20 bad habits of 4WD owners

There’s a fair bit to learn about 4WDing, and its easy to pick up bad habits if you’ve never been shown that its wrong, or the right way to go about it. So, without further ado, here’s the top 20 bad habits that we’ve seen 4WD owners make (and made some of them ourselves too!):

4WD owner mistakes
Here’s our top 20 4WD mistakes

1) Recovering off tow balls

The ultimate mistake that 4WD owners still make from time to time today is to use a tow ball to recover off. That might be using a snatch strap, winch, chain or tow rope, and it’s a very, very bad idea.

In Australia, there’s been a number of people killed when tow balls have sheared off, and flicked backwards at hundreds of kilometres an hour. These are designed for gentle towing, not for being yanked on, or snatched off, and with age and quality control issues (you can buy them for a couple of bucks these days!) its no wonder that they break. Do not, under any circumstances use a tow ball to recover a 4WD. Put simply, the risk is not worth the reward!

Use a rated recovery point, remove the hitch and use the pin, or get some traction boards out instead. Please.

Tow ball 4WD Recovery
Tow balls kill. Never recover from them

2) Giving it too much mumbo

There’s a very fine line between enough momentum, and too much, and some people have no idea where that line is, and overshoot it by a country mile. This can be due to inexperience, lack of care, showing off to mates or any other factor, but the end result is usually damage to a vehicle.

If you’re bouncing your way up a rocky step, expect that the likelihood of breaking something increases several fold. If you’re full throttle through a water crossing, expect your radiator fan to damage the radiator, or for water to go where its not supposed to.

You want enough momentum to get you through smoothly and safely, but no more, and it can take a bit of practice to get that right.

Canal creek 4WD track
Too much mumbo hugely increases the chance of damage

3) Driving through salt water

I’ll never understand people who drive their vehicles through salt water. No, it does not all wash off properly, and once you get water inside your chassis and body panels, your car is going to rust away, no matter how you treat it afterwards.

Salt water any deeper than about 15cm deep, at idle pace is where I draw the limit, and I reckon it’s a terribly bad habit that so many 4WD owners do.

Rusty car coming up from driving in salt water
Yeah, that’s not a great idea

4) Not letting their tyres down

An experienced 4WD owner will deflate their tyres for the terrain that they are driving on. For beach driving, that might mean removing 50% of their normal road pressures. For gravel driving, it might be 30%, and for mud and rocks, its probably somewhere in between.

The benefits of deflating 4WD tyres are substantial, and if you don’t do it, you’ll end up damaging the tracks, damaging your vehicle, making the ride terribly uncomfortable and risking a puncture. Yes, in some cases you can get away without letting your tyres down, but that doesn’t make it good practice!

Low tyre pressures
If you’re off road, you should lower your tyre pressures accordingly

5) Leaving rubbish behind

Australia has more world class destinations that are 4WD accessible than many countries do, combined, and yet, some 4WD owners feel its OK to leave their rubbish behind. That might be a can out the window, a cigarette butt, a broken tent, or even a damaged radiator that has been replaced.

If you take it in, you take it out. There is no excuse for leaving any rubbish behind, and if you do, you’re a good chunk of the reason that places are getting closed down. Have some respect for the amazing places we have, and if not that, your fellow Aussies!

Rubbish left in a fire
If you leave rubbish behind like this, you should stay home

6) Not carrying a PLB

If you do any 4WD tracks that are out of normal phone reception and you don’t have a PLB, satellite phone or emergency response option, you’re mad. They’re literally a few hundred dollars now, and save plenty of lives every year.

If you get bitten by a snake, or get lost, or break down, what’s your method of getting help? Smoke signals are old school, and your life is worth more than $200, any day of the week.

Get yourself a PLB. They’re a fraction of your 4WD accessory cost, and might save your life

7) Using a snatch strap as a first port of call

Snatch straps are handy 4WD recovery devices, when used carefully. However, they should not be your first port of call when a 4WD gets bogged. Traction boards, winches, shovels, adjusting of tyre pressures and plenty more options should be your first port of call.

