There are those who take Ralph Waldo Emerson a little too seriously. They insist on not going where the path leads and instead go where there is no path and leave a trail. You’ll see them heading out of the city on weekends and disappearing off the highway into jungles. If you’re wondering what secret meeting they’re off to, wonder no more. They and their 4×4 SUVs are off to tackle obstacles set by Mother Nature. They weren’t intended as obstacles but a tribe of people called off-roaders could only see them as such. And they had to be overcome. Soon, the word spread and more untamed territories were found. The world of off-road driving has continued to grow. In fact, it has even inspired the world’s toughest race — the Dakar rally and an extreme off-road event called ‘Rain Forest Challenge’. These events draw in the world’s best and toughest cars, bikes, teams and drivers to take on extreme challenges. Glory awaits the winner. So, what do you do if you want to experience the madness and thrill of off-road driving? Read on and find out.
Off-road driving is completely different from driving on the road. The rules that apply on the road usually mean nothing here. You need to concentrate on your SUV and your surroundings, plan your route and when your visibility will be limited; yes, that will happen, you need to drive carefully while using only your judgement. If you think this will be like a stage from the World Rally Championship, you’re wrong. It’s about covering the distance between two points, in the safest way possible. Not fastest, safest. It needs the driver to have nerves of steel, caution and a boatload of patience.
Before you go get muddy, you need to inspect your vehicle thoroughly. This could be the difference between you driving back home or spending the night in the middle of the jungle as the rain pours down and the animals come ever closer. We’re not being dramatic. You need to know your vehicle inside out, over and under. And you start by getting down and checking under your SUV. Learn where the parts that protrude are so you don’t break them. The ability of your 4×4 to clear obstacles depends on three important angles. The approach angle is the steepest incline angle that a vehicle can approach and drive up without encountering front bumper or undercarriage damage. The breakover or ramp angle is the maximum size of any hump you can driver over. The third is the departure angle which indicates the degree of a slope from which your vehicle can depart without scraping or hitting the undercarriage.
This is simply the most important thing to check when you go off-road. Your tyres need to be in great condition. SUV tyres come in three types. Let’s take a look at each of them.
Highway tyres: Highway Terrain tyres like the Apollo Apterra HT have a rib design that makes the ride quiet and helps the tread last longer. The pattern consists of symmetrical blocks that make the ride smoother too. This consistent pattern also provides straight-line stability on highways. They also allow for quick steering response and better vehicle control. Their design also helps optimise grip on wet roads. Because they’re built for SUVs, they’re tough. You can even take them off paved roads onto dirt roads and maybe even into rougher terrain. All you have to do is be careful.
High Performance tyres: These tyres are meant for SUVs and are designed to provide enhanced handling and improved braking on the road. A good example is the Apollo Apterra HP. It allows for precise steering control, superior vehicle control at high speeds and provides superior safety as its design helps improve braking performance.
All Terrain tyres: These are usually the most versatile tyres for on-road and off-road use. They usually feature a larger block pattern and increased voids between the large blocks to help with better grip while driving over loose surfaces like gravel. They provide enhanced traction off-road while allowing for a smooth drive on the highway. Tyres like the Apollo Apterra AT are built to rule off road. They provide excellent off road grip, fast and precise steering control on mud and slush with durability during off-road as well as on-road driving.
All true off-road drivers know this will happen. They also know that their SUV is the only thing that can get them out of sticky situations. Therefore, off-road driving requires drivers to go ‘nice and easy’ instead of full throttle. Talented driver manage getting around with minimum power and minimum speed. Sometimes this lets them go faster than those who prefer to charge ahead.
Buckle and tie
Everything in the SUV needs to be secured. Every single passenger needs to buckle up and everything you’re carrying need to be tied securely. Your SUV will explore a lot of different angles and this tends to let things that aren’t tied down, fly around. If you roll the car, then these loose bits could cause you and your passengers serious damage. Similarly, anyone not wearing a seat belt could crush another passenger or get thrown out of the vehicle.
When in doubt, get out
Off-road driving requires a lot of walking. You’ll need to get out of the vehicle and scout the terrain on foot. This will help you plan your route so that you don’t end up driving off a cliff or breaking your car on hidden obstacles. If you can’t walk over a certain area, you probably can’t drive over it either. Turn around and find a different route.
On the rocks
Go slow. That’s the golden rule when you’re tackling rocks and boulders. They are hard and compromising and a mistake can seriously damage your beloved SUV and leave you stranded. Be very careful, very gentle and very slow. The term of this part of off-road driving is aptly called rock crawling. Your tyres are tough but if you go fast they could get damaged. Driving slowly also saves all the expensive parts of your SUV. Remember to grip the steering wheel with your thumbs on the outer side of the wheel. A bump can cause the steering wheel to turn wildly and break your thumb or even your wrists if they’re on the inside.
The trick here is to keep moving at a steady speed. This will create a small eave in front of you and help keep water out of the engine bay. Don’t go too fast or water will enter the engine compartment. If your engine cuts off midstream do not restart it. Set up a tow line and get someone to tow you out. If water has entered a cylinder, the engine gets hydrolocked. If you try and crank it over, you could destroy it.
If you get stuck on loose surfaces like mud or snow, try rocking the vehicle from side to side while slowly accelerating. If one or two tyres gain traction, they could help set the vehicle free. Don’t accelerate hard as you could dig yourself further in. You could also let the tyres sink in until they hit the hard surface below and then drive it out. Or you could deflate the tyres by about 75 percent to increase the tyre footprint, increase traction to try and get the vehicle free. Remember to re-inflate your tyres once you’re out.
Off-road driving is a great thrill and can allow you to explore places few get to see. Remember to drive safely and have fun. As with most things, start small and then up the difficulty as you get more experience.