The Ten Basics


Whether a veteran driver or a beginner with a stock vehicle, there are some basics of four wheeling that everyone should know and/or review. These are the basic premises.


Along with driving off road comes responsibility. Responsibility includes more than telling someone where we’re going and when we’ll be expected back. It also means responsibility for the land on which we drive. We don’t have to be a fanatical tree-hugger, but we DO care about the great outdoors and our diminishing right to use it. On public property, don’t go blasting across a swampy meadow, try creating a new trail, or mowing down small trees, for that just gives the Eco-Folk an excuse to close the lands we all want to enjoy!


Whether you are new to the sport or an old trail hand, remember that driver experience wins out over vehicular modifications in most situations. An experienced driver will recognize what terrain is beyond the limits of his/her vehicle and know when to call it quits. Likewise, a good driver can be capable of taking a stock vehicle through obstacles that the wallet-job rig and the new-to-the-sport driver combo can’t even fathom. With a stock or lightly modified rig, driving techniques definitely come into play. Knowing how to use throttle, gravity, and inertia is also important and often makes the difference between gettng through a bad section or getting stuck and needing a tow. The KEY is not to overdo it, but to use these variables to your advantage.


Different types of terrain often require somewhat different techniques, so following are some excellent tips for special situations.




1 – Put on your seatbelt, and instruct passengers to put them on as well. A good belt will help restrain you when driving difficult terrain, and can save your life in case of a rollover or other accident. Some people want to jump clear if a vehicle rolls, but it usually rolls on you and kills you. Don’t try it!


2 – The first thing you do when you get in the dirt is to put the transfer case in four-wheel drive and lock the hubs if your vehicle is so equipped. Your control is then increased, braking is improved, and you won’t get stuck as fast when you make a mistake. This also spreads the traction over four tires instead of two, minimizing breakage of drivetrain parts, and also putting less stress on the terrain.


3 – Using low range in the transfer case is another asset that many beginners forget. In low range the available power is greater and the speed with which you can drive is diminished. By driving slowly over obstacles you’re more likely to make it to the other side instead of breaking your rig or yourself.


Going downhill is also easier in low range, as compression braking from the engine is increased. This allows you to stay off the brake more often for optimum control.


4 – Watch the driver in front of you and see how he/she makes it through. You can learn a lot on what to do and what not to do. Get out and walk the trail and examine the obstacle before you drive through. Walk ahead and lookback, as the view is different from the other direction, and other features of the terrain become apparent.


5 – While gripping the steering wheel, make sure that your thumbs aren’t wrapped around it. If the wheel should suddenly whip around from a tire hitting a rock, your thumbs won’t get broken or sprained. This has been known to happen even with vehicles with power steering!


6 – Turn your stereo off, so you can hear what your vehicle is telling you. The sounds of slipping tires, scraping metal, and engine rpm can all help you be a better driver, but not if you can’t hear them.


7 – Know your rig inside and out. This means being familiar with all of the controls in the cab, as well as how to use them for what purpose. On the outside, make a mental note of what hangs down underneath, and what side the front dfferential is on so you won’t bang the underside on obstacles.


8 – Staying off the clutch unless you absolutely need it is important in many situations. While automaic-equipped 4 x 4s can have an easier time crawling over things, a manual transmission rig is capable of outdoing an auto as long as the clutch isn’t always used. Try driving with your feet on the floor for practice, and see what your rig can do. Once you push in the clutch you’ve unhooked the drivetrain, and only your brakes will be holding you on a hill.


9 – Consider lowering your tire pressure according to the terrain and speed. Tire pressure lower than the manufacturer’s recommendations can provide greater tire traction, flexibility, rotation, and a smoother ride on rough roads. Because the tire will tend to spread out at lower pressures, a bigger footprint is formed, but the re is more susceptible to side-wall damage. Never air down farther than what you are comfortable with, and remember to air back up to specs when you hit the pavement.


10 – If you are unsure of what you’re doing while driving an obstacle, ask someone to spot you over the tough areas. An experienced spotter can be your best ally and can make you look like a pro. Remember, though, that you as the driver are the one in command, and it’s your decision to trust the spotter or not!



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