1 – DIRT ROADS: Known as fire roads, two tracks, or graded highways, these can be as difficult to drive as a good boulder patch. What looks like a smooth road where you can get some speed up can get you into trouble at a moment’s notice. It only takes one washout, bad pothole, or rock in the road to cause you to lose control or damage your rig. Washboard roads can leave you without directional control as you hop over the bumpy surface. Slow down to the most comfortable speed you and your rig can handle, which also allows the dust to subside a little. Remember, you can’t avoid what you can’t see, and dust can be a serious hazard.
2 – SAND: Higher gears are great for sand, as speed and momentum keeps you lying on top rather than sinking in. Depending on the type of sand, from fine to coarse and from wet to dry, different speeds and gears may need to be used. Usually, spinning the tires is needed since wheel speed is a factor to keep on top of the sand. Lowering air pressure and running wide tires help in the rotation department as well. Automatics have the advantage in the sand, with instant downshifts with no loss of momentum.
3 – MUD: Mud is a way of life in many portions of the country, and your local mud matrix may be different than that of the next county over. Different consistencies of mud call for different styles of driving. Some mud responds to fast driving with a lot of wheel spin, while others may do better with a slower gate with just enough spin to clean out the tires. Like in snow, skinny tires can dig down to the hard stuff, while wide flotation tires can keep you on top of the goo. Regardless of what the mud is like, a steady forward progress is always needed. Remember, if the rig is not moving forward and your tires are spinning, you are probably going down!
4 – SNOW: Driving in snow and ice can be extremely dangerous. The number one rule for snow is: Pay Attention! Out on the trail the snow-covered ruts can be treacherous to traverse since the trail may look smooth with a fresh white blanket on it. Underneath the snow can be deep ruts, holes, logs, and rocks which may snag your underside, so going slow is a benefit here. Things can get very slippery. Fresh powder can give you very good traction. Watch out for off-camber side hills as well as going downhill, for spinning your tires in these situations can cause a slide which gravity will want to reinforce. Go easy on the brakes to minimize sliding, as a rolling tire can give more steering and braking control than those that are locked up by a heavy foot on the brake.
5 – ROCKS: Lowering the air pressure and going slowly is the best recommendation for rocky trails or hard-core rock crawling. Tires should be placed on TOP of the rocks, which allows the axle and undercarriage to avoid hitting the boulders. Your lowest speed that keeps your momentum going is usually the best. If you go too fast you end up bashing and crashing while hurting your rig and generally getting stuck. Rock crawling is truly the home of elegant driving! One way to stay in control with an auto tranny is to use one foot on the brake and one on the gas.
6 – WATER CROSSING: Driving through water can be as hazardous as any other terrain. The swift current, unknown bottom conditions, and possibility of engine damage can ruin a nice 4 x 4 outing. Check the depth and bottom conditions before you attempt to drive across a stream. Look to see where others have made it, and imagine what happens if your rig floats or gets washed downstream. Cross streams and rivers at an angle upstream to prevent the force of the water from pushing your vehicle downstream. Know where your engine air intake is, and be sure that it is not lower than the deepest part of the stream you are crossing. If water gets into the cylinders of a running engine it will hydrolock the engine, stopping it cold, and probably bending a rod. You are then in serious trouble! Avoid spinning your tires on rocks when your tires are wet, as your tires can be cut by the rocks much more easily.
7 – HILLS AND DIRT: Climbing hills and going back down them is older even than four-wheeling. Usually a steady speed with momentum is adequate, depending on the surface. An occasional blip of the throttle can bump you over some ledges, but rarely will a full-throttle attack do much more than break stuff . When climbing or descending a hill, keep straight up or down, and don’t turn around on the side of a hill. Know when to quit, and how to back down in a straight line. The steering seems much more sensitive (and backwards) when you are backing down a hill, and miscues and rolls are common. Descending a hill is best done in the lowest gear, for maximum compression braking. Even auto trannies will have some compression braking, and a light foot on the brakes is better than locking them up and sliding. The tires must be rolling to have control, so if you start to slide you need to give it a little gas and be easy on the brake pedal, which may be the opposite of your instinctive nature.