There are few feelings in driving that are better than a transfer case locking into gear. Unfortunately, many four-wheel-drive owners rarely get to experience this feeling. They save their vehicle’s best trick for weekend trips to the ski slopes, or occasional jaunts to the hunting lodge.
But four-wheel-drive can be more than just a practical feature. It can be your vehicle’s ticket to something fun.
Off-roading is a popular pastime with an avid following. If you’ve got a vehicle with some ground clearance and four-wheel-drive, getting started is as easy as finding a friend, finding a trail and understanding a few important safety standards.
Can I Off-Road My Vehicle?
First things first — you might not know whether your truck is good for off-road driving. In general, you want to have a four-wheel-drive, but it’s possible to get around without it. With proper ground clearance, tires and a buddy to pull you out if you get stuck, you can off-road to some extent in a two-wheel-drive truck. Just be certain you’ve got another truck with a winch and tow rope close by.
Ideally, you should have four-wheel-drive and upwards of 20 inches of ground clearance in your truck or SUV. The four-wheel-drive is, of course, for grip, and the clearance is to make sure that when things get technical, you won’t be putting boulders into the bottom of your truck. As you may know, there are a host of additional off-roading goodies that can make a truck more competent. One is a reinforced skidplate, which can help you avoid drivetrain damage if you do bottom out on a rock.
As you learn more about the scene and feel more comfortable investing, you might choose to use larger tires, install a winch, add a snorkel or different types of running gear and even make serious frame modifications. The rabbit hole has no end with this hobby.
Let’s Get Dirty!
It’s not all just about the vehicle. Even you’ve got something basic, have the conviction to take it out and get a feel for driving off-road. Step one is to find a buddy who also has a truck they want to off-road. If you’re looking for information on where off-roaders meet, the internet has you covered with a host of online communities that support the hobby. Make some friends so you’ll be safe in your off-roading adventures, and they’ll probably teach you a thing or two as well.
Make a plan to visit a local trail that offers a low level of difficulty. You don’t want to begin your off-roading career by wrecking on a technical trail. Driving something simple will allow you to get the feel of it and begin to explore some of your nearby trail options. Make sure to bring water and snacks in case you’re out longer than you plan.
Even though your truck doesn’t need to be modified, there are a few things you should check. A full-sized spare tire is a great thing to have when heading off-road, and if you haven’t checked it in some time, be sure it’s full. Also, make sure you have a jack with you, should you need to change the tire. A cell phone and GPS are also critical safety items to bring with you if you’re heading off-road. Make sure you have decent windshield wipers and check to make sure they work. There will be a lot of mud that splashes on your windshield and broken wipers could put a major damper on a fun day.
Give your vehicle a thorough inspection before you go. Off-roading puts extreme stresses on your vehicle, and even if you’re only planning to do an easy trail, you want to feel confident that your rig can handle it. You don’t want to have your truck let you down in a situation where you need it to get you home.
Finally, tell your friends and family where you’re going and who is with you. It’s a lot like going for a hike. They should know how to find the trail you’ll be driving, when you’re heading out and when they can expect to hear from you again. If there’s no cell phone coverage where you’re going, let them know. Always arrange a follow-up call to confirm that you’re home safe.
You’ll Find Plenty of Great Adventures When You Off-Road
Now that you’ve got the basics down, the last thing left to do is to go! Driving off-road is great fun, and it’s an excellent way to see some parts of the country few people get to enjoy. Have fun, be safe and stay with it. Off-roading can turn into a lifelong hobby that you can pass on and share with family and friends.