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Al-Otaiby • Jan 25, 2012

Off-Road Driving Techniques and Safety

1) Read your owners manual thoroughly before going off-road, or on road for that matter. Learn your vehicle.

2) Never go out alone as a short trip could be costly. Venturing off the highway alone is never suggested. One can’t foresee everything that could go wrong. Being prepared yourself, having your vehicle prepared and maintained to a reasonable degree will help counter some problems, but not all. A thought: You're ten miles off the main paved road, your 4WD quits, you have an accident, or someone is injured; Now what?Taking along another car is a smart thing to do, chances are both cars won’t quit while out. The second car could surely tow out the first, or go for help if necessary.Remember the western bound pioneers? Do you have any idea as to how long it took them to cover ten miles on foot? How about the hardships involved? Lack of water? Lack of shelter? Poor clothing? Have you thought of these things? NO? Just think, what if... Your cell-phone doesn’t work, no one in sight, do you sit tight? Walk out? Something to consider, isn’t it? Okay, so you walk, do you have the right shoes? Clothing for when it gets cold at night? Water? Well? Lots of questions, but few answers. Bottom line is: Are you prepared to walk out? Read "Travel Kit".

3) Always make sure your vehicle is prepared before departing. Read "Preparing & Maintaining".

4) Adopt a relaxed and upright driving position with a loose grip on the steering wheel, taking note to keep your thumbs out of the center section of the wheel, thus avoiding broken thumbs from steering wheel kick-back. This is a common problem on vehicles not equipped with power assisted steering.

5) Contact between your right foot and the gearbox tunnel will help increase throttle control. The use of a "dead-pedal" on the left is also helpful. DO NOT use the clutch pedal as a "dead -pedal". Once the clutch is engaged (out), keep your foot clear.

6) Know your minimum ground clearance.
On vehicles equipped with "live" axles (fixed), the minimum ground clearance is the lowest point of the axle housing, normally the differential. This minimum clearance always remains the same as the axle goes up/down with the wheels. To obtain your minimum clearance, measure from the differential housing (its lowest point) to the ground, there it is, your minimum ground clearance. The minimum won’t change, though maximum can when a wheel climbs up.

The "Live" axle always maintains its minimum ground clearance (arrows left).
6A) On vehicles fitted with independent suspension however, the front wheels are attached to the A-arms which go up/down independently from each other, at the same time the center portion of the chassis/suspension goes up/down as well, though the exact opposite of the wheels. Type of terrain, as well as braking can effect your ground clearance dramatically; when the front wheels are bottomed on their suspension points (up in the fenders as far as they can go), your chassis and front suspension pivot points are now very vulnerable to damage as they come closer to the obstacle. It is a proven fact, that for heavy duty off-road work vehicles fitted with "live" axles are preferred.

As you can see from above, the ground clearance varies as the suspension moves up/down. Left: In its unloaded position you could have 8" (example), while Right: In its bottomed position it could reduce to half. Always be aware of vehicle ground clearance and obstacles.

7) Suspension & Wheel Travel.
Since the time man first developed wheeled vehicles his thought must have been on smoothing the ride. Leaf springs have been around since what must be the beginning of time. Horse drawn wagons, buggies and the famed stage coaches had leaf springs. The leaf spring has two advantages over any other form of suspension, in that a) it’s cheap to produce, and b) they will carry heavy loads. A number of today’s 4wds are still built with leaf springs (on a HD pickup its understandable), while others have gone the Coil spring route. Coil springs do allow heavy carrying capacities to an extent while offering a smoother ride and better wheel travel/articulation (movement up/down & angle of axle). Other manufactures have sought to create car like rides on their 4WD vehicles by fitting independent front suspension, either torsion bar or coil sprung, though neither of which is in its element when off-road. The best set up? Coil sprung/Live axles; this set up offers smooth ride with extreme rates of wheel travel (wheel movement up/down) and is still cost effective to build. Independent front suspension, as described in #6A, is expensive, car like, and offers little to the off-roader, as it can be damaged easier than a live axle, has more pieces to maintain/damage, and can not offer the wheel travel and stability when off-road.

8) Know your "Approach angle", "Break-over" and "Departure angle" (Below). Knowing these figures (i.e.: Clearance), you’ll be able to negotiate obstacles much easier without damage to your vehicle. Interested in learning what these figures are on your vehicle? Try a long broom stick. Placing it under the edge of the tire, then lifting up until it makes contact with the body, you now have some idea of your angles. When off-road, drive up to your obstacle slowly, then stop get out and look to check clearances upon approach. When clearing the obstacle, be careful to "walk" the rear wheels off, remembering always that most 4WD vehicles have some sort of overhang beyond the rear axle (when "walking" your 4x4, the use of brakes, a spotter and your own sight will enable you to creep the rear wheels off the obstacle). Damage will result if care is not taken. As far as break-over is concerned, also know as "high-centered", this too will take a keen eye, the assistance of a spotter, and practice.
9) Know your vehicles height and width. Think about parking garages and parking spaces, will your 4WD clear the obstructions within the structure? Now apply the same to overhanging trees, narrow washes and rocks. Easy really.

10) Check the area(s) in which you plan to travel off-road. Ask locals about conditions. Purchase and review local maps. And... When in doubt, get out and take a brief walk to review the terrain ahead. This walk could save hours of digging and/or winching, or the anguish of having your new 4WD damaged.

vikaskumar11233 • Feb 6, 2012
Al-Otaiby great post buddy and most of the people ignore the points 9 that they forgot to know about the cars height (from the ground) which is very crucial in off driving. The most important thing is to have a survey about the area where you are going this should be the first step before riding.
Al-Otaiby • Feb 6, 2012
I totally agree with you buddy 😀
Its very important and I hope other drivers will be aware of this major point and the other poits , for the safety of all of us and our vehicles.

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