How to improve your off-road driving skills fast

Marcus Craft
Editor - Adventure

10 Nov 2017 • 10 min read

A great way to increase the fun factor in your off-roading trips is to build confidence in your driving skills. And the best way to do that is to actually improve those skills through formal training with an expert but also via more real-world experience.

The more you do something, the less intimidating it is to you and the more comfortable you become with it.

Read our tips, get out and drive in the bush and on the beach and you’ll soon discover that your off-roading skills are rapidly improving.

LEARN TO DRIVE

There are numerous courses aimed at sharpening your driving skills. These courses can range in subject area, from defensive driving to towing to 4WDing and more, so cherry-pick what you need to focus on and go from there.

Remember though that any informed knowledge, delivered by a qualified professional, is good knowledge and that it can only bolster your current skill level. So, while you may not be interested, for example, in towing anything right now, it can’t hurt to have those skills anyway – to paraphrase the old adage goes: better to have them and not need them, than need them and not have them.

Conservative driving will result in skill-building, lower fuel bills and less wear and tear on your vehicle. (image credit: Dean McCartney) Conservative driving will result in skill-building, lower fuel bills and less wear and tear on your vehicle. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Becoming a better, more informed, driver means the notion of going on- or off-road will be a stress-free proposition, rather than one fraught with doubt.

Whether it’s defensive driving, how to tow a caravan or how to use your 4WD – all of those and others can save you cash, time and stress by honing your skills, reining in your driving style and reducing your impact on the world. Think about it: gentler acceleration, braking and more conservative all-round driving – all hallmarks of off-roading – will ultimately result in skill-building, lower fuel bills and less wear and tear on your vehicle. A bloody great win-win-win for you!

SLOW DOWN

Off-road enthusiasts, new and experienced, could be forgiven for having action-packed, car commercial-type mental projections of their upcoming trips: thrashing through the bush at speed, or racing along the beach, through the ocean’s shallows, spraying sea-water in dramatic fashion, or carving out a sandy rooster’s tail as they throw a sharp turn across the face of a towering dune. All of these things sure sound like a lot of fun but doing any of them carries a substantial amount of risk to you and your vehicle.

With tyre pressures dropped you must drive conservatively – especially at low psi on sand – because your vehicle’s handling has been compromised. Fast, sharp turns may roll a tyre off its rim or, worse, the vehicle itself may roll. Your braking distances are also affected, so take that into account if you’re travelling in a convoy or nearing a populated area on the beach or in the outback.

Back right off on the loud pedal, take your time and enjoy the ample challenges off-roading throws at you.
 (image credit: Dean McCartney) Back right off on the loud pedal, take your time and enjoy the ample challenges off-roading throws at you. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

On sand, momentum is key, not hell-for-leather-type speed; steady constant throttle will maintain steady forward progress.

Also, remember, even though you might be in the middle of nowhere, or along a deserted stretch of beach, stick to road rules and speed limits. If there aren’t any signposted, err on the side of caution; drive between 30km/h and 40km/h on a beach, slow right down when you near campsites, use your indicators, things like that.

Back right off on the loud pedal, take your time and enjoy the ample challenges off-roading throws at you. That way, you have plenty of time to make those happy memories I keep remind you about – and also you’re building off-roading skills as you go.

So, the reality of off-roading, while somewhat more subdued than what our imaginations can conjure, is generally safe, especially if it is undertaken at a gentler pace and with more reserved driving. The result is less wear and tear on driver, passengers and vehicles – a lot more fun and smiles.

GET BOGGED

Yep, that’s right: get bogged. Getting stuck gives you valuable experience in vehicle extraction or recovery; if you develop your skills in low-pressure environments (bogged on the beach at low tide, above the high-tide mark), then you’ll be ready for high-pressure scenarios (bogged on the beach with an incoming high tide, below the high-tide mark).

The key is not to rush, thoroughly assess the situation (How bad is it? Are all four wheels bogged? Is the underbody snagged on a half-buried tree branch?), and then clear away all obstacles from under and around the stuck vehicle.

If dropping tyre pressures lower and driving out doesn’t work, then use your vehicle-recovery tracks* (MaxTrax or the like). (*These resemble hard plastic snowboards with rows of hard lumps along one surface.)

  • When stuck, make sure your vehicle is in 4WD Low (if available) and slowly accelerate. (image credit: Dean McCartney) When stuck, make sure your vehicle is in 4WD Low (if available) and slowly accelerate. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • Remember: getting bogged – and getting out – are all part of the fun. (image credit: Dean McCartney) Remember: getting bogged – and getting out – are all part of the fun. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Once you’ve cleared the sand or dirt away, wedge each track under a wheel, at an angle, not flat, facing in the direction you want to travel, forward or backwards.

Drop tyre pressures further to provide even more traction. Move all bystanders well out of the way, make sure your vehicle is in 4WD Low (if available) and slowly accelerate. Go slowly, allowing your tyres to grip the tracks, creep up them and out. If your wheels start spinning, stop immediately, get out, reposition the tracks, wedge them into place, and try again.

All going well, your vehicle will slowly drive up and along each track until it reaches the ground surface again. You may only need to do this whole procedure once to get out of a boggy patch or you may need to do it several times. 
Remember: getting bogged – and getting out – are all part of the fun.

THE GEAR YOU NEED

Part of being prepared for any off-roading adventure is having the skills and experience but also having the right gear.

There is a huge variety of vehicle-recovery gear available – ranging in quality and price – but stick to the basics for starters, make sure you have good-quality equipment onboard, then you’re at least heading in the right direction.

  • A recovery kit, including snatch strap and bow-shackles. (image credit: Dean McCartney) A recovery kit, including snatch strap and bow-shackles. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • An air compressor. (image credit: Dean McCartney) An air compressor. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • Vehicle recovery tracks. (image credit: Dean McCartney) Vehicle recovery tracks. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • Tyre pressure gauges and deflators. (image credit: Dean McCartney) Tyre pressure gauges and deflators. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • A first aid kit.  (image credit: Dean McCartney) A first aid kit. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Reckon you've got some great off-roading tips? Share them with us in the comments section.

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