Off-Roading Tips for Beginners
While it may not be the perfect time to go off-roading at this current moment, it appears that restrictions across Australia will start easing over the next few months, should we continue with our progress. With that in mind, it’s a great idea to start mentally preparing for some outdoor adventures to enjoy with your new-found freedom. Going off-roading, camping and exploring are some of the best experiences you can have in Australia. These trips are super affordable, great fun, and allow you to see some of the best sights this country has to offer.
For those with the right kind of car, taking it off-road can lead you to some of the most beautiful, untouched, and unexplored wonders of Australia. But, before you can embark on one of these adventures, you need to have the right knowledge of off-roading. For beginners, it can be extremely dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) have found that statistically, more fatalities occur in regional or remote areas. These regions account for more road deaths than in city areas (two-third of road deaths in 2018 were on remote roads while two-third of hospitalisations were in major cities).
While off-roading can lead to an adventure of a lifetime, it can also put you in a tricky situation if you’re not safe. When you’re off-road, you’re a bit further away from civilization and help, so it’s important to understand how to read the elements and road conditions, and how to go in with the right preparation and strategy. That’s why Novus shares with you today some easy beginner’s tips for off-roading. With the right knowledge (and of course, the right kind of vehicle), anyone can become an off-roading legend.
- Be cautious
Being a safe driver is important at all times, but especially when you’re on unfamiliar terrain. Drive a little slower and always wear a seatbelt.
- Try to avoiding driving facing the sunset
No one likes driving towards harsh sunlight; it impairs your vision. Off-road it can also be super risky as you don’t know what’s before you. Avoid this condition when possible.
- Look out for tracks
Tyre tracks are a sign that someone’s passed over the terrain before, which is a good sign that it’s more likely a well-used area. Sure, it’s good in theory to take the road less travelled, but in reality, the travelled road is also a great sign that you won’t end up in trouble.
- Check the weather beforehand
Before embarking on your journey, do a quick google of the weather forecast or check BoM for any updates. It goes without saying, but driving in wet weather while off-road is super scary and dangerous.
- Don’t go alone
Who wants to go on an adventure alone anyway? It’s always more fun enjoying an off-road trip with some company. That being said, it’s also a safety precaution, for the unlikely event of something going wrong.
- Do a bit of research
Apart from googling the weather, it’s a good idea to do a little research on the area you’re travelling towards before embarking on your adventure as it can help you prepare better. A particularly good resource for this is the Down Thunder website, which hosts a forum for Australia’s most enthusiastic and well-travelled off-roading experts.
- Ensure you have the right car
This is an important step. You won’t be getting far in a sedan or hatchback. Make sure you have the appropriate four-wheel drive. Jeep and Toyota frequently come up as the best brands for off-roading purposes. That being said, we won’t make this choice for you. Just make sure you have a good understanding of your car’s capabilities. For a guide on which vehicles are considered best for off-road, check out this review from WhichCar and AutoCar.
- Check your angles
Knowing the approach, departure, and break-over angles of your car is crucial to ensuring you don’t scratch or damage your car while you’re going over rocky terrain. These angles will provide a measure or value at how well your vehicle is suited to be driven up or down obstacles or uneven terrain.
- Approach angle: The largest angle you can approach without damaging the front of your car. If a hill has a greater angle than your approach angle, then it is too steep.
- Departure angle: This is similar to the approach angle but in reverse. You want to ensure your departure angle is greater than the decline angle of the hill so that you don’t damage your bumper.
- Break-over or ramp-over angle: It is the angle between the centre of the underside of your vehicle and the tyres. If this angle is too shallow, you can scratch your undercarriage while driving over sharp, rocky surfaces or a crest.
- Get your car serviced or a routine maintenance beforehand!
To ensure your vehicle is in top shape, it’s a good idea to go for your routine service before you head out for your trip. This will ensure everything is functioning properly in your car. In particular, it’s important to check your tyres to make sure they have good grip and sort out any windscreen chips so that you avoid getting a crack on the road.
