You’re charging down a muddy creek bed in your 4×4 truck, jamming the gas and digging through deep ruts, when all of a sudden, you’re stuck. High-centered, your off road tires spinning and spraying mud into the dense foliage above, you pound the wheel in frustration. Luckily, your buddy is there to help you out. But what if he wasn’t? And what if you weren’t in range to call anyone?
This scenario isn’t fiction, it’s what happened to an off road adventurer in Australia. While trucks are great for off-roading, and it’s a thrill, it’s also fraught with peril. Don’t go unprepared. An off road accident could get you stranded or injured and stuck with a big repair bill.
Avoid these off-roading mistakes, and you’ll spend less time fixing problems and more time enjoying your time off-road.
Mistake #1: Not scoping out your route
An off-roader in Texas found himself in a bind when he followed a friend without knowing where he was going. He ended up plummeting down a steep incline and picked up some damage along the way when he collided with unforgiving earth. The collision could have been worse, but the driver was still pretty sheepish about the whole incident, which resulted in a dented fender.
The driver, who goes by cameraman123, said, “Taking it to the body shop tomorrow… we’ll find out how many paychecks this is going to eat. Learn from my cocky mistake, don’t get stupid!” Notoriously, any sort of body damage can easily cost over a thousand dollars to fix.
Solution: If you know someone who’s taken the route before, talk to them about what to expect. Or, give the area a thorough once-over on foot or from a safer vantage point before you charge it. Don’t drive haphazardly in spots where you have no idea what’s coming. A high-tech solution would be to take some aerial photos with a drone beforehand, or survey with Google Earth.
Mistake #2: Going off road alone
Because of the inherent danger of off-roading, doing it by yourself is a bad idea. A friend in another 4×4 can help tow you out of a bind, or they can go get help when you’re out of cellphone range and need a professional tow.
Solution: If you’re looking to get into off-roading but don’t have any friends who do it, head to the internet. The website meetup.com has groups for just about every activity, as does Facebook, and there are forums dedicated to this pursuit. If you just can’t wait and have to go it alone, make sure to tell someone the details of your trip before you go.
Mistake #3: Not packing the right gear
Off-roading isn’t just off-roading–it’s survival. You could end up freezing overnight, nursing an injury with no bandages, or staring at an easy-to-fix engine problem with no tools to fix it. On the other hand, if you bring everything you need and end up having the solution to a problem, you’ll feel pretty darn good.
Solution: Pack a first aid kit, tools, maps, tow chain, lantern and flashlight, overnight gear, warm clothes and a change of shoes, food and water, and it doesn’t hurt to have long-range walkie-talkies.
Mistake #4: Not using the right tires
Worn-out tires are dangerous to drive on in general. For off-roading, they’re downright hazardous. The wrong tires aren’t just the ones with too much wear on them. The top causes of tire failure are under-inflation, irregular wear because of a mechanical issue, or damage due to road hazards. A tire blow-out right in the middle of off-roading action definitely kills the party. And cheap tire that aren’t designed for off-roading don’t help.
Solution: Pick up a set of mudders, off road tires you can throw on your truck or SUV for extreme conditions. Check tire inflation level and make sure it’s up to spec.
Mistake #5: Rallying deep water
Standing water is likely to hide the type of mud that will get you stuck, and river crossings can be disastrous if the water is deeper than you think. There are 1500 pounds of buoyant force for each foot of water. Once that force exceeds your vehicle’s weight, you’ve lost control. The breathers on your axles, manual transmission, and transfer case will suck in water on contact, and if your engine’s air intake sucks in water, you’re in serious trouble.
Solution: Test the water’s depth before you rally it. Extend low-lying breathers, such as differential breathers, higher into the chassis area with flexible tubing. Find your air intake and make sure water won’t be high enough to hit it. Put a tarp over the front of the truck so less water gets into the engine bay.