Vehicle Preparation

Preparation of your vehicle is essential for any off road activities. For an off-road event, what are the most crucial aspects to be aware of?

Before you set foot off a sealed road, you should know your vehicle, what and where are the weak points and where to attach recovery devices to it. You should also know how to correctly pack items in your vehicle to avoid upsetting its balance and reducing its abilities. So go have a look at it!

Identify where the low points are like differential centres, engine crankcase, gearboxes and fuel tanks. See what has a guard on it, and if that guard is likely to strike an object in the road. Will you need to put some kind of protection on those easily damaged components? Even if that guard is well made and quite strong, it is protecting something that is fragile. No guard will stop all potential damage, so be aware of these ‘soft’ points.

Where do you attach a recovery device? Are there proper ‘rated’ hooks under there, or only flimsy transport attachment points? Are these set out jacking points? Are these recovery points well defined, and easy to find if needed? Do not forget that in the case of needing them, they may be under water, in the mud, buried in the sand or otherwise obscured. Know where they all are, and what they will do for you. Also know that if you choose the wrong point, that it can do something to you. Know where these ‘hard’ points are, draw a sketch if it will help.

There are many brands that provides a full range of protection and recovery gears for 4WDs. Go visit your local 4WD stores and get advise on what are your options. Please also observe that the more protection mean the more weight you are adding to your vehicle.

River crossings and adverse weather conditions are to be expected in off-roading especially rain. How do you prepare for these conditions?

Take a look under the skin of your vehicle. Do you know where the engine oil goes? Where do you put the coolant/water in? What parts can be affected by water ingress? What about those sets of gears? Where does their oil go? All these hard working parts need to breathe, all of them!

How high does the water need be before they drown? What about the brakes? Dust, dirt sand, stones and water will affect their performance. Even driving into water when they are hot might damage them. Some electronic parts will drown, where are they? Will they be kept high and dry, or will they be swimming even in a puddle?

Don’t just look in the engine bay and under the car. Inside the car is also vulnerable. If you get stuck in a water hole, will that radio gurgle and die? Is that computer tucked up and out of the way? Will the electrics that run the engine get wet and leave you stuck after just a small splash? All of these things are important, especially if you need to keep on moving. Even just a small hiccup can cease your forward motion, and leave you very stuck.

Does the size of your vehicle matter? 

Yes, it does. Take a look at the car from the outside. Never mind the view, be it good or bad, but how big is your vehicle? Ever thought about it? Does it get scratches and dents by magic? Do you know how big it is while you are inside it? While having a large vehicle can be a little problem on the road, it can be very difficult off the road. Knowing if you can fit between trees, under that branch, drive around that rock. Having a good idea of the outer dimensions of your car is very important. But knowing how to negotiate those tight spots, without having to leave your seat is even more important.

Leaving this dimensional problem down to “I just don’t have it” is not good enough. It is easily learnt, and easy to apply. The only way to gain ‘dimensional awareness’ is to go out and put the car in tight spots. If you have little confidence, have someone outside the car to guide you. While you negotiate the obstacles, notice where all visible points are in relation to the road, and to other objects. Use those mirrors. That’s what they are there for! Recall what you are driving over, even when you can no longer see it. You should have already memorized the road just ahead, and made adjustment so that anything that might catch will be avoided. But do not just concentrate on what you drive over, but also what you drive around, and what you just drove past. This is being aware of your surroundings, and while driving off the road, being very aware can keep you on the track, rather than being part of the scenery.

Packing for a multiday event can be a daunting task. You don’t want to forget any essential item but how much is too much?

Weight is a big issue when getting your vehicle ready for an off-road event. You have to plan meticulously to make sure you don’t pack in too much that it impedes your vehicle’s mobility. So, where should you put it? Is it safe to keep it there? Are you overloading the vehicle? Can you really tow all that weight? For that matter, do you know how much your vehicle weighs all by itself? Do you know how much extra weight it will carry with safety? If the answer is no, then go find out!

Unfortunately all vehicles have different weights, and how much they can carry around. They can all tow around different amounts, and few have the same carrying capacity for gear on the roof. You need to find out what the maximum payload capacities are for all parts of your vehicle. Failure to do this may result in an unbalanced vehicle that will easily roll over, it may be difficult to drive, it might just be plain dangerous. When you do discover these capacities, obey them. They are not there as a guide, they are there to keep you and fellow road users safe. Exceeding these limits is a recipe for disaster.

And if you do add weight to your vehicle, make allowance for it. You will need longer to stop, longer to accelerate, you will use more fuel and you will make the engine work a lot harder. So keep it safe, and pay attention. There is little point to having a reliable vehicle, if it’s rolled over or just can’t make it any further because of poor planning.

While on the subject of vehicle loading, what about things you place inside the passenger area? Is it all tied down, or just sitting there? Is there some kind of solid barrier between you and your luggage? Even small lightweight objects can be become lethal missiles when you come to a sudden halt. Yes, even that Bic pen might do some serious bodily injury if it takes to the air in a crash. They have been used for emergency tracheotomies. I have seen where stuff goes first hand in a crash, the answer is every where! So tie it all down, have some kind of barrier between you and your gear. If a pen will hurt you, imagine what a tin can will do?

What else do you need?

Well, you now have a vehicle you should know well in all areas. But there are some things you should have with you if you venture off-road. In fact, many of them should be in the vehicle at all times. Things like a jack, wheel brace, first aid kit, fire extinguisher and a basic tool kit should be present in any vehicle you drive at all times. If not, do this as soon as possible, and learn how to use all of them.