Too many people use snatch straps in scenarios when the forces are insane, and that’s why they break, and cause damage. The forces involved in a snatch recovery are incredibly dangerous, and often unnecessary too.

Rear locker
Snatch straps are great, but should never be the first recovery option

8) Not walking lines first

How many times have you seen someone plough into an obstacle without having gotten out of their car to walk, or even inspect it? Mud holes are the worst for this; people just hit them without even looking, and I’ve seen vehicles roll because of it.

If you come to an obstacle, get out and have a look. Is there a better way around? How deep is it? How soft is the bottom?

If it’s a river, and you can’t safely walk across it, then you can’t safely drive across it. Too many 4WD’s are getting washed away, because people take on crossings that are beyond the vehicles ability.

Yes, you should never walk a crossing up north that could have crocodiles, but this is your only exception.

Water coming into the 80
I sunk our 80 series by not walking a deep crossing

9) Making changes to their vehicle without understanding all of the consequences

There’s no free lunch in life, and every change you make to your 4WD will have some positive gains, and some negative impacts. I’ve seen it time and time again, where someone goes and fits the biggest tyres they can fit, a heavy roof top tent and a massive suspension lift, and then they wonder why their fuel economy has gone down the drain, and their vehicle wants to fall over when you go around a corner.

Every modification you make has downsides, and if you don’t think about this before you pay for it, you might look back and regret it.

Dmax in the Daintree
Every single modification you fit will cost you, in more ways than just money

10) Buying the wrong 4WD

There’s a lot of choice when it comes to buying a 4WD today, and whilst some do a great job of many different aspects of life, there is a right, and a wrong 4WD for everyone. If you are into hardcore rock crawling, buying an Isuzu Dmax is not the vehicle for you.

If you want to tackle the tight 4WD tracks around Bremer Bay, a big Isuzu NPS truck is not the right vehicle for you.

The more you know about what you want from your vehicle, the better chance you have of buying something that suits.

Navara in the sloppy mud
You need to match your use case with the 4WD type early on

11) Over modifying

I bet many of you are guilty of this, and I certainly am. It’s very easy when you get a 4WD to make some changes, add a few accessories, and over time, the list of changes and gear added grows, and grows, and grows.

When you eventually stop and think about everything you’ve done, it can be quite frightening. For one, its insanely expensive, but it generally adds weight, and often causes other problems. Our 80 Series for example, was highly modified, and looking back, I went overboard.

Set your vehicle up for what you want it to, and that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.

80 Series Land Cruiser
We spent a fortune on our old 80 Series, and the list just keeps growing if you’re not careful

12) Driving too quickly near others

I’ve seen 4WD owners drive in ways that just make you shake your head. In particular, if you own a 4WD and are near other people, you have a responsibility to drive in a manner that is safe, and intelligent.

If you’re on a beach full of families with young kids and dogs, and you’re flying right past their setups at speeds higher than about 20km/h, you are putting other people at risk. Yes, this is all about perception and the further away the safer it is, but don’t be a twit near other people. All you need is one little kid to run out in front of you, and its game over for both of you.

Ironically, those who don’t have kids yet are most at fault here, because they simply don’t understand, and its not good enough.

Eli Creek is very popular
You need to be responsible, and slow down near others

13) Making unnecessary new tracks

There’s a lot of 4WD tracks in Australia, and we’ve been lucky to do a huge number of them. What’s frustrating though, is when you see multiple 4WD tracks being made, for no real reason. Yes, there are legitimate reasons for a new track, but when there are chicken tracks for the chicken tracks, cut through fresh bush it makes you wonder.

Stay on the existing tracks, respect the environment and use your head.

Don't make new 4WD tracks
Don’t cut new 4WD tracks!

14) Taking the hard line unnecessarily

I reckon there are hundreds of 4WD’s every year that are written off from people who choose to take one way over another, without really thinking about it. Yes, bog holes are the perfect example; you can literally drive on flat ground around many of them, and yet for one reason or another so many people decide to plough into them, and pay the ultimate cost.

If you’ve never been bogged in water or mud deeper than your door seals, you won’t know the panic and stress that it is to get yourself out of there. Modern vehicles have so many electronics in them today that you barely need any water to get inside the vehicle and your insurance company is going to write it off.

