If you’ve got a 4×4 then you might be considering going off road. This can be a great experience, but of course, you’re going to want to make sure that you’re safe. That’s why we’re taking a look at off roading in a 4×4, and everything you need to know about road safety BEFORE you leave!
Why Take My 4×4 Off Road?
Good question! Why should you go off road in your 4×4? Well, there are a couple of reasons. Firstly, there are many beautiful areas in South Africa that just aren’t serviced by national roads, and that means a 4×4 is the only way to see these places. However, another reason that many people go off roading is simply because they enjoy the challenge of non traditional driving. Off road driving is a lot more difficult than regular driving, so it’s more exciting. Ready for a challenge? Wait, not so fast…
General 4×4 Road Safety
There are a few general things that you’re going to need to keep in mind if you want to take that 4×4 off road. Some of these are common sense, others maybe not, and we’ll get to more specific driving tips later, but for now, consider these:
Always have a plan for where you’re going and a time frame, make sure that someone else knows where you should be and when you should be back, just in case there’s a problem and you need rescuing!;
Always have a travel medical kit on board, including band aids, burn creams, bandages and mild painkillers, you’re likely to get bumped around a bit in your 4×4, so it’s worth being prepared;
Always have an emergency kit, you’re going off road so there’s always the possibility of being stuck or needing help, have at least some water and protein bars, as well as a blanket and torch, you might also want to consider getting a satellite phone for emergencies, since you may not have mobile reception in isolated areas;
Always survey the road ahead, and if you can’t see ahead then get out and have a look, this should help prevent you getting into unexpected trouble;
Always drive to your own abilities, you know how well you can drive and how experienced you are, so if a road is too tough for you then turn back!
These are simple rules that are for your own safety, and keeping to them should ensure that you’re prepared for anything! But what else do you need to know before you leave home?
Your 4×4 and Insurance
If you’ve been driving your 4×4 on roads you probably already have general car insurance. However, before you go off road you’re going to need to check out your policy. Many traditional car insurance policies do not cover off road driving due to the fact that it’s riskier than normal driving. If your regular policy won’t cover you, then you’re going to need to get a specific off road insurance policy for your trip.
Where to shop? There are many insurance companies that specialise in 4×4 policies, so you could try one of those. However, some traditional companies, such as OUTsurance and Santam (who own Sanlam Insurance) also have 4×4 off road policy options. Do you need these? Well, if you’re driving on rocky, muddy trails then there’s a pretty high chance of your vehicle getting damaged, so a good policy is a sound investment.
Preparing Your 4×4 to Go Off Road
Whilst a 4×4 is designed to drive off road, there are still some things that you’ll need to check up on before you leave for your trip. What are we talking about? Here’s what you need to ensure:
Your tyres should be off road tyres, the most common choice are called “mud-terrain” tyres, though your tyre choice will depend on the kind of ground you plan on covering, if in doubt, head to a tyre shop and get some professional advice;
Check your tyre pressure, whilst most highway driving requires pressure of around 50 psi, off roading requires lower pressure to give you more traction (around 18 to 20 psi is common), if you plan on both highway and off road driving you’ll need to either carry a tyre pump or a spare set of tyres, so keep this in mind!;
Take a look at your vehicle manual and find out where you can find your front and rear differential, since these are usually the parts of your vehicle and are closest to the ground, check under your car too and make sure you know where low points are, if you’re driving over obstacles you want to make sure that nothing under your 4×4 gets hit;
It is NOT recommended that you carry extra petrol cans, due to the risk of fire should you be in an accident, if you frequently need more petrol than your vehicle can hold then consider getting an extra tank professionally fitted;
There are many 4×4 accessories that will help you when off roading, you might want to consider a GPS system to help with navigation, and a front or rear winch can be essential for rescuing yourself (or others) when stuck.
So, now your 4×4 is ready to go off roading, but are you yourself prepared?
Off Road Driving in Your 4×4
You do not need a special license to drive a 4×4 off road, your regular license will do just fine. However, there are some important driving differences that you should know about. Not to worry though, we’ve got some basic 4×4 driving tips for you:
Keep your thumbs on the OUTSIDE of the steering wheel (not inside as is common with regular driving), since when hitting obstacles the steering wheel can suddenly turn, dislocating or injuring your thumbs;
Never drive down hills or steep ground at an angle, since this will make you roll your 4×4 over, approach hills directly so you can drive straight down;
If you need to drive over an obstacle or ditch then whenever possible drive at an angle so that only one wheel at a time goes over the obstacle, that way the other three wheels will stabilise your vehicle;
When you brake the front of your vehicle goes down a little, so if you’re approaching an obstacle and you’re not going to stop in time take your foot OFF the brake, the front of your 4×4 will rise up again giving you a little more clearance;
Remember that your 4×4 has a higher centre of gravity than a traditional vehicle, this means that a 4×4 tips over more easily than other cars, so take corners slowly!
Of course, it’s impossible for us to teach you all the ins and outs of driving your 4×4 off road, and some things will come with practice. However, many driving schools do offer specialised 4×4 advanced driving courses. If you’re considering taking a trip, you might want to enrol in one of these 4×4 courses first, since you’re likely to be a better and safer 4×4 driver if you do!
4×4 Driving and You: The Bottom Line
Taking a 4×4 off road can be exciting, challenging, exhilarating and fun. However, it is undeniably riskier than highway driving. But with the right preparations you can minimise these risks. South Africa has many stunning areas that can only be reached by 4×4, so it’s worth your time and money to get that 4×4 off road!
Main Subject: 4×4
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