Anyone can drive a 4x4 off road - can't they? I feel quite sure most drivers can - but it is not as easy as you may think. It is fair to assume that the 4x4 you are driving is designed to drive on lots of different surfaces. A tarmac road being one of them.
But, at times you may also be driving on snow, ice, mud, grass, rock, shingle, sand, or a combination of these.
Your four wheel drive vehicle will behave 'differently' on all these surfaces. Thus, you need to adapt your driving techniques on different surfaces as well.
All drivers want to keep themselves and their passengers safe. They also want to maximize the full potential of their vehicle. It is not only a question of pointing the vehicle in the right direction and then off you go.
Off road driving is a very different driving skill. Until you have had a go, and got it wrong, it is difficult to appreciate what the difference is. But, there are significant differences between driving on a road and then an unmade track.
Although it is a very logical way of driving off road driving requires a different thought process. There are major differences between green laning and how you would drive a vehicle on the road.
Whether you have been driving for 5 years or 25, you have built up instincts and reactions on the road. This transpires itself when something starts to go wrong. For example, going round a sharp left hand bend in wet conditions. You are cornering a little too fast and the back of the vehicle starts to slide out!
To try and prevent losing control you would steer into the slide. I would suggest that most drivers would do it without thinking. The reason is down to driver reaction and instincts. It cuts in and you do it 'instinctively'.
Unfortunately, if you rely on those same instincts when driving off road, there is a good chance you may do the wrong thing. The result of that could be quite serious.
What would happen on a side slope if the vehicle started to tip over, what would you do? You may be thinking the answer is easy to that one. You would steer away from the slope. That is the logical thing to do, right?
If it was actually happening to you, I would suggest that your road driving reactions would step in. You would say 'no - turn in the opposite direction to the way it is rolling'. But, that would make the situation much worse. The outcome could result in a damaged vehicle and possible personal injury.
There are a combination of things which go together to increase driver skills and vehicle performance. Training drivers in these skills is vital.
In fact, it is the responsibility of any employer or business user under Health and Safety legislation and PUWER 'Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998'.
It applies to an employee or individual causing an accident resulting in personal injury or third party injury. The first question asked will be, 'were they trained in the correct use of that vehicle'? If so, when? Where is the certificate of training?
It is not only applicable to off road driving. Very often, these vehicles get used for towing heavy trailers. That is another type of driving skill.
All-wheel drive vehicles often have electric or hydraulic winches fitted. They get used for the purposes of self-recovery or vehicle recovery in general. Training is essential for all aspects of all-terrain vehicles. Think long term, it can reduce the risk of accidents. It can also reduce vehicle down time and repair costs while maximizing output.
Good advice - never 'overestimate' the capability of your all-wheel drive vehicle. It is very important that you read the handbook of the vehicle that you drive.
You must understand the technical information, weights, features, its limitations, and safety considerations.
The vehicle has all terrain capability. But, that does not mean because it is all wheel drive it will go anywhere and in any conditions. Poor judgment can result in personal injury and loss of vehicle use.
Get to know your vehicle well. Appreciate the benefits or downsides on whether it is a petrol or a diesel engine. Are you familiar with the advantages of diesel cars? It is a manual or does it have an automatic gearbox? Does it have full time or part time transmission - or a bit of both?
Is yours one of the 4x4 off road vehicles that have additional traction aids, mechanical diff locks, traction control, or limited slip diffs? How do they work when do you use them or are they 'automatically' engaged? What type of suspension is fitted, what are the limitations, jacking, lashing and recovery points.
Besides the vehicle itself, what is the gross weight of any trailer it can tow? What is the nose weight of the trailer and the axle weights? If you are fitting a winch - what size is suitable?
The type of tyres that get fitted to your vehicle can influence its off road ability more than any other factor.
This stands to reason if you are trying to negotiate a wet, soft field where traction is difficult. A standard road tyre will not get good grip. This is because the fine grooves of the tyre fill up with mud and do not allow the tyre to bite. It would be like driving on a set of slicks!
But, driving into that same field with 'aggressive tyres' yields a different result. The tread pattern is much more open and has lugs on the side wall. You will find they are much less likely to fill with mud and so they can do the job intended - with grip!
With this in mind it is important to know the limitations that different tyre makes give you.
Unfortunately it is not possible to have the perfect tyre for 'on and off road' use. The reason is the nature of the surfaces that get driven on. One compromise often used is an 'all terrain' tyre.
This type of tyre offers better off road grip without affecting its on road characteristics. Even so, it is not ideal either off road or on road when compared to a specific tyre designed for each purpose.
