Off-Road Driving Tips for the Beginner

Off-Road Driving Tips for the Beginner

If you’ve recently purchased a Jeep or other SUV, and are getting ready to take your first off-road adventure trip, there are potential hazards you’ll want to be aware of before you go. Taking off-road trips are fun and exciting if you follow certain safety rules and never let sight-seeing distract you completely from your driving, even on less traveled back roads.

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Pre-Trip Vehicle Inspection

Before taking your vehicle for an off-road trip, you should inspect all of its general functions before leaving. Make sure there’s plenty of oil, gas, air in the tires, etc. Be sure you have emergency equipment such as flares, spare tire, jumper cables, tire tools and a first aid kit.

Also, just in case you get stranded for whatever reason, take along some camping equipment and food as well. If taking your children, be sure to pack plenty of extra necessities for them as well. Preparing beforehand could save you from many headaches later.

Observe the Road or Trail

If a friend or guide recommends a specific road or trail to you, ask plenty of questions about the road if given the opportunity. Find out if there are any areas of the road to watch out for such a large dip or hole, or very slick spots. You can also inquire about good places to stop for sight seeing or hiking, etc. This will enable you to plan your trip more thoroughly before entering the road.

Whether you’re driving on a trail or back dirt road, observe it before entering to be prepared for possible dangers. If there are a lot of rocks, holes, mud puddles, grooves in the road or other unusual characteristics, you can prepare ahead for
your driving methods. On excess gravel, you should never slam on brakes if you suddenly meet an unexpected car, but brake slowly if possible. Slamming on brakes can cause your vehicle to slide forward for several feet, thus hitting the oncoming vehicle head on!

Mud puddles can be deceiving. Even if the mud puddle looks shallow and harmless, it can contain a deep hole underneath.
Drive through these with caution and slowly. If the road appears to have many deep holes and grooves, you’ll want to be very careful as you drive through these as well.

You shouldn’t attempt to drive through sandy washes, deep mud or snow unless you have a four wheel drive. Even with a four wheel drive, you should enter these areas with caution. Try not to slow down or stop because you could get stuck in these types of road conditions.

Try to avoid deep ruts or holes when possible by going around them or straddling them to keep the vehicle balanced while

If you enter a road or trail, and it seems to be getting worse by the second, you probably need to turn around and go elsewhere. You can often find popular roads or trails that are kept well to avoid this from happening. Roads that appear to be abandoned usually aren’t the best roads for beginners.

Pick the Right Gear

One thing you should never forget when preparing for an off-road drive is choosing the right gear. I’m sure you’re aware that most tough trails require additional control of 4WD Low Range. Depending on your vehicle, this low-range gear set will vary from 2.0:1 to 3.0:1. It will put your engine’s power through another set of gears before it reaches the wheels. With this type of gear, you’ll be able to drive increased torque at your wheels. This makes it easier for you to wheel up and get over a boulder, giving you more control.

Remember that as soon as your tires touch dirt, you’ll need to shift into 4WD and lock the center differential to avoid getting stuck.

Another gear that you need to be accounted for is your transmission gear. Whether you drive fast or slow depends on the trail. With a manual transmission 4X4, you only need to use first gear when easing up over rocks. 

But what if you face sandy soil that requires a bit more momentum? You’ll need to wheel speed to keep the tires floating on top, so a higher gear makes sense. Muddy trails are a wild card. If the mud is deep and sticky enough you won’t have traction when driving slowly. A higher gear will allow more wheel speed and the centrifugal force will clear the tires and provide fresh biting edges.

Keeping Control

Staying in control of your vehicle is the key to safe off-road trips. You can stay in control by avoiding high speeds, keeping focused on the road at all times, looking ahead while driving for possible road hazards, taking curves very slowly, and passing others cautiously. Most back roads or trails are very narrow and full of curves.

When entering a curve, always be alert to the fact that another vehicle could be coming towards you around the curve. If you do meet someone, and both or one of you are driving at a high speed, there might not be enough space to get around one another, and a crash could occur. Off-road trips are no fun if they endanger your life.

It’s wise to take your off-road trip during the day when you’re new, especially roads that you’ve never traveled. Most of the back roads and trails are either marked poorly or not marked at all, so unless you’re very familiar with the road, you shouldn’t attempt it at night.

Alerting Someone of Your Whereabouts

Before taking an off-road trip alert one or two people of where you’ll be traveling (name and exact location of the road or trail), when you’ll be leaving and when you expect to return.

Your cell phone may not work on these long “lost” roads, so it’s wise to have someone on the outside who knows where you are and when you’re expected to return. Make an agreement to call them when you return. If they don’t hear from you within a reasonable amount of time, they’ll know to look for you.

The reason for doing this is that some back roads may not be frequently traveled, and you could be stranded for a long time if a wreck or breakdown were to occur. You should make these arrangements whether you’re traveling alone or with your entire family!

More Tips and Cautions

Never park your vehicle over an area of dry brush for more than a few seconds. The catalytic converter of your vehicle could cause a wildfire. If you see a sign that states “4×4 required”, this normally indicates a very rough terrain, which is probably not suitable for a beginner, even if you have a 4×4 vehicle.

Look for maps of the area if possible. Maps can often help you locate lakes, creeks, landmarks, etc. along the way when traveling on dirt roads. Some roads and most trails will not appear on a map, however.

Choose your trip timing wisely. If there has been heavy snow in the area recently, then there will probably be thick mud on dirt roads and trails. In the mountains, watch for boulders in case a landslide has occurred in the area. Even very small, undetected landslides can leave dangerous rocks on the trail.

Use road etiquette and follow the common road rules, even on back roads. Remember, on steep mountain roads, the driver facing downhill must back up until the person coming uphill can pass. Never attempt to reverse back down a very steep hill. You could lose control doing this.

Respect any private land signs you might approach on your trip, such as No Trespassing, Keep Gate Closed, or Private Drive. Never assume that you can enter private property even when there’s no one around for miles!

Keep these beginner tips in mind when taking your off-road trip, and you’ll have a wonderful adventure exploring the outdoors.

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