In 4WD land, there is a right and a wrong way of doing things. A lot of the time, the difference is someone’s opinion. I reckon there are a few hard-and-fast wrongs however. With that in mind, we have put together a list of the seven worst 4WD mistakes. Which ones are you guilty of?
4WD Mistake #1: Not Airing Down (enough)
Airing down is your best ally for off-road capability.
It’s your most valuable asset on the tracks, and the easiest mod you can make to increase your capability tenfold: Air pressure. Driving serious off-road tracks with on-road air pressures is plain silly. I’ve been lazy before and I’ve done it; once you air down a good amount it’s incredible what a difference it makes. It doesn’t matter if it’s forest, desert, beach, grass or whatever. Low tyre pressures are the best.
When I say air down, I don’t mean going from 36psi to 32psi and calling it good. Don’t be scared to go down much further than that. Recommending blanket pressures for people is hard, because every 4X4, modification, tyre and driving style is different. But you need to take a decent chunk of wind out of those wheels to make a big difference. My tip here is to experiment: The only way to find your psi happy place is trial, error and experience. For my Defender 130, I start at around 15psi – depending on my loads – and adjust from there.
4WD Mistake #2: Being Overweight
There’s a huge difference in weights between new and old 4WDs.
Weight is the enemy – there are no two ways about it. Modern 4WDs are getting heavier and heavier these days; more power and trick electronics hide the fact 90% of the time, but the fact is still there: They are way chubby. Today, a top-spec Toyota LandCruiser Prado weighs in at 2,445 kilograms off the showroom floor. Back in 1996, the comparable 90 Series Prado weighed 1,848 kilograms, or a total of 600kg less… yep, that’s almost a Suzuki Sierra difference.
Payloads on these modern 4X4s are more often than not less than their older counterparts as well. To keep the Prado parable going, 862 kilograms of payload back in 1996 is now less, at 545 kilograms. Too many people load too much into their 4X4 – whether it’s accessories, gear or people – and don’t really have a solid grasp on what it all weighs.
Knowledge is power. Know what you actually weigh.
4WD Mistake #3: Being Under-Prepared
Before going 4WDing, always have a ‘minimum kit’ ready to go and packed in your 4X4.
This is the other side of the coin: Being under-prepared. When some people pack every damned thing on the planet, whether it’s useful or not, others go with markedly less than the bare minimum. If you add remote area travel into the equation, you’re starting to seriously play with fire. Consider a first aid kit, basic recovery gear and tools as a bare minimum; and carry extra food and water beyond what you’d normally need, just in case. Obviously, there’s a balance between points two and three here; and it’s really something that comes with time and experience.
4WD Mistake #4: Being a D$%KHEAD
Please don’t be one. Please, for the sake of all of your 4WDing comrades, don’t. Driving like Marcus Grönholm along public 4WD tracks, chucking donuts on claypans, spinning your wheels mercilessly on hill climbs… it’s all classic dickhead behaviour, and you will be accurately and justly labelled as such if you partake. The big problem is that, other than tearing apart the countryside, 4WDers will always be tarred with the same brush (regardless of how small the moronic minority is), and this will inevitably be used as ammo against our lifestyle.
Instead, try this: Use your 4WD as a tool to visit beautiful, quiet and remote parts of this huge, sprawling continent; not as some kind of cheap testosterone thrill. The 4WDing fraternity comes under enough scrutiny already without ruining it for ourselves. If you’re keen to play up, that’s cool. Just do it somewhere that allows for it – like private parks. Don’t do it on the tracks and places that are open to the public and are maintained as such.
Get out there in your 4X4, overcome obstacles and get to places others can’t go. Test the limits of yourself and your 4X4, but just do it the right way… not the dickhead way. The bush isn’t our birthright, it’s our responsibility.
4WD Mistake #5: Buying Crappy Gear
You know the saying about the poor man buying many times. Often, you can spend a little more on something quality, and you’ll be far ahead from a ‘dollars’ point of view when that quality bit of gear outlasts numerous cheap options.
Let me clarify. The price tag of something doesn’t directly correlate to its inherent quality. Often, some products are just damned expensive; and brand will induce extra cost. Knowing the difference between a cheap crappy product and something actually worth its asking price isn’t an easy thing to do… especially with so much advertising and marketing happening. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Set yourself a budget, and buy the best quality you can within that budget. Chances are, it will cost you less in the long run.
4WD Mistake #6: Going Too Hard
Often, stacks of momentum isn’t the answer. Use that clump of gelatinous matter between your ears, and think.
Believe it or not, going harder isn’t your only answer to tough obstacles. Sometimes, it’s part of the solution; but many forget that the brain is often better than the right foot for making a better driver. Pick your line thoughtfully. Jump out and walk the track a bit, think about your tyre pressures, and which gear you’ve chosen. It’s often too easy to get caught up in the moment, and just try and gun your way out of trouble.
4WD Mistake #7: Not Doing a Course
Taking part in a quality 4X4 course is easily one of the best things you can do for yourself, and your vehicle.
If you think there’s nothing to learn, you’re wrong. Whether you’re completely new to the scene or have been trawling the tracks for years, chances are there is a lot that you can get out of a good quality driving or recovery course. This is especially true if you find yourself behind the wheel of a modern 4X4, with more buttons than levers. Modern 4WDs need specific techniques and specialised knowledge to drive them to their best potential.
What are your most loathed 4WD mistakes? Leave a comment below to let us know.