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.
Wheel & Tyres