Off-roading with Your Everyday SUV

Switching from grocery-purposed trips to adventuring on less-welcoming back-country roads with your everyday SUV may seem like fun but it's definitely not a task to be taken lightly. While driving forth and back from the nearest Home Depot may be safer than poaching stuffed animals, going off-road can be both a car and ego bruiser unless you take certain precautions first hand.

Modern SUV's have diverted from the rugged all-terrain negotiation capabilities of the initial 4X4s with producers emphasizing comfort and luxury features instead. However, such vehicles can still successfully cater for your rough-terrain tackling demands, IF driven properly.

Before heading into semi-wilderness you should always take precautions and check for the following: proper tires, off-roading adjusted suspension (long and soft), ground clearance at maximum level, recovery kit, lighting equipment, communication devices, spare tire and particularly your driving skills.

The tires should be your primary concern right next to your skill since they can brake the easiest and a flat tire in the woods can be quite challenging to replace. Make sure you get a set of special off-road tires if needed and air them down before taking on them boulders and narrow river-crossed paths. A pressure gauge should come in handy as airing them down too much can rightfully lock-up your adventurous spirit into a lengthy and nightmarish open-air prison of all-tire failure. Usually tires are deflated by 1/3.

Decreasing tire pressure will consequently lead to a lower ground clearance which is not quite an ally in off-roading. Try elevating your car by readjusting the suspension (live axles work miracles but modern city-oriented SUVs come equipped with fully independent suspension).

Once the boxes next to tires, ground clearance and suspension have been checked, proceed to the next section from your to-do list. If you're unexperienced with off-road driving get a friend who is with you, see that the car is in perfect running condition, fill 'er up and literally go wild.

As soon as you hit rough terrain, it would be a good idea to switch to four-wheel drive, assuming your car has all-wheel drive. Although it may seem like standard two-wheel drive mode can get you through most dirt mounds and mud trails, it's rarely the case. No 4x4 on rough terrain is much like tip-toeing  on ice: inefficient and humorously pointless. All-wheel drive keeps your vehicle glued to the ground  while providing optimum grip.

Modern city SUV's don't come equipped with differentials but they do compensate to some extent this major flaw through electronically controlled systems such as EBD (electronic brake-force distribution), ESP (electronic stability control) and various other traction-control and stability programs.

Once you've hit deer-populated areas...wait, rewind. Play. Before doing all that, get a map, check the route you're planning to take and don't forget to go for a little scouting before getting behind the wheel. Knowing the place you're about to head into is always great.

Now back to driving. No matter the road conditions, always go for the high-spots: driving across a boulder tip is always better then getting a tire stuck in between two stone-slabs. Furthermore, going high can also sometimes improve visibility. As for the pace you should keep when off-roading, go slow and steady. Slow is safer and gives you better control over the car. Doing the opposite may result in “unforeseen” literal turn-overs and other difficult situations commonly welcomed with arms wide open and furiously raised middle fingers.
Also, driving style is transmission dependent, varying from automatic to manual. If you drive an automatic, stick to it, otherwise you'll have the same surprise as a pro-weight lifter entering a figure ice-skating contest.

Lastly, be sure to bring enough supplies, including extra responsibility and try to have fun.


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