You have decided to get off the road, what else do you need to take with you? Some basic recovery gear for a start of course. Essentially, the extras are items that will get you going again in case of getting stuck, or mechanical failure. So some basic recovery items, in order would be a shovel, an axe, high lift jack, recovery straps and winches, both hand and powered-mechanical. The shovel will get you out of anything, with enough time, the items along the list just allow you to get going in less time. With that in mind, get a good quality shovel first, and acquire the rest as you think you need them.

Add to the recovery gear a more extensive tool kit. If you already carry a comprehensive set of tools and spares in the vehicle, then that is fine. If not, have the means to re-attach anything that might fall off. Also carry some basics like spare hoses, some engine oil and some water. Various other items like fuses, lamps, clips, ties, nuts and bolts are also very handy to carry along. I will not elaborate on some improvised repairs, short of saying “if it will work, do it!”. The repair does not have to be pretty, it just has to do the job.

Vehicle Specifications

Body Chasis

  • Open-Top, Canvas hood, Buggy vehicles or without windscreen/ standard door panels are Not Allowed.
  • Seat belts are required for all occupants, the minimum being the lap sash type. The seat belts must not be frayed, torn or damaged in any way.
  • Roof-racks are allowed. The maximum weight allowed to be carried on a roof-rack will be limited to 100kg.
  • All items carried in the vehicle must be secured adequately while the vehicle is in motion.
  • A 3-ton (rated) Tow point is required on both the front and rear of the vehicle and must be securely mounted to the chassis by a minimum of 2 x 12mm or 4 x 10mm, grade 8 (or equivalent) high tensile bolts. Towing points can be mounted to a bull-bar if the bull-bar is sufficiently strong enough to cope with a 3-ton load. Any vehicle with a monocoque frame will require the load to be applied equally to both sides of the vehicle frame.
  • A steel or aluminum cargo barrier is recommended to be installed securely behind the driver and co-driver’s seats and attached to the vehicle body at four points. Nylon or seatbelt material will not be accepted.
  • Fiber or canvas top vehicles must be fitted with a Roll Cage that complies with the following:
    38mm OD steam pipe, 3mm thickness or 38mm OD Aluminum, 5mm wall thickness with welded joints and mounted to the chassis in 4 places by 100mm square plates 5mm thick either welded or bolted with high tensile steel 4 x 10mm bolts per plate. Backing plates of the same size shall be used when mounting to body panel.
  • Body parts can be reinforced and/ or protected by the installation of Bull Bar, Side Bar and Rear Bar or similar.
  • Existing bumpers or side steps can be removed.
  • Body lifts are allowable to a maximum of 100mm or 4 inches. All previous mounts must be incorporated in mounting of the body when lifted. All bolts replaced must be of high tensile specifications (e.g. Grade 8) and of the same diameter or larger than the bolts removed.
  • Aftermarket seats is allowed provided it be fixed to the body, as well as/ or better than, the standard. All unused seat(s) can be removed.

Engine

  • Any engine, make or size can be used, provided it is a legal and roadworthy fitment in the country of origin.
  • Fuel/Air intake system
  • All supplementary fuel containers shall be approved for fuel storage and be adequately secured in the vehicle, behind the cargo barrier or mounted outside the cabin.
  • Aftermarket and/ or genuine turbo/ super charger are allowed.
  • Aftermarket fuel tank can be used provided it meets recognized safety standards.
  • All vehicle is must be installed with an Air Intake Snorkel (River crossings).

Exhaust System

  • Exhaust system can be modified, including extractors.
    The Exhaust system must protrude past the vehicle body, either to the side or rear.
  • This is to ensure no exhaust gases from entering the cabin.
  • Open exhaust system is not allowed.

Differentials

  • Aftermarket and/ or genuine differentials is allowed.
  • Aftermarket, automatic or manual differential locks is allowed.
  • Axles and differential housings can be strengthened or laminated.
  • Gearbox, transfer case and drive shaft can be modified and/ or strengthened.

Suspensions

  • Aftermarket and/ or modified suspensions are allowed.
  • Any amount of dampers is allowed.
  • Suspension linkages, A-arms and pan hard rods can be modified and/ or strengthened.

Wheel & Tyres

  • Tire and wheel combinations are restricted to a maximum 37” diameter and 13.5” width and shall be enclosed within the width of mudguards and flares.
  • Wheels can be modified up to a maximum allowance of 100mm from standard for “off-setting”.
  • Agricultural purpose tires or similar type is prohibited.
  • Spur drive reduction (Drop axle) is allowed.
  • Tires must be of a mud terrain purpose tread pattern and be classified for road use.
  • Tires must have at least 80% tread depth at the start of the event.
  • Wheel and tire combinations can protrude up to 45mm from the vehicle body but must be accompanied by the use of 50mm flare material extending the whole length of the wheel arch.
  • It is compulsory to carry at least one (01) spare wheel and be securely mounted on or inside the vehicle.

Electrical System

  • All lights, indicators, reverse and brake lights must be in operable condition.
  • All vehicles must have an effective horn.
  • Aftermarket electronic devices or modified ignition system can be use.

Winch

  • All 4×4 vehicles must be fitted with a front mounted recovery winch with a capacity no less than 8000lbs.
  • The winch cable must be in serviceable condition without damage, i.e.; No broken strands, kinked, bent or badly crushed sections.
  • The winch must be fitted with an operational automatic brake.
  • The cable must be of high tensile steel (aircraft type) with a minimum of 5/16” diameter.
  • All cables/ropes must be attached with an approved dampener or winch sail with a minimum weight of at least 1 kg. “Gunny-Sack” dampener is not allowed.
  • When operating with a snatch block/ double line, additional dampener is a must.
  • Winch cables must not be fastened by U clamps. Only cables with professionally swaged loops will be accepted.
  • Plasma rope with a minimum of 10mm is allowed.
  • Mild steel cable with a hemp centre is not allowed.