Top tips for driving off-road in your SUV

driving off-road

SUV cars are super-popular right now, and looking at the reviews in Parkers, it seems that everyone wants one. But did you know that many of these cars have been designed to go off-road and will be capable of far more than you ever thought possible?

If you’re shiny new SUV has four-wheel drive and decent tyres on it, the chances are that you can venture far off the road. But before you do go adventuring, remember that you’ll need to take care and most importantly, plan ahead. If you’re not sure of something ahead, don’t take any risks!

…and remember, once you’ve finished off-roading before you head for the road, check all of your tyres and their pressures. Check for wheel, body and bumper damage, clear any mud out from the wheelarches, and take your time getting back up to speed.

Step 1: know your car

Is your car up to it? Check your tyres and check the route ahead. Can it get up that hill without banging its nose? Is there enough ground clearance, when cresting it? Will the back hit the ground before you level out on the other side? 

Step 2: what to carry with you

Take water and a mobile phone at the very least. Make sure you have the right clothes and footwear (think waterproof!), and always take spares in case of the worst.

Step 3: putting you and your car in the right mode

Modern SUVs usually have an off-road drive mode. Select this depending on the surface of the route. If in doubt, get out and have a look. When you set off, drive as slowly as possible without losing momentum. Be gentle with the accelerator pedal, and use slow, deliberate inputs. Always remember to manage momentum, traction and speed. Be careful, be decisive and always plan ahead. 

Step 4: use the right gears

On many SUVs, you get a choice of drive modes, so you should always be able to match the conditions. When going uphill always use the highest gear possible, and when going down, make it the lowest one. Many SUVs have a Hill Descent Control (HDC) system, which allows the car to use its brakes and transmission to allow you to descend a slope at a safe speed. Use it and keep your feet off the pedals. 

Step 5: know all the rules

Be aware of the Country Code and make sure you never damage the environment and drive within the limits of the defined tracks. Always give way to wildlife, and also drive slowly and quietly when near horses and pedestrians. Unless you have permission, don’t drive on fields or private land, and be aware of your own limits as well as those of your car. 

Step 6: driving in snow, gravel and grass

  • If you use the highest gear possible and maintain momentum, you’ll keep going in snow. If the wheels start spinning, ease off the throttle to regain traction. 
  • Consider gravel a low-grip surface like snow, but accelerate more gently, and take an even wider arc when cornering. Keep the speed down to reduce any dust cloud. 
  • Grass is low grip when it’s wet. One good tip is to never follow the vehicle above to avoid creating tracks, and – again – try and take the widest possible arc when changing direction.

Step 7: driving in sand

Maintain your momentum and be sensitive with the controls. Always look a long way ahead, if there’s a sand setting, grab it. Consider lowering your tyre pressures to 15psi, and if you park up, leave it on a downhill slope.

Step 8: rock crawling

If you have height-adjustable suspension, put it to maximum. Always get out and assess the risks and if you have a passenger, get them to walk ahead of you. To stop it potentially toppling over, make sure any luggage is evenly distributed and nice and low. 

Step 9: driving in mud and ruts

Always remember to stay within the existing tracks and keep your wheels straight as much as you can for as often as you can. Try to make sure that you keep the car’s lowest point clear of the ground, and drive as slowly as you can, but also try to maintain momentum. When going uphill, you can use more power to keep going, but try to avoid braking traction at all times. If you can’t see what’s ahead before committing – get out and look at the surface for rocks, large holes or tree stumps.

Step 10: driving in water

Try and avoid driving in water at all times. If you must, you really should work out how deep it is before going in – use a stick or watch another vehicle go through before taking the plunge. If you’re behind another vehicle, wait until they’ve left the water. Once you’re sure it’s safe, enter the water slowly, and avoid making a bow wave.

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