Going Off Road
Some weeks ago we may have said some slightly unkind things about sports utility vehicles. Not unjustified, but perhaps a little derisory.
So, to redress the balance, we wanted to offer those SUV owners with a low range setting and a thirst for nature that extends beyond the tree lined streets of suburbia some helpful tips to take their off roaders into the wilderness.
1. Understand what you’re Driving
It may sound ridiculous but taking a couple of hours to really understand the SUV you’ve purchased and its capabilities before you’re three feet deep in sucking mud or a fast flowing river is definitely the pragmatists choice.
Does your SUV have traction control? Does it have low and high range four-wheel drive? If there’s nothing to suggest you do in the manual or around your gear stick then you don’t and off roading just got a lot more challenging.
Do you have locking differentials? On the road your wheels will turn at different speeds depending on whether you’re going round a corner, for example. A lot of modern SUVs use an all-wheel drive system that constantly adjusts the power being fed to each wheel.
In the aforementioned mud, this can be a problem because you end up with inconsistent power levels.
Locking the differentials means an even distribution of power so when one wheel slips in the mud the power doesn’t get redirected to that wheel, increasing the torque and making it spin further.
Knowing what toys you have in the toy chest will give you an indication of the kind of off roading your vehicles can handle.
2. Patience, patience
On the blissfully smooth surface of modern roads most cars – four wheel drives included – can sit quite happily well in excess of the speed limit without any effort at all. Not that anyone would do such a thing.
When it comes to taking things into the mud, slow and steady is the way to go. Speed and rough conditions always leads to trouble. Plus, the harder you work the vehicle the more likely you are to damage it.
Whilst all the components in a car are designed to take a real beating (ours included), they aren’t indestructible and hitting a boulder at speed will not just put a head shaped dent in your roof, but rip your wheel off too.
Admittedly, there are times when speed is necessary but those instances are rare and you should still only go as fast as necessary. Controlling your speed allows you to add more if the situation requires it.
3. Lower Tyre Pressures
The reason for this is a simple one. Soft tyres don’t bounce. This is a good thing if hit a solid object that is as immovable (or more so) as your 2+ tonne SUV because the tyre moves around and over the object.
A fully inflated tyre doesn’t.
Think of it this way: when a fully inflated ball hits the floor it bounces because the energy absorbed by the impact directs it in the opposite direction. A fully inflated tyre hitting a large tree root or rock does the exact same thing.
The difference is the ball bounces hilariously around the room. Your tyre rips into the wheel arch and snaps a shock absorber. We mentioned drive slowly, right?
4. Be Prepared
Depending on how intense you plan on getting with your forays into nature it may be worth upgrading some components in the vehicle.
A proper set of off road tyres is a good place to start, as is upgrading the suspension and sump guard.
If you’re really going for it a winch may be a good investment too.
On a more personal level, be prepared for the worst case scenario. Whilst off roading is immensely fun and millions of people enjoy it around the world, they do so knowing that things can go wrong.
Whenever you go off road make sure you have:
- A first aid kit
- A spare set of warm clothes for everyone in the car
- Warm blankets
- A fire extinguisher
- Food and water
- A means to keep your phone charged
- A seat belt cutter and glass breaker
Whilst this may seem extreme, you’ll be grateful for that survival kit if you roll your vehicle into a river.
It goes without saying that all these items should be stowed sensibly in the cabin of the car, not buried under spare coats and muddy hiking boots in the boot/trunk.
5. Respect Nature
There will be times when nature will simply be too tough for your vehicle to overcome, be it water too deep, terrain too rough or an incline too steep.
Defeat, as odd as it sounds, is part of the fun of off roading.
Doggedly trying to overcome the undefeatable obstacle is a great way of not just wrecking your vehicle but also putting yourself in real danger. It takes surprisingly little for a gradient to go from steep to fatal.
You don’t beat Mother Nature into submission, just out think her.
Consider all these things when you take your SUV off road and you’re in for a great day out.