Stuck in the Mud: A crash course in 4×4 off-roading terms

An avid 4×4 driver, by the very definition of the term, is someone who enjoys a challenge, far off the beaten track! At some point or another you will inevitably find yourself stuck in the mud or between a rock and a hard place. It is important for those of you new to 4×4 off-road driving that you have a good understanding of your vehicle and your route’s terrain. When properly prepared, you should be able to conquer almost any obstacle that may arise. Remember that that the length and difficulty of the route will determine the extent of your preparations.

But before you venture off the beaten path with your 4×4 rental from Drive Africa, here are some important tips to prepare yourself and your vehicle for your next off-road adventure.

Bridging the basics of off-road driving

  • Have a good understanding of your 4×4 and make sure that you check the tyres, air filter and all the fluids.
  • Plan your route and identify the type of obstacles and terrains that you might encounter.
  • Make sure that tyres are correctly inflated depending on what terrain you will be driving on.
  • Maintain a constant speed by ensuring that the throttle is applied smoothly and released slowly. This will prevent the tyres from spinning when slowing down or picking up speed.
  • Keep sudden braking to a minimum.
  • Always position the vehicle in a head-on direction when approaching ridges and slopes.
  • Approach obstacles such as ditches, rocky steps and logs diagonally so that there are always three wheels in contact with the ground.

Off-road checklist

  • First Aid Kit
  • Basic Tool Kit
  • Extra fuel
  • Spare tyre, jack and tyre iron
  • Tow rope/strap
  • Shovel
  • GPS, maps and information on the off-road trail
  • Water and food
  • Weather appropriate clothes and personal items.

We’ve unearthed some great tips and guidelines that will help you overcome a range of terrains with confidence.

Mastering the Slopes

  • When attempting to ascend steep inclines make sure that you investigate the terrain and find out what is on the other side of the slope. Explore the area on foot and know where all the obstacles are.
  • Ascend the slope using the highest gear that your vehicle is comfortable with. If the selected gear is too low then the wheels will spin.
  • Do not depress the clutch in the event of your vehicle loosing traction or stalling.
  • To avoid rolling your vehicle, never approach the slope.

Overcoming the Sand barrier

  • Steady momentum is the most important aspect when driving on sand. Always make sure that your four–wheel drive is engaged, even if you think you might not need it.
  • Identify what type of sand you are driving on. If you are driving on soft, dry sand ensure that your tyre pressure is between 0.5 – 0.8 bar.
  • Attempt driving on sandy terrain at dawn when the sand is damp and at its firmest.
  • Avoid climbing sand dunes, circumnavigate them instead.
  • At all costs try and avoid wet sand as it may contain unstable areas of “floating sand”.

Dealing with Mud

  • When driving in mud make sure not to use a gear that is too low to avoid the tyres losing traction.
  • If your tyres start spinning during loss of traction, ease off the throttle and allow the tyres to slow down and regain traction.
  • During wet and muddy conditions, always make sure that you know which direction your front wheels are pointing in.

Wading through Water

  • Do not cross deep, fast-flowing rivers and streams. Where possible, walk along the waterway, using a stick to gauge the depth and possible underwater obstacles.
  • When crossing shallow streams, approach the water slow and steadily to create a small bow wave in front of your vehicle. This will reduce the height of the water behind your bumper, keeping it away from your vehicle’s electrical components and air intake.
  • Slow speeds and a lower gear is recommended for wading conditions.
  • Do not let the clutch slip as this reduces your control over the vehicle. When approaching the opposite bank, ease off the accelerator.