When many people go on holiday, they think of exploring forests, open countrysides, mountains, valleys and other natural areas. While this is a fantastic way to escape the city and day to day life, your average car is not well equipped to do so.
When you live in an urban environment, there’s no need for a large 4×4. So, when the time comes to escape to nature, how can you be sure your car will cope? More than a few people have come back from holiday to face expensive repair bills, all down to pushing their transport too far.
So, is your car ready to go off-road? Here are 5 factors you need to consider.
While all cars have suspension, typical saloons, estates and hatchbacks are designed for the tough, off-road conditions. SUVs will fare fairly well, if only because these vehicles have a high ground clearance and often incorporate many key features from a 4×4 design, depending on the vehicle, of course.
Before you head off, check your suspension to ensure it is working properly. This can be as simple as pushing down on each corner, monitoring how well the car ‘wobbles’. If there is any inaccuracy, this will highlight which wheel has a failing suspension strut or spring. If the car doesn’t move much at all, then you should have your entire car suspension system inspected.
Furthermore, always keep the practical limits of both your suspension and ground clearance in mind. Your vehicle will have no problem on dirt roads, but even large open areas can be a problem. Grass can be very deceptive, hiding holes and dips in the ground, so don’t take your car to its limits here – leave some ‘wiggle’ room for hidden dangers.
The weight of the vehicle, of course, will greatly influence various parameters. A heavier vehicle will use up fuel more rapidly, as well as putting extra strain on your suspension. Many drivers have a rough idea of their ride’s weight during the day, but do you know how it handles when it has a full load, as well as a full compliment of passengers?
Try doing a ‘dry’ run, loading your vehicle up and driving it around your local neighbourhood. How does it respond and how does it handle corners, bumps and inclines? Once you have a feel for this, you can make better judgement calls when driving in the wild. Likewise, ensure that you don’t go over the recommended maximum weight for your vehicle, as well as the load index of your tyres.
You may notice that many vehicles designed for regular off-road use, whether it’s a 4×4 jeep or a agricultural tractor, often have large, chunky tyres, especially compared to the slick rubber used on your own car. There’s a big reason for this.
Naturally, nobody is expecting you to go out and fit dedicated 4×4 tyres onto your car for a week or two, but it helps to be aware of the current condition of your existing tyres. While the legal minimum may be lower, when you get down past 3 or 4 mm of tread, you start to lose some key properties, such as grip, traction and water expulsion, which are highly useful on irregular road surfaces.
Similarly, you need the right tyre pressure before you head off. This ensures your tyres (and therefore your wheels) are at their intended optimum condition. This is easy enough to do with a pump and sensor but if you can also take this with you, you can ensure proper pressure throughout the trip; handy if you’re planning a rather long trek!
Of course, if your car has a spare tyre, you should ensure this is in a roadworthy condition – even unused spare tyres have aged, so many old vehicles are carrying around defunct, unuseful tyres.
Supplies & Equipment
Alongside an air pump and a spare tyre, it helps to have a few more essentials for your car. At the very least, you should cater to the conditions of where you are travelling.
Are you going somewhere cold? Bring extra ice scrapers and maybe consider some snow chains. On the other hand, if you’re going somewhere mountainous, or with varying gradients of terrain, a car cable winch could prove useful (both for you and anyone you might come across on your travels).
Furthermore, as an additional caution, do not rely on GPS or mobile devices if you’re going truly remote. These tools might not always have signal and, even if they do, they don’t mark every tree, river or dirt path. Do yourself a favour and pack a good, old-fashioned map, just in case.
Finally, speaking of maps, you’re always going to need petrol, so be sure to have a full tank before you head off. However, you should also ensure there are additional stations or garages within distance if where you are going. Always have a good idea of how far away these places are, so you know when you need to refill, rather than getting stranded miles from the station.
As you can see, there are plenty of things you might want to consider before taking your car off-road. It should also be clear that there are limits to what your car can handle; a car with a low ground clearance, for instance, will likely damage itself on rough, rocky terrain. As important as it is to adapt your car and bring the relevant items, it’s also just as vital that you understand the practical limits of your vehicle and keep them in mind at all times. This way, you won’t end your next escapade with an expensive trip to the garage!