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Steve Q

Offroad Driving Techniques

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Steve looks at some of the key driving techniques when driving off road by getting down and dirty in a quarry. 

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So what is offroading? 

Offroading is both a hobby and a sport, where drivers test both their driving skills and vehicles capabilities to the maximum in a variety of terrain, surfaces and weather conditions. 

Safety

Offroading is a fun hobby but can also be a risky one and as such there are a few key aspects to consider in the way of safety:

1. buckle up - this might seem obvious but can sometimes be overlooked, especially when you're on private land. Just remember in the event of a roll over the seatbelt will prevent you from being flung around the cabin or out of the vehicle entirely. 

2. Thumb position - When driving on rough surfaces it is paramount that you place your thumbs on top of the steering wheel as apposed to wrapped around the inner edge of the wheel as you would on smooth tarmacked roads. Thumb position is important as poor road surfaces that are rutted, wet or rocky can cause the wheels of the vehicle to be unpredictable by causing the wheels to be turned sharply. The sharp turning of the wheels is then felt through the steering wheel. It can result in the steering wheel to be wrenched out of your hands if the driver is not careful, and if the thumbs are wrapped round the wheel then they can get broken in the force of the wheel being wrenched. 

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Choose Your approach

Also known as choosing your line it is important for the driver to choose their approach to the route you are taking or obstacles you need to navigate before committing to it. You need to imagine taking the vehicle through the route before doing it, taking into consideration the vehicles height, overhang, obstacles which could damage the suspension, body, oil pan etc. doing this prep work will not only keep you and your passengers safe it will also help minimise the risk of damage to your vehicle. This is very important if you intend to drive home afterwards! In some cases if the conditions are particularly bad it is worth having a spotter who is looking out for any hidden obstacles/challenges which you may not see from the drivers seat. 

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Braking

When descending steep slopes you not only can control the vehicle with the vehicles brakes, you can also use engine braking by choosing low gears/or low range on vehicles fitted with manual transmissions. Engine braking works by controlling the vehicle wheels by using the revs of the engine. This allows the driver to have more control when on a descent but not forgetting the driver can apply the vehicle brakes if necessary. Be warned though, using brakes rather than engine braking can affect the vehicles traction and momentum thus affecting your ability to get through the challenging terrain. Another top tip whilst on rutted roads/rough roads and you see an obstacle like a rock/pot hole last minute the natural instinct is to apply the brakes sharply. This has the unfortunate drawback of shifting the vehicles weight to the front, thus compressing the front suspension and making the results of hitting the obstacle or pot hole worse than what it would have been. As such the best thing you can do is release the brakes just before hitting the obstacle or pot hole, to help increase the rate of suspension travel which results in better absorption of the bump. 

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Wading

Wading is the art of driving through a body of water but should only be carried out if there is no other way of passing as you will not be aware of hazards that lie beneath the water. Ideally you should check the depth of the water before attempting to drive through, and you should not pass fast flowing bodies of water as the vehicle can be destabilised or washed away. The best technique is to drive in at a steady pace so in order to create a small bow wave. If you are going to wade on a regular basis then its advisable to fit a wading kit, which is a plastic sheet in front of the radiator. This will help prevent debris from hitting the radiator. Also wait for any other vehicles to move out of the water before attempting to drive through, in case the other car gets stuck or disrupts your bow wave resulting in excess water hitting the vehicle. Once you have emerged from the body of water it is imperative you check your brakes as water may have affected your stopping capabilities!

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Driving In Mud

This is naturally inevitable if you have decided to go offroading so embrace it. If you know the mud is going to be deep it is advisable to lower your tyres pressures to allow for better traction. Before hitting a patch of mud it is best practice to accelerate to build up momentum and drive as straight as possible. Also it is advisable to keep in as higher gear as possible and your speed up as the mud will create resistance and try and slow your progress. If you start to loose grip it is wise to let off the accelerator so as to not get bogged down, and turn the wheel left to right in sharp turns to help the tyres find grip. Once you have cleared the mud you should clean your tyre treads to improve traction on other road surfaces.  

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Vehicle Recovery 

When trying to free a stuck vehicle in muddy terrain the best towing method is called a snatch and requires the use of a Snatch strap. Snatching involves attaching an elasticated nylon rope to a vehicle and commencing a tow before the rope is under tension. The towing vehicle needs to provide 2 metres of slack in the rope for the snatch to work. The driver of the stuck vehicle should signal to the tow vehicle in the way of flashing lights to commence the tow. The tow vehicle should pull off at a steady pace and the stuck vehicle should be in first gear and as soon as the pull is felt by the stuck vehicle they should let off the clutch to hopefully drive out of the situation. 

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The Most Important Thing

Have Fun! 

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