber driving. In situations like this, it’s best to go slow, keeping the tyres on the tracks. Make every attempt to avoid losing attention and ascending up a rock or stump on the upside of the hill. Trucks will tend to slide sideways before rolling over – the tyres will slip sideways a little. Stop if the slide puts you off the edge of the track. If it is clear downhill and a rollover is imminent, immediately turn the vehicle into the slide and drive it down. If that is not an option, and you are going over, turn the vehicle off and hold on to your seat-bottom while hoping that the seat belt works properly.
· Reducing tire pressure will increase traction on gravel and sand. For most 4-wheeling purposes, a tire pressure of 18 to 20psi will be adequate. Highway pressure is another consideration altogether. The tyre is marked on the side, i.e., 50psi at 3300 pounds. In essence, that one tyre could hold my Defender up. Depending on the weight of the loaded vehicle and the size of tyre, a tyre pressure of between 28 and 35psi works in most on-highway applications. Never overlook the importance of reading the manufacturer’s label. The air pressure difference between the front and rear is due to the tyre and auto manufacturers’ experimentation for over/understeer and load variances.
· Cross ditches or logs at an angle so that one wheel at a time goes over the obstacle; the other three help the one wheel to climb over. Dropping the tyre into a ditch or crack in a rock can put you and your truck in a vulnerable position. Sometimes the vehicle pitches and one or more tyres will catch air. Be very deliberate and careful when approaching this challenging section of any trail. Logs can bounce up and catch the undercarriage, so come off these obstacles slowly and carefully. Turn the vehicle at an angle to facilitate the one tyre at a time approach. Be careful not to allow one of the front tyres and one of the rear tyres to get in the ditch at the same time.