26 January, 2017

How to drive a 4x4 off road

This is only a basic introduction to the principle of off-road driving. If you are intending taking a vehicle off-road, we would highly recommend that you take some Off-Road Training with us, either our Professional 4x4 Course or our 4x4 Familiarisation course.

To use an analogy - when you are walking on rough ground you have 2 feet, wear boots with good grip you keep an eye on your footing, and you don’t try to run or you’ll end up on your backside!

4 Wheel Driving takes the same principle - you’ve got 4 wheels, which you’ve booted up with good quality all-terrain or cross-country tyres (you wouldn’t wear brogues with leather soles when tramping over the fells, so don’t expect on-road tyres to keep you safe in your vehicle, but avoid 'mud-terrain' tyres unless your vehicle spends more time off-road than on, as it's grip on tarmac will be compromised).

You also have to keep thinking about where each of those tyres is, and how fast it is moving. Ending up ‘on your backside’ in a 4×4 is not an option!

Look well ahead and plan your route, in order to keep as much grip on each tyre as is possible - it's sometimes tempting to move out of those bumpy ruts and drive on the grass, but imagine walking up a hill - you would always pick the rocky track over the grass because if you don’t you will slip over - grass really doesn’t have any grip - especially when wet.

It might sound dramatic, but old off-roaders will refer to wet grass as ‘green ice’, and once you have tried to drive up a steep slope on it you start to understand why.

If in doubt - walk the route first - if you can't walk it, don't drive it!

Another good reason not to drive on the grass is the same reason that the Lake District try to discourage walkers from straying from the maintained paths - it scars the environment. A few years ago, the hills in the Lakes had tracks like motorways across them - this is now being rectified by the authorities at great expense - upgrading and maintaining tracks, to encourage people to stick to them. A 4×4 can weigh anything from 1.5 to 6 tonnes, and if you start to spin wheels with that much weight on them, you will see the damage that can be done. Visit http://www.treadlightly.org for more information on responsible 4×4 driving.

Speaking of spinning wheels - avoid it like the plague - 90% of the time it won’t get you anywhere, you will annoy everyone, and you’ll look like an amateur (and yes - we’ve all looked like amateurs at some time or another!). Keeping grip will keep you moving, follow these simple rules and you will get to your destination before the pub closes!

  • Look well ahead, read the track, and plan for grip.
  • Choose the correct gear - moving slow is sometimes necessary, it is better than spinning and not moving at all!
  • Use momentum when you know it is safe - climbing hills will often be easiest when you have momentum, but beware of too much speed, remember - if you can’t see there - don’t go there.
  • Avoid trouble if you have a choice - a 1 mile detour at 4 miles an hour is 15 minutes, getting stuck will often take a LOT more time than this!
  • Let the vehicle do the work - it’s designed for it! By letting a good vehicle do the work you will stay smoother and safer, and you won’t wreck your pride and joy!
  • Follow the GLASS code.

Remember that it doesn't matter if you are driving for enjoyment, a challenge or as part of your job, we have a responsibility to the landscape and the tracks we follow.