Driving off-road can be tricky, and sometimes even dangerous. Four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicles, where the engine powers all four wheels at the same time, are often the best choice for rugged terrain because they allow drivers to switch from two- to four-wheel drive as conditions require.
But even with 4WD it is important that drivers remain cautious during off-road driving. Experts offer the following advice for staying safe off-road:
1. Adjust your Seat
While drivers sometimes prefer to lean back in their seats, it is best to keep the driver seat as upright as possible while driving off-road. This position allows you to see farther ahead which is important on rough terrain dotted with rocks, logs and other obstacles.
2. Use the Seatbelt
Off-road conditions mean the vehicle will be bouncing around more than usual, so using a seatbelt is more imperative then ever.
3. Keep Both Hands on the Steering Wheel
There tends to be a lot of twists and turns on trails, so it is important to be as precise as possible when steering in order to avoid hitting trees or rocks.
4. Keep Thumbs out of the Steering Wheel Spokes
Any rapid jerking on the wheel could hurt or even break a driver’s thumbs if they are wrongly positioned in the spokes.
5. Adjust Side Mirrors
When off-road, make sure your side mirrors are adjusted so that you can fully see behind you when backing up—without turning your head. This is important because if you turn your head and the wheel simultaneously, the vehicle could end up sideways on a hill and potentially roll over.
6. Be Careful with the Gas Pedal
The more controlled manner you use on the gas pedal, the better. Remember, jerky moves on the gas pedal can easily lead to slipping and sliding when on rough terrain.
7. Choose the Right Gear
Selecting the right gear for hilly terrain can be challenging. Generally, the best method is upshift for uphill and downshift for downhill. (But for full details on this matter, watch the video!)
8. Back Down Hills Properly
Set your side mirrors so you can see fully behind you and always back down a hill in your own vehicle tracks. It’s the easiest and safest way.
9. Scout your Route
When in doubt about what lies ahead, stop your vehicle, get out, and walk for a bit beyond your vehicle. It’s best to be prepared for any rough encounters that lie ahead.
10. Cross at an Angle
When off-road, you will likely encounter logs and ditches. Always cross these at an angle because it allows one tire at a time to lift over a log or drop into a ditch. The other three tires can then provide you the stability you need to stay safe.
Watch a video with more about how to safety drive off road.