Car Care: Off road and on to the bumpy bits... safely
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Getting away from the main road can be fun, but it also has its perils
In recent years, sports utility vehicles of all sizes have largely replaced the large cars on our roads and in our lives.
After all, they do suit our perception of the active, outdoorsy Kiwi lifestyle, as well as giving all the space and comfort of a large car, often without the prodigious fuel consumption.
This means that there are a lot more people than there once were who are able to go off-road ... but generally do not have the knowledge of how to do it.
Going off the sealed road can be huge fun, but can also be fraught with traps for the unwary and inexperienced.
So how do you go about it?
If you are serious about off-roading, going to a local 4WD club or joining a "tag-along" off-road trip organised by clubs is the best place to start.
There are plenty of friendly enthusiasts on these trips who are only too happy to welcome - and help out - newcomers.
The first thing
What is the first thing you need to think about before driving off the beaten track? Quite simply, always be in 4WD (preferably low range) before you leave the road - it is almost always too late once you are stuck.
Probably the most important thing to consider when going off-road in your 4WD is tyres.
Most 4WD SUVs come equipped with road-biased tyres that can handle ordinary off-road conditions, but will be little use in anything too challenging, like mud or soft sand.
Anything muddy will require a more specialised tyre such as an all-terrain or a mud tyre. These specialised off-road tyres are recommended only if you are spending the majority of your driving time off the road, and are largely unsuitable for long-term road use.
Tyre pressures are important off-road. Tyres can have air let out of them for the sake of comfort and to gain more traction in difficult situations. And be sure to check that your spare is suitable and in good condition.
Carrying a well-stocked first aid kit, as well as a well-stocked tool kit, plenty of water, warm clothing and some form of communication, is always a good idea when driving into the unknown.
Mobile phones are increasingly useful as their coverage spreads, but they still have their limits, so radios are a good idea and letting someone else know where you are going and what time you will be back is essential.
A spade, a rope and a jack are the basic recovery essentials, but if you are going off-road frequently, investing in the likes of sand tracks (high grip mats made from rubber, metal or plastic), a hand winch and a land anchor is highly recommended.
Never go alone
The best piece of equipment you can take with you is another vehicle. Venturing off the road by yourself is never a good idea, particularly if you are inexperienced. Take some friends and, preferably, another 4WD so you can tow each other out if one gets stuck.
Don't forget ...
The single most useful thing you can possibly take with you off-road is common sense.
Charging blindly in at full speed may seem like fun, but it will almost certainly end badly. Always get out and look at where you are going.
Check the depth of water or mud with a stick. Have a close look at that rut, mound or hole to ensure your vehicle can clear it.
Be slow and steady and, above all else, sensible and you will love your time off the road.