Ok, so you’ve just purchased your first 4WD and are ready to hit the tracks, you’ve been driving for years so what’s the difference in driving on dirt right …. WRONG!
There is so much that can and does go wrong and you need to be aware of that. This 4WDing gig can be dangerous, every time we hit the tracks we know there is the potential that things could go wrong, very wrong.
We don’t want to scare you, but you need to be aware that heading off-road without the proper recovery gear and the knowledge of what you are doing can end badly in terms of vehicle damage, injury or even death. You can take all the precautions in the world, but sometimes things just don’t go to plan.
Please take a few minutes to read through this and hopefully it will give you a few pointers on what to do and where to start. But don’t be afraid to ask questions (even if you think it’s dumb or people may laugh at you), we all started out as newbies at one point in time and no-one expects you to know everything.
The most important thing when heading off-road is tyres. These are the single most important thing that can make the difference between you getting past an obstacle or not. Yes lift kits and lockers all help, but if you need just one thing, it’s tyres. Think about where you are heading and how often. A one-off day on a fire trail can be done on your road tyres, but if this is something you’ll be doing more often look at a good set off All-Terrain tyres (or Mud tyres depending on what you do).
Always remember, when you head off-road or onto the beach you must let the pressure down in your tyres. It can mean the difference between getting a puncture or not, it can mean the difference between getting through or getting bogged. Off-road it can make for a far more comfortable ride, it’s less harsh on the vehicle and it’s better for the tracks.
It takes a little trial and error to work out what works best for you, your vehicle, your tyre size and style and the terrain you are driving on … it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ type of thing, it all has an impact.
For more information, see our previous blog post here
Have a basic Recovery Kit
Before heading off-road you should at the very minimum have a snatch strap, dampener, rated shackle, (and rated recovery points on the vehicle) and a tyre gauge. Remember, you will need to let your tyres down before going off-road or on the beach, so how will you know what to let them down to without a tyre gauge? Also keep in mind that you need to reinflate them afterwards, so if you aren’t anywhere near a servo, carry your own air compressor as well.
Most people are happy to help if you are in trouble, but if they are helping YOU, always offer to grab and use your recovery gear first. No-one wants their gear lost or broken or have to go home and clean it when they were helping out a stranger. It’s common courtesy to always use your own gear (or at least offer) in this situation. Check out this recovery set
Make sure you have RATED recovery points
No, we aren’t talking those little tie down points on the front of your 4WD, they are not a rated recovery point, they are simply used to tie your car down during transportation. You may be surprised to know that most 4WD’s don’t actually come standard with any form of rated recovery point.
You need to invest in a proper aftermarket recovery point suited to your vehicle which is suitable for snatching and winching. Ideally you’d have one on the front and the rear of your vehicle to ensure if you are stuck you can be snatched out either way, but ONE at the very minimum is required before you even think of heading off-road.
Check out the guys at APC and they can help you with all your needs ….. If you use our code “OTT4x4” they’ll give you a 5% discount (off all items on the website, except already discounted items).
Know how to actually engage 4WD
Read your vehicle manual and learn how to actually engage High and Low range (or lock your hubs if you have manual locking hubs) and do some research into when and why you would use both of these gears. Also be aware that many of the newer vehicles have traction and/or stability control that you may need to manually override when off-road, particularly on sand.
Know what to do in a recovery situation
At some point in your 4WDing life you will get bogged, or you will need to be involved in the recovery of another bogged 4WD. Before you even contemplate a 4WD recovery, do your research and know exactly what to do, take all the precautions and know the risks.
Recoveries are dangerous and things can and do go wrong and result in damage to vehicles, injury to persons and unfortunately death. This is serious stuff and we cannot say this enough … you really do need to know what you are doing.
Don’t go by yourself
This is particularly important when you are first starting out. Even now, there are places we would never head into by ourselves, even if there may be other vehicles around. You just never know what may happen (just a while back a mate got himself stuck at Lithgow and luckily managed to get enough phone reception to contact us and we were able to drive out and help him – keep in mind that this was a 1 ½ hour drive each way for us, plus the recovery. Had he not had phone reception or had we not been available, he could have been spending the night there alone stranded in the bush).
Another reason to go with a mate is so that you have a spotter to help you. Quite often you are on such angles that you can’t even see where your 4WD is on the track. Having a spotter on a portable handheld CB will allow them to be your eyes and guide you.
This is an important one and if you are heading out in a group or doing alot of 4WDing as it will enable you to communicate with others. More often than not, you won’t have mobile phone reception. They are relatively cheap to purchase and there are so many on the market. Whether you buy an in car one with antenna or a portable one is your choice. To be honest though, you’ll probably end up having both if you do get bitten by this 4WDing bug!
Of course, if you intend on longer, more remote travelling you’ll want to consider other forms of communication as well, such as Satellite Phone and/or a SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger.
