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General Guidlines for Off-Road Driving
Before discussing specific driving conditions, here are some general guidelines to adhere to once you leave the tarred road:
Remember that when stuck in a seemingly impossible situation it often helps to sit down, relax, have a refreshment and consider your predicament. You will be surprised how often, when you sit and consider the options, the remedy comes into your head like a flash. You are often left thinking, "Why did I not think of that sooner".
Adjust tyre pressure to suite the terrain.
Inspect suspect obstacles prior to attempting them.
Keep both hands on the wheel at all times. Remember to keep your thumbs on the outside of the wheel.
Choose your driving line and gear, before attempting an obstacle and remain committed to your choice.
A piece of tape placed at top centre of your steering wheel will assist in keeping your wheels straight when driving in sand.
While driving difficult terrain it is advisable to allow the vehicle in front of you to clear the obstacle before you make an attempt.
Avoid aggressive jerking of the steering wheel, rather use gentle coaxing manoeuvres.
Select four-wheel drive prior to encountering any difficulties.
When driving in grassy areas check the underneath of your car regularly for grass build-ups that can easily lead to fires.
Adopt an attitude of "tread with respect" and DON'T OVERDO IT, RATHER DO IT OVER!
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Gravel or Dirt Roads
Driving at tar road speeds on these surfaces can be extremely dangerous and drivers should therefore adjust their speeds accordingly.
Be aware of the following:
It is a good idea to engage 4-wheel drive as soon as you leave the tar. This will allow better traction as well as improved road holding, these combined will ensure that you are able to drive your vehicle with better control.
Arguably the biggest secrets to successful sand driving are tyre pressure and momentum.
Contrary to popular belief lowering the pressure does not broaden the footprint but in fact lengthens it, thus giving a larger floatation area. Tyre pressures may in critical circumstances be lowered to well below 1 bar and going to as low as .4 or .5 bar is not uncommon. The danger with going so low is that the possibility of running a tyre off the rim increases dramatically as the pressure reduces. A driver should take great care when handling the steering wheel at these pressures and sharp turns or jerky steering movements should be avoided at all costs.
Choice of gearing also plays a significant part in driving sand successfully. A driver however needs to ‘play’ with their 4x4 in sandy conditions as gear choice (high or low range or 1st to 5th) varies from vehicle to vehicle.
Remember when pulling off in soft sand it often helps to reverse a meter or two before pulling away. This hardens the surface and allows one to pick up a bit of momentum before entering the soft sand again.
Never spin your wheels when stuck, this only digs the vehicle in deeper.
Narrower tyres with large, aggressive, self-cleaning lugs, inflated to between 70% and 80% of normal tyre pressure are the best in these conditions.
Second or third gear, low range, engage rear diff-lock if fitted, maintain momentum and try not to induce wheel spin. If it occurs, de-celerate delicately, but not completely.
Turning the steering wheel from side to side can also be of assistance.
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Remember that unless you are completely acquainted with the water that you want to cross, you have no option but to get out of your vehicle and wade across it. If in doubt, try and find an alternate route. Even if well acquainted, floods etc. will change a riverbed in minutes.
The following additional factors should be considered before attempting a water crossing:
The type of surface you are likely to encounter under the water.
The speed of the water flow.
The depth of the water in relation to the height of your air intake. Water sucked into a diesel engine will cause severe damage instantly.
Are their dangerous animals or reptiles in the water, should you get stuck?
Once you have decided it is safe to cross, do the following:
Keep your recovery equipment close at hand. If in doubt, attach it to your vehicle's recovery point for a quick and easy recovery.
Engage second gear low range, slow speed being essential.
Enter the water slowly, so as to avoid a splash.
Continue at a steady, slow speed, without creating too much of a bow wave. It may be necessary to place a Hessian bag over the front of the engine or even to remove the fan belt (think about this carefully before undertaking it) as a means of keeping water out of the engine compartment.
Continue at this constant speed until you reach the other side.
Should you get stuck, climb out of the window to avoid excessive water entering the vehicle.
Remember that differentials and gearboxes get hot while driving and it is not uncommon for these parts to suck water into them as they rapidly cool down during water crossings. Air cleaners and engine oil should also be checked after undertaking serious water adventures.
The two worst enemies of rock driving are, ground clearance and speed. Ground clearance is obvious and will not be discussed here. Slow speed is important, as it allows you to read the terrain and make your decisions accordingly.
There is much debate about tyre pressures over rocky terrain, with many experts differing in their opinion as to what is the best. Like many other things in 4x4, it is a matter of personal preference. My opinion is to let the pressure down to about 80% of normal road pressure.
Things to look out for in rocky terrain:
Know the position of your front and rear diffs in relation to the middle of your car, so as to avoid damage.
Keep your thumbs out of the steering wheel.
Keep an eye out for partially hidden rocks.
It is often necessary to drive over a large rock with your tyre, so as to avoid damaging the underneath of the vehicle.
"The secret is to maintain a slow constant speed."
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Whilst driving in bush or thorn trees keep your window closed to above eye level.
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