This may have a dramatic effect on what you can do with your vehicle. Is the length of the wheelbase going to be an issue? It may affect maneuverability and the 'ramp breakover angle'. Consider whether there is a large overhang of bodywork behind the rear wheels and is there a fitted tow bar?
It can seriously affect the vehicle departure angle. That may cause a reduced ability over rough terrain and potential vehicle damage. What is likely to be the first point of contact with the ground at the front approach angle of the vehicle?
Most off road vehicles get used in conditions other than 'normal road driving'. Pre driving checks are vital to help prevent unwanted mechanical problems and breakdowns.
Note: Always refer to the manufacturer's handbook. Some vehicles may need special preparation (e.g. wading plugs).
Planning your journey is paramount. Prepare for things that could go wrong with your vehicle. Consider what you may need to take with you. You may need a first aid kit or a fire extinguisher.
Note: Reliable methods of communication are essential. This is especially so if you drive many miles from the nearest village.
It is difficult to avoid accidents these days. Car accidents do happen from time to time. But, very often a bit of careful thought and logic before you attempt something may save an injury or damage.
Your business may require you to document any risk involved and counter measures taken. But, sometimes a mental risk assessment before jumping in is enough. Try to avoid driving into an obstacle blind.
Always take a look first. Is my vehicle capable of driving it? Where does the track go and are there any run off areas? What are the surface condition? Could there be any unsighted obstacles or hazards.
Determine all the potential risks and consider whether you are going to accept them. Never be afraid to say NO!
Plan how you are going to drive if all goes well. Then, plan how you are going to drive if something starts to go wrong. Examples include misjudging track surfaces or the vehicle starting to slide out of control (toboggan).
Try to compile a logical risk assessment procedure for every situation. Doing so will 'dramatically' reduce the risks involved.
Make sure you know and understand how to drive safely down a hill using the features of your vehicle and at the correct angle. The same goes for driving up hill too. Practice what to do if you do not make it to the top (failed hill climb).
Side slopes are best avoided if at all possible. But, knowing where to drive on the slope and at what speed will help. Consider any variables that may affect vehicle stability. Examples include roof racks and luggage. Other terrain hazards and obstacles may also include:
Note: Practice how to drive them in a safe environment first before trying them out in the real world.
Driving off road in difficult ground conditions places extreme demands on your vehicle capabilities. In turn, that also affects the vehicle components.
Fact: Most 4x4 and SUV models get designed to tackle the most challenging terrain. But, they still need looking after. Not to mention the personal safety for you and others may be at stake.
Immediately after an off road foray is the essential time for 'post off road driving checks'. The vehicle may need to go back on to the road and get driven at normal road speeds.
Have you ever thought about how much weight gets added to your wheel rim to balance a new tyre? In fact very little. So how is your vehicle going to behave with several pounds of mud on the inside or outside of the wheel rim?
At best, it is going to vibrate. But, when you get up to speed it is likely to turn into an uncontrollable wobble. That itself can cause failure of other components, such as wheel bearings or track rod ends.
Spending five minutes cleaning the mud off before going back on to the road can prevent this. A full pressure wash at the earliest opportunity is a strong recommendation.
Note: This is one example of an area of the vehicle that needs attention after driving off road. Consider the type of terrain that you have driven on and the components that may get affected.
Always follow any guidelines on servicing inside your vehicle handbook. Service requirements are often greater and more frequent following such instances.
Unfortunately, a small minority of 4x4 users have gained a bad reputation in the eyes of the general public.
They got caught driving their vehicles where they should not have done!
The vehicles got driven in such a way that did not respect the land or other people.
You must have the relevant permission if you are taking your vehicle off the highway. That refers to the appropriate land owners of the place where you are driving.
Check you have a legal right to be there if you are driving on Byways Open to All Traffic or a road used as a public path.
Note: A quick phone call to the local council rights of way office would usually confirm this.
When you are on these tracks, drive in a way that meets the minimum required to pass over the ground with the least amount of wheel spin and engine revs. In an ideal world, you should repair any damage caused to the land. It will not repair itself!
The time of year and weather conditions has a big effect on this. There is also likely to be other users of the track (non-motorized) so respect them as well.
The number of tracks driven by motorized vehicles is small compared to the number of footpaths and bridle paths. Even so, everyone should work together to promote the responsible use of byways and private ground. If that fails we are likely to lose the right to drive them altogether.
True Grip Off Road provides tuition courses for off road driving in Kent county. They cover all aspects of the above points in off road driving experiences.
Note: They can adjust the content and duration of most off road driving courses in your own county. They are tailor-made to suit any 4x4 off road enthusiast or professional user. This includes offroad driving, towing, trailer courses, and Health and Safety and Risk management in winching techniques.