Tackling off-road driving for the first time can be downright intimidating. If you’ve recently decided to take the plunge into four-wheel-driving, you may be wondering where to start your off-roading. There are thousands of buddying four-wheel-drive enthusiasts around the world who all started with no experience. The key to enjoying the off-road is taking the time to learn about what is required from your vehicle and as a driver so that you can have a safe and enjoyable trip.
In Australia, the four-wheel-drive market is booming. According to the Australian 4WD parts store Sparesbox, the market is continuing to grow as a result of the enduring popularity of SUV and 4WD models in Australia. The company believes that four-wheel-drive and SUV owners are becoming more aware of the capabilities of their vehicles and are starting to utilise their potential in a recreational environment.
Before you pack your 4WD and head off-road for the weekend, there are a few very important questions that need to be answered. Some of the most pressing 4×4 questions for newbies include:
- What terrain can my vehicle handle?
- What’s the best 4×4 track for a beginner?
- Do I need to do a 4WD course to get up to speed?
- Will my vehicle be covered by insurance off-road?
They’re all valid questions that need some consideration before you start tackling the nearest four-wheel-drive track. You need to remember that if you’ve got a proper 4×4, this is what your car was made to do. The high driving position may be the main selling point for most of these vehicles, but they are completely overqualified for doing the school run and being a glorified shopping trolley.
The Starting Point
The first thing that you need to do is understand the capabilities of your vehicle. There are plenty of ‘4WD’ models on the market that are more suited to a leafy lane than a tough outback track. The first thing that you need to do is ask your vehicle manufacturer as to whether your vehicle is actually suitable for off-road driving.
You need to understand whether your vehicle has a proper four-wheel-drive system, or whether it is simply a driver aid for wet conditions. Know the largest approach angle that your vehicle can climb without scraping or catching while the departure angle needs to be the same for the rear.
Find a Buddy
If you’re getting into four-wheel-driving for the first time, you should find an experienced off-road buddy who can help you work out the best path, suitable off-road routes, and the necessary hand signals to be able to manoeuvre your way out of a tricky situation. If you don’t know of anyone who is into four-wheel-driving, head to Facebook to find your local 4xx4 community. There are groups that will meet up most weekends to tackle four-wheel-drive tracks that are within a one-hour drive of most major cities in Australia.
We also recommend that first-time four-wheel drivers ask their manufacturers whether they offer training events of drive days where you can explore the capabilities of your vehicle in a controlled environment. This will ensure that you have some baseline skills before tackling 4×4 tracks out in the bush.
Take it Slow
Lastly —and most importantly— remember to take it slow. Four-wheel-driving is a lot of fun, but you need to ease yourself into it and gain experience on some easy tracks before you look at tackling technical outback tracks. Like anything, you will gain experience that can only be learned from first hand exposure.