4x4 Beginners - the do's and don'ts

Family fun

Taking your 4 wheel drive vehicle to a man-made track, the dunes or perhaps one of the dry river beds in Damaraland, does not have to be a men-only weekend. It can be for you, your family and a few friends - you can even make it a day-trip or maybe go camping for the night. It is always great fun to be out and about in nature, as there is always something interesting to see.

We want to share a few important tips with regards to before and during a 4x4 trail that we have picked up along the way. Feel free to let us know if you have more tips! For some handy camping equipment for your car, see AFC's page on what they can add to improve your 4x4 and camping equipment.

  • Read your vehicle owners manual! Learn the functions of your vehicle and what each button does before you leave, as it may prove difficult to actually be in some sort of trouble while trying to figure out what to do next.
  • Never go out alone. Even a short trip could end up being a horrible experience if something goes wrong. Ask your friends to accompany you with their 4x4 vehicle - it is safer and way more fun!
  • Be prepared for anything. Always make sure your vehicle is prepared before going out bush - when was it last serviced? Refer to our article, Time to hit the road!, when getting ready to depart.
  • Seating position is important.When off road, sit in a relaxed upright position with a loose steering wheel grip taking care not to place your thumbs in the centre section. This will allow you to drive comfortably with less strain on your back and will protect your hands, especially your thumbs, if the steering wheel shakes violently.
  • Don't ride the clutch pedal. If you are driving with a manual vehicle, keep your left foot clear of the clutch pedal unless changing gears. Your clutch will thank you in the end!
  • Know your ground clearance. This can help you avoid larger obstacles off road, such as rocks and stumps, and keep the underbody of your vehicle from getting some serious damage. It is also easy to get stuck in this manner, and then you will be going nowhere. It is best to get out of the car and have a look if you are unsure.
  • Know your size. Know your vehicle's height and width. Will your vehicle clear the narrow clearings or overhanging trees? If not, rather take another route.
  • Research the area. Check out the area you're planning to travel. Ask about the conditions of the tracks in the area from people who have recently been through, and study as many maps as you can find. When in doubt about a track, a quick walk to check out the condition of the track could save you hours of recovery time or worse, damaging your 4 wheel drive.
  • Check the weather. Make sure you don't get caught in a storm that could interfere with the visibility and conditions of the track.
  • Know your 4x4 system. Make sure you know about the diffs and transfer case. Look online or ask other owners of the same vehicle about these features.
  • Engage low-range before you need it. Choose the correct gear for the situation. Low range should be kept engaged until clear of all hazards, unless specified otherwise in your manual.
  • Lower your tyre pressures. Always lower your tyre pressures before entering an off road situation. This will keep you from having a too bumpy ride, and that your wheels are not punctured too easily by a sharp rock in the road.
  • Use a spotter. Have one of your friends help you over difficult terrain. Often a bystander can see and prevent damage on your vehicle before you can. They can help you place your wheels effectively for the best grip.
  • Apply small amounts of throttle. Care should always be taken when applying the throttle. Too much and yo might end up digging a hole underneath your car.
  • Maintain momentum. Momentum will help you overcome the drag on your tyres from soft ground such as sand. This can help you from getting stuck when it is clear there are no obstacles for you to damage your vehicle on. Refer to the video for a visual explanation.
  • Stay on the track. This is important to minimize environmental impact as well as keeping your vehicle from lifting wheels and loosing traction.
  • Walk the water crossing before driving it. Always test the depth of water crossing situations. Namibians often underestimate water puddles and pools - probably because water is scarce - and often find themselves stuck or window-deep in the water.
  • Protect your brakes. Make sure they are dry after a water crossing before proceeding. When travelling down hill, make sure not to apply them too much as brakes might overheat.
  • Practise safe recovery techniques. Should you get stuck, plan out your recovery before going ahead and doing it. Make sure all persons are clear of the recovery before proceeding. If jacking is required, make sure the vehicle is supported before working on it.

Keep the above in mind next time you go on an exciting 4x4 trip with your family, friends or having a 'manne-naweek' - it might come in handy!

But above all else, have fun and stay safe!