The ABCs of Off-Terrain Adventure Driving

Off Terrain Adventure Driving

Adventure Driving - Off Road

For every motor enthusiast the craze for driving his vehicle off the road is immense – some jump in as soon as they learn to drive, others take their time. And the most beloved of the adventure tracks are those that aren’t really there! The hill ranges, winding mountain passes, dried up lakes and ponds, and out-of-reach mountain trails – well, out of reach for regular vehicles, that is.

But here’s a tiny list of things that will help all those piping to kick off the tar and leap headfirst on to the rocks and into dirt and mud: To make sure that both you and your ride are competently equipped for what you’re about to put yourselves through. Given the varying off-road terrains and driving styles, dirt gurus have put together a simple list of basic off-road necessities that provide the difference between having to airlift your beloved out of a trail gone bad, and having a successful off-terrain adventure excursion.

What are all the underbody skid plates you need

The most basic requirement is the ground clearance of your vehicle, without which one is most likely to give some serious beating to the vehicle underbody while conquering rocks, boulders and stumps. Low clearance would also put one through the experience of high centering as their vehicle catches multiple obstacles under its belly.

Of all the underbody damage that comes from going off terrain, the worst is done by rock crawling. This calls in for underbody skid plates. Rock sliders help protect rocker panels, gas tank skid plates reduce the risk of fuel leakage and fires, and transfer case skid plates ensure that one doesn’t have to walk home. It is of utmost importance to cover the vital organs of your ride – the differentials, oil pan, and other vulnerables.

The next thing to pay attention to, is the approach angle of the vehicle. This angle is basically the measure of the steepest hill that your ride will climb without brushing or banging the front bumper and underside against the slope. The breakover angle is a measure of the steepest crest that can be traversed without high centring and the departure angle decides the steepest your ride can descend without brushing or banging the rear bumper.

The approach and and departure angles are directly influenced by the ground clearance of the vehicle – how much gap there is between the ground and its underside, and the front and rear overhangs – how much of the vehicle body is suspended beyond either wheel in opposite direction. Short overhangs and large ground clearance is what provides for the best of approach and departure angles allowing easy ascent and descent on the steepest of slopes.

The breakover angle is influenced directly by the ground clearance and the wheelbase. A short wheel base along with the high ground clearance allow for the vehicle to pass over the sharpest and meanest of crests without having to get up on its toes.

Tips to check tyres and suspension systems for rock crawling

Next comes the real deal, the parts and functioning units that take the most beating during even the slightest of off-road action – suspension systems. Wheel travel is one of the most crucial parts of going off road and the right tyres not only provide for good traction, but also maintain stability.

Even today, most old-timers prefer to use a solid axle to independent suspension as it provides for greater wheel articulation when the sway bar is removed.  For flat out off-road racing like desert rallies and events, independent suspension is favoured for the need of a more stable and smoother ride.

Torque is always welcome, and low end torque more so for rock crawling and extreme terrain where caution and skill – not speed, are needed to do things right. Gearing is thus of great importance to tackle the extremeties of terrains as well as good drive control. Engaging the low range gear can allow one to tackle the steepest of grades without any help from the accelerator. Low gearing in the differentials is also important specially when large tires are employed. A good rear axle ratio would provide for a greater torque output.

Tyres are again of crucial importance and so it is important to understand the role of a good contact patch for every wheel and get either all terrain tyres or mud terrain ones. The idea is to cash in on the advantage of deep treads, tough sidewalls and the right rubber compound – preferably on the harder grade.

Vehicles generally have open differentials, implying that the wheel with more traction gets less power and the exact opposite is needed for offroading. There are numerous devices and mechanisms which either lock the two wheels or axles together, providing for equalisation of power or provide for a power shift from the wheel under low traction to the one with more.

How to drive under water using hydrolock and snorkels

 The worst enemy of your ride is, however, water. Allow enough of it to get sucked into the engine, and it will get inside your cylinder, ruining everything! This is called a hydrolock.  Off-road enthusiasts prefer to use snorkels, some of which even allow for driving a vehicle when it’s completely submerged in water.

Heavy duty radiators and transmission coolers are also used since at low speed and low gear torque production, the transmission units take internal beating  and there’s no flowing air to provide for external cooling. A number of other factors contribute to successful off-roading adventures like installation of heavy duty parts that can take much more of shock beating.

The most important of all is driver skill and experience, and quite a few times, the best of the off-roading rigs fail under inexperienced or careless driving.