Off-road driving for beginners
What to drive
There’s no reason not to take a 2WD vehicle on unsealed roads as long as you accept its traction limitations and drive accordingly. A 4WD’s superior traction, however, will allow it to confidently tackle obstacles that would make you think twice in a 2WD – that notorious, car-swallowing muddy outback road after a wet-season drenching or deep patches of sand. If it’s a heavy-duty 4WD, not just an SUV, you can crawl over almost any kind of surface beyond made roads.
How to set up your car
Many SUVs don’t work as 4WDs all the time. When you’re on unsealed surfaces, switching from either ‘2WD’ or ‘auto’ to a full-time 4WD mode will ensure you’re always getting optimum traction. If you have some serious all-dirt kilometres on the agenda, consider lowering your tyre pressure. It’s a common tactic amongst serious road-trippers because it improves ride quality, roadholding and – on sharp, stony surfaces – tyre durability. If you’re driving on sand or a beach, you’ll want to lower tyre pressure even more; this widens the contact patch, helping tyres to ‘float’ on the surface.
What to pack
As those last recommendations suggest, the hardcore dirt-road traveller will have an air compressor to reinflate their tyres to tarmac-friendly pressures, a vital step because tarmac driving on low pressures can not only be unsafe but destroy the tyres. They’ll also typically have a deflator tool so they can deflate tyres more quickly and accurately. They tend to assume, too, that they’ll get stuck sooner or later, so will have all vehicle-recovery necessities (jack, snatch straps, winch, etc.). A ‘spare’ spare tyre is another must-have for tackling some of Australia’s more flinty, tyre-eating roads.
How to drive
On dirt, cars have vastly reduced roadholding. They break traction while accelerating and stop less effectively. They slide sooner through corners and can be more difficult to catch when they do let go. All of your inputs, then – acceleration, braking and steering – need to be ultra-smooth. And because you won’t be able to stop or change direction as quickly, you need to slow down and scan well ahead for dangers or obstacles. Dust, sun glare and other issues can make this particularly difficult, so don’t be scared to drive at even more conservative speeds if there are vision issues.
While there are a few more things to think about when you’re going off the asphalt, the road less travelled is where life’s real journeys exist. So, now that you have all these tips, what are you waiting for?