As vast and untamed as our beautiful country is, there’s every chance that the tarred section of road will end before you’ve reached your weekend-away destination. Here’s what you need to know before venturing too far off-road
- Know your vehicle
While the sales brochure might depict your intended purchase as a continent-conquering chariot, it’s good practice to do your own research into just how capable your vehicle is. Standard features like runner boards, low-profile tyres and even decorative-rather-than-functional roof rails (yes, it’s a thing) might add a sense of ‘go-anywhere’ purpose, but these are the kinds of things that could well let you down once the going gets tough.
The kind of all-wheel drive setup incorporated within your vehicle’s drivetrain plays a significant role in the type of terrain you’re able to tackle. A permanent all-wheel drive arrangement that automatically monitors the distribution of torque between the front- and rear wheels is great for gravel yet could struggle in tougher conditions that might call for things like a low-range transfer case or the ability to lock a differential.
It’s pertinent before setting out to understand the driver assistance programmes included within your car. Are you able to disable systems like momentum-stifling traction control while driving in sand, and could the incorporation of a modern stability control setup play a crucial role in keeping you and your family safe while traversing lose gravel?
- Basic equipment
“Three’s a crowd” may be awkward in a social environment, but there’s something to be said for heading off-the-beaten-track with a group of vehicles. The nature of these adventure-seeking excursions is that they inevitably include an element of unpredictability with even the most experienced off-road driver capable of getting grounded. If you’re keen to go it alone, make sure to let others know where you’re headed, and try to maintain some level of communication with the outside world. On this note, aim to always keep a set of all relevant charging cables and cords inside your vehicle. It’s also good practice to have a first-aid kit on hand.
Depending on how far off-road you’re planning on heading, items like a tyre pressure monitor (useful in sand), a snatch recovery rope and off-road-specific tyre jack can mean the difference between getting to your destination in time for dinner, or not.
- Before setting out
We’ve mentioned to expect the unexpected, but there’s also something to be said for considered planning when it comes to prevailing road conditions and an estimated time of arrival. It’s always favourable to travel in daylight hours and, unless it’s unavoidable, try to stick to a path of least resistance when it comes to arriving safely.
Just as you’re likely to over-cater when it comes to food and fluids for the road ahead, make sure that all the working parts of your vehicle are up to date in terms of servicing and lubrication. This checklist should include engine oil levels, water reservoirs for the radiator and windscreen wipers, tyre pressures (including the spare wheel), a full tank of fuel and a timely understanding of the working condition of your vehicle’s battery.