How to pick a line off road in a 4WD
There’s certainly a lot of skill when it comes to 4WDing. Sure, a capable vehicle makes a huge difference, and if you have lots of clearance, power and traction any track is going to be easier. However, if you learn to pick a line well it makes all the difference.
As it turns out, its one of the easiest things that you can change when off road, and ensure that you make it to the top safely, easily and without any damage to your vehicle, and as little damage to the track as possible.
I’ve seen some very ordinary 4WD’s drive tracks that many with far more modified vehicles wouldn’t ever attempt, purely because of the skill of the driver. I don’t profess to be the ultimate guru at 4WDing, but we’ve done enough of it to know how to pick a line reasonably well, what our vehicle is capable of and where we are prepared to take it.
For us, picking a line comes down to the below considerations:
Is it going to damage the 4WD?
For us, I don’t go 4WDing to break something. I do it to have fun, within the limits of my skills, and the capability of the driver. I accept that things can, and do go wrong and I could damage the vehicle, but if there’s huge rock steps and I don’t have rock sliders, I don’t feel its worth the risk.
On the same point, if I have to bounce the front wheels on rocks for an extended period of time, I’ll give it a miss; I like my CV’s working, and not snapped in a myriad of pieces.
What is likely to hit underneath?
A lot of 4WD tracks come down to clearance, and if you don’t have enough clearance, and in the right places you can be in trouble really quickly. If you have underbody protection, or plenty of clearance then you are in a good place, but have a good think about what is likely to cop a hit underneath.
If you slip out of the holes or ruts, are you going to land on your sump, or your transfer case? If this happens, is it going to break something, or cause you to get stuck completely?
Where will momentum be required?
Learning to pick the right speed for a 4WD track takes time, and using it incorrectly often results in damage to the vehicle, or getting stuck in a spot that you’d easily pop over with a tiny bit of speed.
Have a good look at the obstacles, and if its safe to do so, give it a bit of momentum where the tyres are likely to struggle to get grip. If its not safe to do so, then idle up carefully as needed, and if you can’t get traction, give it a bit more, or grab the winch out.
What could go wrong?
Things go wrong all the time 4WDing, and asking yourself this question before you tackle something might just save you a bucket load of cash. I used to work with an electrician who headed out to the Mundaring Powerlines Track a few years ago, and when they came to a puddle that he’d driven through before, he ploughed in without a second thought.
Moments later his 4WD was sinking, and by the time they had hooked straps up and pulled him out, the vehicle was full of water and was completely and utterly wrecked. What followed was a stressful recovery to get his vehicle home, and then a very stressful couple of days whilst he waited to see if his insurance would actually cover it or not.
All of this could have been avoided if he’d stopped to think about what could go wrong. If he’d grabbed a stick and checked the depth he might have decided it wasn’t worth it, or at the very least he could have hooked up straps and had another vehicle ready to recover if it went pear shaped.
I’m always very cautious of anything that can damage panels, and especially when its muddy; your vehicle will slip in ways you never imagined possible and you can end up with multiple panels against a wall, which isn’t much fun at all.
Is the 4WD suitable for this?
There’s no doubting that some 4WD’s are more capable than others. If you aren’t at the stage where you can admit this, and accept that there are places you shouldn’t take your 4WD, you need to get there as soon as you can.
A regular, legal 4WD that is well modified is not suitable for extreme rock crawling, or hardcore mud tracks in the south west of Australia, and when you take a vehicle somewhere it shouldn’t be, things can go wrong really quickly.
Where can I get traction?
Picking the parts of the track that are going to give you maximum traction is hugely important. That might mean avoiding a big rock, or climbing the side of a rut, or staying out of the clay mud and sticking to higher ground.
How much side angle am I going to go on?
Being on a bad side angle in a 4WD is never much fun, especially when it bounces as you go over rocks. Have a really good think about how much of a side angle your 4WD is going to be put on, and what is acceptable and not. If you are on a bad angle and you hit a rock that makes you go a bit further, its really easy to find yourself with a 4WD that has laid itself over.