For extra tips on keeping your windscreen protected, check out Novus’ earlier work on protecting your windscreen from damage!
Four-Wheel Driving Tips for Off-Road Adventures
Now, for the fun part – the driving. Off-road driving can be exhilarating, provided you are taking all the necessary safety precautions. There are a number of different types of terrain you may encounter, such as rivers, hills, rocks and boulders, and sand – it’s important to use the right strategy and technique when approaching these land formations, otherwise, you could land yourself in some deep trouble. Let’s have a look at some of the most common forms of terrain and how to overcome them.
When crossing water, the first thing you want to do is evaluate how deep the water is. Avoid going through water that’s more than half the height of your tyres. You might want to eyeball the water from land first before driving through it, especially if you’re unsure. Also, analyse the flow of the water – Is it strong? Will your 4×4 be swept away?
The danger of going through without knowing the depth of the water is that you could risk damaging your engine, transmission, and axles (and of course, you could be swept away). To check how deep your car has been cleared to go, consult the fording depth in your car’s user’s manual. This should prevent you from going too deep into unknown waters.
Also, depending on where you are, be careful of saltwater crocodiles, particularly in far North Queensland. There are a lot of swamps and other waterways in that region, and lots of crocodiles – definitely not the place for a swim.
Overall, pass the water smoothly and at a steady pace. If you go too fast, too much water enters into your engine bay, but if you go too slow you might get stuck. Lastly, avoid using the clutch as much as possible as water could get inside.
When driving over sand, drop your tyre pressure. This can help your tyres float to the top of the surface as the contact patches are much larger and therefore there is more traction. Make sure to look at the sticker inside your driver’s side door to see what the standard pressure should be. This sticker can also indicate the best pressure for driving over-sand. Typically, the appropriate tyre pressure for dirt and gravel ranges from 18-30 psi and for sand, it’s 14-20 psi. If you’re keen to learn more, Bridge Stone Tyres provide a great guide on tyre pressure for four-wheel driving.
Again, it’s a good idea to drop your tyre pressure because this can allow the tyre to mould around edges of rock, to grip it better under its tread. Do not over-deflate and go too low though, as this can have adverse effects. This can cause the tyre bead to come off the rim and result in a flat tyre. For best results, it might be worth investing in an air compressor and accurate gauge to change your tyre pressure.
You might also want to get a differential locker to help you get out of sticky situations. These work by locking both axle shafts in unison so they can rotate at the same speed. Essentially, these split the power between two wheels evenly, so that if only one is able to spin freely (in the mud or in the air), the other will still receive power to move. Typically, differential carriers will send power to the wheel that can freely move – the bogged or airborne wheel – and render the other one useless. Not ideal.
Before hitting the road, you might have to slightly modify your car to improve its suitability for off-roading. One of the most common modifications includes changing tyres. You might need to use bigger tyres that are suited to off-roading and that incorporate lifted suspension to allow your car to overcome any ramp-over angle issues. You might also modify your bumper to include any essentials, like a spare tyre (or some bikes?). Some also get a fresh tint to cool their interior and partially shield themselves from sunlight. Read our guide to tinting if you’re thinking about getting this done!
Other tools, resources, and equipment that might be handy!
There are some places that have specially curated kits that are handy to take with you in case of something going wrong. For a handy emergency kit, check out the LFA’s of-road survival kit. Keep it in the car at all times as a safety precaution.
DownUnderCamping.com also has a filter that lets you browse products specifically for 4×4 recovery gear accessories. Check it out here. For more advice that can help you get out of stressful bogged incidents, also check out MaxTrax.
Yet another great Australian business to support during this time is ToughToys. This is a great site for building your four-wheel drive tool kit. Their website has everything you need depending on your adventure.
Lastly, let’s talk about the repair work for after your adventure is over – you’ll most likely need some. If you come back with some damage, like a chipped or cracked windscreen, trust Novus to get your windscreen back to its former glory. We’ll have you back on the road – or off the road! – in no time. Get in touch with the team on Novus on 13 22 34.