A Beginner's Guide To Four-Wheel Driving: Tips From The Pros

Need to go bush on a 4x4 adventure but feeling a little out of your depth? Let the pros help you out with these five tips.

River Crossings

This is probably the most daunting task that confronts first-time four-wheel drivers: crossing a river in your car.

You're right to be wary: cars don't belong in water. One gulp of water into your air intake, for example, and you're buggered. One wrong turn and you're underwater or being swept down the river.

Always check the current, too: don't for example think that you can cross raging flood waters against emergency orders in your truck. You can't, and it's dangerous, stupid and expensive to try it. Make sure the water is moving at a safe speed before you even wade in to attempt to check the depth.

Once you've made sure it's safe to cross, jump in your car and head in. Slowly.

You don't want to charge into a body of water in a four-wheel drive for risk of aquaplaning and spearing off into the wrong direction, or for risk of flooding your engine.

Enter the water at between 7km/h to 10km/h and keep a steady pace once you enter. A good guide is to check your bow wave: that is, the wave your car creates as it enters the water. You don't want to outrun the bow wave, nor do you want to let it get away from you for risk of it coming back at you and filling your engine bay with water.

Try not to stop once you've entered the water. If you stall, however, make sure you stay calm and try to get the car started and drive out. Worse case, try rocking the car forward on its own gear to get yourself out of the water. Ideally, you'll have a mate with a winch or some rope to get you out.

Most of all: don't panic, and don't drive in areas where you're unsure as to what lies beneath. That can go wrong pretty fast as these guys figured out.

Hand Placement

It's pretty easy to fall into a habit with your driving, especially when it comes to something as simple as how to hold your steering wheel. In the city, the roads are flat and mostly smooth, so grabbing it with your whole hand at 10-to-2 (or quarter-to-three for you racing drivers) is a good idea. Not so much when you're four-wheel driving off the beaten path.

When it comes to bush bashing your way off-road, your wheels are going to find the gaps in the path, which means that your steering column is likely to be wrenched away from you at a moment's notice.

If you're holding on too tight, especially with your fingers or thumbs inside the steering wheel, you're going to end up with either a sprain or a break in your finger thanks to a rock you didn't know was there forcing the steering to suddenly snap back.

Make sure to hold your fingers outside the wheel in a loose grip so that the wheels can find the ruts and gaps in the road.

Car Selection

It should go without saying, but make sure you have a car that can do the job.

Don't head out in a convoy of modern, sporty and technologically advanced four-wheel drive cars and trucks and think that your clapped-out Land Rover can do the same job as the big boys.

You'll end up being the one dragging the whole group down when they need to dig, tow or pull you out of trouble, and you'll ruin the whole day if the ancient car decides to pull up stumps in the middle of a trip. That leads us into our next tip...


Leave it at home.

Nature is tough, and it's all out of f**cks to give for hotshots from the city who think they can tame the wild dunes or dirt forest tracks.

Drive slowly, carefully and deliberately. If you're unsure of something, don't plough through it expecting that "she'll be right". The second you stop respecting nature it bites you and your car, sometimes leaving costly results for you to fix.

Drive Safely On-Road

It's one thing to respect nature while you're on it, but don't think that just because you have your cruise control on, your four-wheel drive engaged and a high driving position on your side that you can arrive safely at your event no matter what comes your way.

You're never bullet-proof, either on- or off-road, and driving safely to an event is as important as driving safely while you're off the beaten path.

Luke Hopewell travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Ford.

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