Don’t over commit
Even now, after all these years, there are still tracks that we look at and say ‘nope, not going up there’! It’s ok to say no if you don’t feel comfortable or turn around if things are getting a little hairy, it’s ok to take the chicken track. People look at some of the things we do and think we are crazy, but we now know what our vehicles are capable of and what both of our driving abilities are, it’s takes a while to gain all this knowledge so at first it’s totally fine to be afraid and err on the side of caution. Always ensure you drive to your own abilities, not other peoples.
If heading on the beach, take a shovel!
Sometimes a little bit of digging is all you need to get you going again, and if you are by yourself and no-one else around to snatch you out, you’ll be glad you had that shovel with you! If you intend to stick with 4WDing, considering investing in a set of TRED boards which are awesome on the beach, as well as the bush.
Water Crossings and Bog Holes
Everyone loves a bit of water, but 4WD’s not so much! Sometimes you have no choice but to drive through a muddy bog hole or a creek crossing, but always be careful. Walk it (if you can, think crocodiles!), measure the depth with a stick if you aren’t sure and consider a snorkel if you are going to be doing a lot of water crossings. Try your hardest not to drive through salt water (and wash your vehicle down afterwards if you do). It’s very easy and very common to write of your vehicle in water crossings or bog holes so always check them out before jump straight in!
Please don’t be a dick
Now this is an important one, one we shouldn’t have mention, but unfortunately we do. Us 4WDer’s can sometimes get a bad name and it’s always because of the minority of people thinking they are better than anyone else, doing the wrong thing and rules don’t apply to them. The truth is though that most 4WDer’s are friendly, respectful and helpful people who respect the bush and want to do whatever we can to look after it. Unfortunately, it’s the minority that ends up ruining it for everyone else and we have tracks closed down, tougher restrictions put in place and end up being totally locked out of certain areas.
This rule also includes rubbish and property. Whatever you take in should be taken out with you, never leave your rubbish for someone else to clean up. Always extinguish fires completely and do not light them at all in areas which do not allow them, or when there are fire bans. Do not damage other people’s property and DO NOT leave your toilet paper laying around, Dig – Do – Burn – Bury ALWAYS!
We are all responsible for looking after and respecting the bush, and with so many amazing places for us to explore across Australia, why wouldn’t you want to. It’s a real privilege to be able to jump in our vehicles and go to some of these places, so please think about this before you go ahead and ruin it for everyone else.
To mod or not to mod?
There are so many 4WD accessories out there today and you could spend thousands doing up your vehicle, but it’s not always necessary. Think about how you will be using your 4WD, where you will take it, how often you’ll be heading out, will you be hitting the hard tracks or a simple dirt road, heading to the beach, going by yourself or with others? Owning a 4WD can be expensive and you’ll realise this real quick if you start adding various accessories, so take your time and have a think about what you actually need and what you want!
Other things to keep in mind
- Check the weather – don’t head out if you know it’s been raining a lot or if rain is anticipated. Not only is it dangerous, but if can ruin and potentially close tracks.
- Are you allowed to be where you are? – just because your 4WD can go off-road, doesn’t mean it’s allowed to be there! Watch out for private property signs and gates.
- Insurance – check if your vehicle is allowed to do what you’re doing and go off-road, particularly water crossing etc.
- Track Closures – always obey track closures signs, note that not only can you be fined, insurance will not cover you if you are found to be on a closed track.
- Keep water and a blanket/warm jumper in the vehicle just in case you get stuck. We’ve had one night where we didn’t get home till early hours of the morning due to being stuck on a track in the bush, so be prepared.
- Always tell someone where you are going so emergency services have an idea of where to start looking should you fail to return home.
- Carry a first aid kit in your vehicle at all times.
Lastly, we all need to learn somewhere and you can’t learn until you get out there and put yourself into the situation. But please don’t do it by yourself, head out with an experienced friend or join a 4WD club, many run their own private training courses for members and they have regular day/weekend/longer trips that members can join. Pick one that suits your needs and is in your area and if you contact them most will allow you to join a meeting or event as a trial to see what you think.
Alternatively (and this is what we both did when we started out), invest in a 4WD Driver Training course which will cover everything you need for off-road driving, as well as recovery. Courses like those run by Great Divide Tours run over a weekend and include accreditation (which can be used to save on your insurance).
Just remember, we all started where you are now. It just takes time to build your confidence and your skills, so don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be embarrassed if you get bogged. Most of us 4WDer’s are friendly people who are more than happy to help and we’d rather you ask for help, than potentially damage your vehicle or yourself. There have been many times where we’ve needed to help others out of difficult situations (bogged in sand, bogged in water crossings, rollovers etc) and George has even got in and driven other’s vehicles out of the situation as they weren’t comfortable doing so themselves. So definitely don’t think you need to know it all at first and definitely don’t think that you’re the only one to have ever found yourself in that situation, we were all there once! As long as you have your own recovery gear, are willing to accept help and/or education and acknowledge when you’ve f**ked up, we will all be there to help you out!
Note that this blog post contains some links that will take you through to an external third party company. On some occasions, if you do click through and ultimately make a purchase we will earn a small commission on the sale. Note that, although we may receive a commission, this is at no additional cost to you. Ie, you would pay the same amount if you went direct to the product provider.