How to drive through ruts with your 4x4
Ruts, wheel tracks and wash-outs can be tricky; they can be shallow and easy to drive, or they can be deep and dangerous. But here are a few tips to help you get through them, no worries.
Check the terrain
That’s right – actually get out of your vehicle and check your planned route thoroughly. Look for hazards, obstacles, sections where the ruts get deeper or narrower or twisted and plan your course of action – your route up, down or along the rutted section – so when it comes time to drive the terrain you’ll be ready for it.
If the ruts are deep, and you plan to drive through them, do some track-building beforehand to try to avoid your vehicle’s underbody scraping on the high points of ground.
Deflate your tyres
Before you switch to low range, deflate your tyres to a psi pressure that suits the terrain. Aim for a tyre pressure between 20 and 25psi for rocks – you generally don’t have to drop too far down from highway pressures but every now and again, you may have to drop lower.
By dropping your tyre pressure you’ll reduce the risk of punctures, improve traction and make the ride a more comfortable one for everyone inside.
Get your tyre pressure right and that’ll help you conquer most natural challenges.
Switch to low-range
If you’re driving up a rutted hill, use first gear low-range – or the closest equivalent to it in your SUV (in an Amarok it’s first gear with off-road mode selected) – when you need maximum traction. All four wheels will drive your vehicle and a low gear ratio is being used – and that extra low-down torque comes in very handy off-road. You might need to get into second gear low-range if the rutted hill is a long, momentum-sapping piece of terrain.
If you’re driving a rutted but otherwise flat, even section then use first or second gear low-range. If you’re driving down a rutted hill, stick to first gear low-range and use that all-important engine braking and any on-board off-road-specific tech such as hill descent control.
To engage low range, put your vehicle in Park or Neutral, switch to 4L or 4Low (whatever the designation is in your vehicle) and you’re ready for the next step.
Pick your route
The general rule? Drive in the ruts if you think you have enough ground clearance; straddle the ruts if you don’t – however, there are a few amendments to those ‘rules’:
If you’re driving up a rutted hill, avoid going in the ruts if you can. If the area is dry, straddle the ruts. However, if it’s been raining, and if your vehicle has enough ground clearance, think about starting in the ruts, thus avoiding any risk of damage to your vehicle as a result of slipping from a high straddle into the ruts.
If you’re driving a rutted but flat, even section, avoid going in the ruts if they are deep, but drive them if you think your vehicle has enough ground clearance.
If you’re going down a rutted hill, consider starting off in the ruts and driving in them all the way because if you drop into them from a high straddle at pace, even at slow speed, you risk damage to your wheels or vehicle or, worse still, the vehicle’s weight may shift with the sudden change in speed and height and there is a risk of a roll-over.
If there has been rain, which will make a rutted hill slippery and treacherous, and you’re having second thoughts about driving the ruts, consider taking an alternative route. Pick your battles.
Maintain a slow, steady momentum
We’re not big fans of speed here at Adventure. Speed in an off-road scenario can, at the very least, make for a bouncy, uncomfortable ride for you and your passengers and, worse still (because it leaves the driver little time to react safely and sensibly to any hazards or terrain changes), it can be bloody dangerous.
To drive ruts safely, all you need is a light touch, if any at all, on the loud pedal – especially on rutted downhills – and your vehicle will creep-crawl through the ruts, sending torque to the wheels that need it the most – those with some grip on the ground.
Pick your line
Choose the route you're going to take, plan your wheel placement, and stick to it as best you can. If it helps, have someone stand outside the vehicle, at a safe distance, and guide you through the section using hand signals or a hand-held radio to communicate their directions to you – whether it’s up or down a hill, or along a rutted stretch.
Switch back to 4H or 2H
When you’ve finished any low-range driving, inflate your tyres back to suitable pressures, and switch back to four-wheel drive high (if you’re back on firm sand, etc) or two-wheel drive high (if you’re back on the bitumen).
So, there you go: how to drive ruts in your SUV: check the terrain, deflate your tyres, switch to low-range, pick your route, and maintain a steady controlled momentum – with extra throttle if needed – until you’re through the rutted section. Too easy.