Several weeks ago I had an opportunity to spend a few hours at the Land-Rover Experience Driving School in Manchester, Vermont. The school was a ton of fun and I have learned so much in those few short hours that I just couldn’t fit all into one post. In part one we learned about what we should know about our vehicle before heading off-pavement. Now, in part two, we will discuss basic off-road driving techniques and tips.
The big disclaimer here is about the kind of off-roading performed. We are not rock climbing, we are not muddin’, and we are not jumping over any sand dunes. While those sound like a lot of fun, we are doing what may be referred to expedition-style off-roading. In other words, we’re using our vehicle to actually get someplace which may not be otherwise accessible via a conventional car.
- Go slowly! This is not the Dakar Rally or the Baja series and you don’t have support trucks full of spare parts and expert technicians who are just aching to replace your broken axle in record time. Off-road, speed kills your vehicle; going over obstacles at speed compresses the springs more, thereby reducing the ground clearance. Similarly, a high speed impact with rock or tree root can result in a punctured tire, a bent wheel or a bent suspension component. Go slowly!
- Look far ahead. This is the first thing that every driving school will teach you, and off-roading is no different. Knowing where you will be going is more important than knowing where are you are going right now. Looking far ahead will eliminate any surprises with regards to where you are.
- Stop and get out. It is perfectly fine to stop the vehicle before an obstacle and get out. Doing this allows you to inspect the ground, check for clearances, and move or adjust any potentially harmful objects. You can also pick the best route because you will see things that would be otherwise invisible from inside the car. Note, don’t stop on hills, stop before hills.
- Steer to where you want to go. It makes so much sense, but on dirt or muddy roads just keep the wheels straight and follow the pattern of the road, otherwise you’ll start plowing and may stuck. Steering in mud does not do much. In curves or corners, steer to where you want to go there too. Knowing exactly which way your wheels are pointing isn’t always clear either.
- Steady even throttle. Steady and even throttle will keep your speed steady and even too. Sudden changes in speed may cause loss of control. Also, see Go Slowly!
- Use a spotter. Have one of your passengers/friends make themselves useful by getting out and tell you exactly which way and how much you should turn your wheel, or when to stop, in places where it is impossible for the driver to see. Just don’ t run them over – that wouldn’t be good.
- Choose a path of least resistance. Be like water (or electricity) and choose the path of least resistance. Unless you have some specific reason to over an obstacle, and for fun is such a reason, take the path that is least likely to get you stuck or damage your vehicle.
- Use common Sense. Most bad off-road situations can be avoided simply by using common sense and erring on the side of caution. If your gut tells you that something is not right, it probably isn’t, and there are a million things while off-roading that can ruin your day.
Tread Lightly! Travel responsibly; Respect the rights of others; Educate yourself; Avoid sensitive areas; Do your part.
- Quick note about water fording – I have not done it here, but I would stop and check the depth before attempting… you know, that whole common sense stuff.
The above is obviously not all inclusive but it will help beginners such as myself. Off-road driving, like most things in life, is mastered by doing it and learning from your mistakes, which that takes time. A lot of these mistakes can be avoided by simply following the above guideline. In part three will look specifically at the 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged seen in these pictures.