By Hugh McInnes
Going off road in an all-terrain vehicle can present multiple terrain challenges all of which require different considerations to maximise your enjoyment and safety and minimise the risk to you and your four-wheel drive vehicle. This guide gives a brief overview of the best way to approach various terrain types, especially in Australia where we have almost every type of terrain.
Before setting out, especially in a new off-road SUV, always make sure you and your passengers are wearing climate-suitable clothing and have the full complement of safety equipment including an emergency beacon, extra food and water, extra fuel, tow rope and shovel as well as plenty of water. The final safety precaution is always to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to get back.
***Driving on Mud and Sand in a 4×4.***
Many advanced four-wheel drive vehicles have a unique Terrain Response system that can be set for different driving conditions: rock crawl, mud and ruts, sand, grass/gravel/snow or road. This is is an innovative 4×4 off road feature that should be used in conjunction with proactive driving techniques. Here are some additional tips for off road driving in mud and sand.
Always use steady momentum to carry you through deep sand or mud. Do not select a gear that is too low in mud because it will spin tyres more easily. If the wheels start to spin, ease off the throttle and allow the tyres to slow down and regain traction. In sand a low gear is usually better, especially is traversing sand at dawn, when it is usually at its firmest. If you have find yourself in a sandstorm and have to sit it out, turn the rear of the vehicle to face the wind, and then turn the engine off.
If muddy conditions force you to drive in ruts, make sure you know where your front wheels are pointing at all times, tyres can suddenly cut through mud to find traction on firmer ground below.
Always follow the tyre and vehicle manufacturer’s advice on tyre pressure. However, where sand is soft and contains stones, a low pressure works better.
***The Nitty-Gritty of Sand.***
Sand covers only about 20 per cent of the Earth’s deserts. Most of the sand is in sand sheets and sand seas – vast regions of undulating dunes like ocean waves ‘frozen’ in an instant of time, but it still comes in a variety of types and forms.
Damp desert sand after rain can be easier to drive on. Often, flowers blooming overnight will help bind sand together.
Look out for firm sand these are stretches of desert where you can travel in relatively high range. If the sand is dry sand, it usually had a surface crust that’s stronger in the cool of the morning.
Keep well clear of wet sand. It can contain areas of ‘floating’ sand or quicksand and these can be lethal. Also avoid climbing over sand dunes, go round them.
Beaches are usually firm enough to take a 4×4 vehicle between high tide mark and four metres from the sea. Always keep your eyes out for the incoming tide and make sure you are not on a sandbank which could be cut-off and flooded by the incoming tide.
Finally, make sure you and your passengers enjoy your four-wheel drive adventures enough to hunger to do it again and always respect the environment you travel through.
Hugh McInnes is a well-seasoned 4×4 off-road enthusiast who and loves to share his 4WD SUV experiences and as a guy who’s done well with money, he loves to travel in a certain style, in a good quality four-wheel drive vehicle, especially in stunning Australia where the landscape can vary dramatically and challenges even the most experienced off road traveller.