So you think you know everything about off-roading?
Oh, OK then, never mind…
But for those of us man enough to admit we have room to improve, we thought we’d head out into the desert with a kitted out Jeep Wrangler and some support, and then, who knows? Maybe we’ll even learn a thing or two.
While most Nissan Patrols and Toyota Land Cruisers driven by local experts could give Dakar contestants headaches, many people who own 4×4 vehicles still don’t venture further than the sand parking lot, or at a push, the beach.
Here’s an attempt by expert Ara Sahakian from OffRoad-Zone, complete 4×4 specialists, to teach you the basics of off-roading and getting your car dirty.
We’ll cover the steps one by one in our cut-out-and-keep guide (or you could just carry the mag with you) focusing on dos and dont’s and most importantly, safety and environmental responsibility.
* Before you do anything, choose a well-travelled trail if it’s your first time off-loading. Let someone know where you will be heading and when you are expected to be back, just in case you do get into trouble. Also, you may want to let your friends know that you have eventually returned safely, otherwise you may cause a panic.
* Always have your car serviced before venturing into the desert off-roading, as the oils get very hot under strain (especially diff coolers and transmission fluid) and your filter will be caked with sand. Top up all fluids, including your windscreen washer, and ensure you have a working spare and a jack (don’t forget the wheel lock key if you have security lug nuts). Oh, and a wooden plank will be useful so that the jack doesn’t sink into the sand.
* There are a few essential items you should have with you when off-roading. Of course, this list can go on and on, but for a beginner session just bring along a tow rope rated to the weight of your vehicle, shackles, a shovel, a GPS, a fully-charged mobile phone and plenty of water. OK, only now can you head out. No, wait! Buckle up. OK, now you can go…
* Once on location, mark your entry point on the GPS. If you don’t have one of those gizmos, write down a landmark, but don’t write something like ‘camel’, because they tend to move around. Deflate your tyres down to 12-15 psi to give your wheels more surface area — similar to a camel’s hooves. An inflated tyre is hard and it will simply sink in the sand. Leaving it around 15 psi also gives you leeway if you get bogged down — you can deflate down to 5 psi if it’s really sticky, but don’t go too low, because your tyre might pop off the rim.
* OK, easy now. Go slowly at first and try to read the sand. Small ripples mean the sand is compact and easy to traverse, but changing colours mean softer sands. Bottoms of dunes are usually hard, tops are soft. Don’t showboat, it’s not a Jumeirah Beach Road cruise, so keep both hands on the wheel. If you find yourself slowing down when going up a steep dune, turn away from it and let gravity get you back down for another try.
* Never brake hard, you will sink, and never stop flat — always on an incline or decline. Keep the steering wheel moving to give you more traction, but don’t go wild (remember your tyre pressure and popping off the rim?)
* If you start slowing down or getting stuck, don’t pile on the throttle. Stop (without applying the brakes), get out and assess the situation. Dig the tyres out of the sand, select the direction you want to move and get the passengers to push your vehicle. If you are getting stuck and you continue to apply the throttle, you will simply sink. An exception is if you are on the side of a hill. In that case, you turn the steering down and apply throttle. You must not hesitate in such a situation.
* Now, if you’re so deep in trouble that you can’t push yourself out, you will need to get towed out. First, select the direction you want to be pulled out, because the towing vehicle should pull you straight out, not sideways. This is to avoid damage to your axles. The towing vehicle should preferably be driving on a decline and not an incline.
* When attempting to climb a steep dune, unless you have plenty of power, use the surrounding dunes to your advantage. Climb a small dune, turn down and get momentum, then climb the next dune and so on, until — voilà! — you remember you left your wife at the bottom.
* Newton wasn’t just making things up: once you get up there, you’ll have to get down. Go slowly and straight. Avoid large bushes as they may cause the vehicle to roll if you hit them sideways. Also, it’s simply not cool to just drive over wildlife.
* A proper off-roader will have different transmission modes: 4-low is generally used to climb hills, traverse rocks and for pulling large boats or loads. It gives a lot of torque to the wheels, allowing your vehicle to pull large loads. This may consequently dig your tyres into the sand, so it’s not advisable. You will find that for most situations in the desert, regular four-wheel drive is fine.
* After you’ve had your first taste of the desert, you will be hooked and start salivating over suspension components and superchargers due to your thirst for conquering 200-metre dunes in Liwa. But start your modifications sensibly, spending your first batch of cash on a lift kit. Lift kits start at around Dh2,000 up to Dh8,000 for a proper job, while supercharging can cost beyond Dh30,000. Keep in mind that a proper suspension modification will make your drive more enjoyable both on and off road.
You’re all set to go now. Class dismissed.