Novice guide to 4WDing; how to get started

If you’ve never been 4WDing before, the idea can seem a little daunting. It doesn’t need to be though, and in this post we cover absolutely everything you need to know about taking a 4WD off road from tyre pressures to gearing, electronic controls, what items you should take with you and lots of other general tips.

Owning a 4WD in Australia opens your options for adventure up in ways that you’ve probably never imagined. Some of the best places in Australia are only accessible by 4WD, and you can get away from the touristy hot spots, and out to locations that are even better, but without the crowd.

Dirk Hartog Island 4WDing
Owning a 4WD opens up a whole new world

4WDing doesn’t have to be difficult

If you think that taking a 4WD off the bitumen is going to be some extreme, and challenging exercise, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Of course, it has the potential to be very challenging, but for a lot of 4WDing its actually very easy, and simple to do.

Most people start off with the touring side of things; gravel roads, basic 4WD tracks and plenty of beach driving. For a lot of us, that’s more than enough, and you don’t need to do anything more complicated.

However, if you really enjoy it, there’s mud, snow and rock climbing that will take you as far out of your comfort zone as you want it to. Those who really get into it will spend days out in the bush looking for the hardest 4WD tracks in Australia, and doing their best to conquer them.

4WDing generally starts off with touring, which is exploring the region you are in without going to anything too extreme, and you never have to go beyond this if you aren’t comfortable.

Shark Bay 4WD Tracks
Australia has such a huge range of great 4WD Tracks

So, what does a novice 4WD owner need to know?

Start with your owners manual

Owners manuals are often treated like the fine print, or terms and conditions on your insurance policy. You ignore them, until you need to go back and really look. 

It shouldn’t be this way, and there are some important pieces of information in your owners manual that are imperative to going off road. You need to know how to engage high range and low range, and any differential lockers (if your vehicle has it). The reason you should consult your owners manual is that every vehicle is different.

Some require you to be stopped to change from 2WD to 4WD, and others require you to be doing under a certain speed.

Your owners manual will also tell you how to disengage some of the traction items that can hinder your ability to drive off road.

On our Dmax for example, if you don’t disable both traction control and electronic stability control you’ll come to an abrupt stop on a soft beach, and stay there until you manage to turn it off!

Get an understanding of tyre pressures

There is nothing more important for off road driving than understanding tyre pressures. Your tyres are the only thing that contacts the ground, and they provide all of your traction for braking, accelerating and steering. 

Understanding when to adjust your tyre pressures ensures that your vehicle is as well looked after as possible, that you have a much greater chance of not getting stuck, makes the ride far more comfortable, reduces the chance of your vehicle falling apart and ensures the tracks stay in as good of a condition as possible.

For more information, check out the post we wrote on why Tyre pressures are critical for 4WDing.

Reduce air out of your tyres
There’s a reason tyre deflation is so important

Go with a second vehicle

When you are first learning to go 4WDing, its a wise move to go with someone else in another vehicle, who knows what they are doing. You can sit as a passenger in another vehicle, but the best way to learn is to do it yourself, and that’s best learnt in your own vehicle. 

We’ve taken a lot of novices out over the years and as long as they deflate their tyres properly and have a way of recovering and being recovered, you’ll have a good time. We normally start with beach driving as its super simple, and lots of fun.

Traveling with others
Traveling with a second vehicle is a smart move

Take the right gear

Yes, you need some gear to go 4WDing. If you don’t take the right equipment it can make recovery difficult, unsafe and sometimes almost impossible. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on equipment, but there is a basic list that really isn’t negotiable.

If you aren’t sure what to take, check this out – 4WD Recovery Kit.

Space case and recovery gear
There’s some gear you must have in your 4WD

Consider formal training

Whilst we can give you plenty of advice here, and you can read a lot more elsewhere there’s nothing quite like in person training, done with real 4WD’s and using practical examples. There’s a huge number of 4WD training companies in Australia, and spending a day and a few hundred dollars learning the ropes is money well spent.

Start slow and simple

If you’ve never driven a 4WD off road before and you take it to a serious 4WD track there’s a good chance you’ll come out the other end with a damaged or broken vehicle, or worse. 

My recommendation is always to start on a beach, as this is simple, easy and gives you an understanding of tyre pressures and what your vehicle is capable of. Once you are comfortable driving on a beach, move to dune driving if there’s somewhere suitable nearby, and then into rocks, mud and eventually snow. 

I’ve seen total novices at the Mundaring Powerlines Track write their vehicles off because they don’t know what their vehicle is capable of, or they made a bad decision. For the record, here’s 15 ways to avoid drowning your 4WD!

GQ at Mundaring
Start with easy tracks, not the Mundaring Powerlines!

Get used to being spotted, and spotting for others

There’s a lot to be said for a competent driver. The more you spend 4WDing, the more familiar you get with how your vehicle is going to react to different situations, and what the best lines are to take. If you trust the person available, allowing them to spot in situations where you can pick a wheel up, or end up in a pickle is a good idea.

Beyond that, when you are out of your vehicle take the time to watch how other 4WD’s react to different situations. Some will flex well, some will not. Some will walk up things with twin lockers and others will require extensive use of traction control, or more momentum. Use what you see to pick a line you think is most suitable, and you’ll grow seriously quickly when it comes to driving a 4WD off road.

4WD spotter
Get used to spotting, and being spotted

Have fun

Once you nail a few of the skills needed for 4WDing, you should start to relax and have more fun. At the end of the day some people use 4WDing to have fun, or they do it to get to a particular destination. Either way, kick back and enjoy it; we have a magic country to see, and there’s so much fun to be had!

4WDing is amazing
4WDing opens up a whole new world of fun and entertainment

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