By all means, take the challenge, but do it sensibly; get out, have a look, make sure you have a recovery plan in place, and you’re actually ready. Don’t fly into it, get stuck, and then think about the snatch strap wedged behind the rear seats that you can’t get to, or the fact that there’s no one around to pull you out!

Mundaring mud runs
Sometimes taking the hard line for a bit of fun is a huge mistake

15) Being focused on gear over trips

The sheer number of people who care more about what 4WD they own and how it looks over where they’ve been, and what adventures they’ve had is truly amazing. There’s nothing wrong with a nice 4WD, but don’t let not having one, or the latest and greatest gadgets stop you from getting out there and having a ball.

I guarantee if you talk to any experienced 4WD owner they’ll tell you that some of the best memories they have of 4WDing comes from very, very basic setups. Spend your money on trips, and fuel, not air tanks, lithium batteries, induction cooktops, Bluetooth deflating devices and whatever else comes on the market!

Canopy storage ideas
You can get some super fancy gear, but you don’t need most of it

16) Not being prepared for when things go wrong

You can guarantee that things will go wrong when you’re off road. You’ll break things, someone will get hurt, bogged, or otherwise. When this does happen, what are you going to do? Do you have a first aid kit that is easy to get to? Do you have ample water, clothes and gear to stay a night in your car if you have to?

How are you making contact with anyone to help you? Almost daily on the city 4WD groups someone heads out 4WDing with not even so much as a snatch strap, and gets bogged. I’ve seen it happen with multiple kids in their car too, calling for help at 10PM at night.

4WDing can be high risk, and if you do nothing to mitigate that, you’re asking for trouble.

Stuck well and truly
If it all goes wrong, what’s your backup plan?

17) Using non-rated points to recover from

4WD recoveries can put a ridiculous amount of stress on things, and we’ve seen enough people killed or hurt in Australia from 4WD recoveries gone wrong. Please do not use recovery points that are not rated. That can be physically not rated (like tie down points) without a SWL, or it can be using a recovery point that is damaged, or that has rusty bolts (which you often cannot see).

If a vehicle needs recovering, do it from rated points that are in good condition, using a dampener in place where possible to reduce the energy if something does break and it goes pear shaped.

Rated recovery point
If you use recovery points that aren’t rated, things can get messy really quickly

18) Sitting in another vehicles dust

You wouldn’t believe the number of 4WD’s that sit behind other vehicles, in their dust. This is stupid for many reasons including your air filter getting blocked, lack of visibility, reduced reaction time, inability for others to pass safely and so on.

Unless you have a really good reason, you should be way back, behind the dust that the vehicle in front is kicking up.

Blue Rag Range 4WD track is brilliant
It’s really easy to sit in a vehicles trailing dust, and its not good for anything

19) Being in a rush

The whole point of having a 4WD is being able to enjoy the drive, and the destination. We’ve seen some absolute tools flogging their way to the top of Cape York, or down the Gibb River Road. If you need to be in that much of a rush, you should take more time off, or plan better.

The number of accidents that happen on gravel roads, and 4WD tracks because people are trying to get through faster than they should is staggering, and frankly its not worth the risk.

Bent chassis repair
Things go badly wrong when you’re going faster than you should be

20) Not learning to pick good lines

I love watching where people choose to drive their 4WD, and there’s some great drivers out there. If you can read a 4WD track well and pick a suitable line, you will out drive someone else in a far more capable vehicle most of the time, and its always entertaining to watch.

Don’t just send it straight down the middle; learn to think about where your wheels are going to go, what might touch underneath, what could go wrong, and how you can keep as many wheels on the ground as possible. It makes a big difference!

Watching a good choice of line
A good line makes all the difference

What have we missed?

Surely there’s more bad habits that you know of! What have we missed?

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  1. Hey Paul,

    Yep, there’s a time and a place. By all means go for it if no one can hear, but it seems like a lot of people have no respect for those around them


  2. I am a headbanger at home, but I leave it at home. Drunken idiots yelling and screaming and playing loud music really annoys me.