Durable and resilient 4×4 cars have long been the workhorses of farmers, the Army and anyone whose job demanded driving across difficult terrain such as quarries, major excavation sites and so on. But at some point in the 1980s, 4×4 cars made the magical transition from purely functional work vehicles to desireable mainstream cars. Since then, 4×4 cars have become the first choice for drivers who enjoy country sports or a little adventurous ‘off roading’ at the weekend. The modern 4×4 car is a far cry from its rough-and-ready predecessor; stylish design, interior comfort and all mod cons are now the order of the day, making today’s 4 x 4 car as at home in the city as it is in more challenging terrain.
The downside to the 4×4 car’s rise in popularity is that few new owners really take the time to fully understand and get to know their vehicle and its capabilities. Since a 4×4 car handles differently from a regular it can be useful to obtain at least a little knowledge of what to expect and how to handle different driving situations. Here to help you are a few handy hints for driving a 4×4 car.
- Size matters
The reason that 4×4 cars handle differently from normal cars is that they are generally larger, taller, wider and heavier. This needs to be taken into consideration whether you are driving on- or off-road. The additional weight of the vehicle will lengthen stopping distances, whilst extra caremay be needed whist navigating particularly narrow streets or country lanes due to the additional width. If you’re purchasing a new or second-hand 4×4 car it’s important to give it a test drive first to ensure that you’re confident with the handling.
- Know your tyres
The majority of new 4×4 cars is fitted with multi-purpose tyres that are designed mainly for daily on-road driving duties but can also cope with general off-road terrain. If you are serious about using your 4×4 car regularly in more challenging off-road environments it’s advisable to fit all-terrain tyres which have a deeper tread to provide greater traction in tricky off-road conditions but are still suitable for everyday road driving.
- Cross water safely
Given the nature of the British climate, heavy and prolonged rainfall can lead to flash floods and therefore submerged roads. The beauty of a 4×4 car is that in most cases, when driven correctly, crossing an expanse of water that reaches no higher than the vehicles axles should not present a problem. The key is to maintain a speed through the water in low-range first gear that is just fast enough to create a bow-wave in front of the car. This minimise the possibility of flooding the engine. Once clear of the water the car’s brakes should be applied a few times to ensure that they are dry. In situations where the depth of water or the condition of the terrain beneath it cannot be judged a crossing should not be attempted. Heavy, fast flowing water should also be avoided as it is possible that the car could be washed away.
- Driving a 4×4 car in snow and ice
Whilst a 4×4 car has advantages over a regular car in snowy and icy conditions, the biggest mistake a driver can make is to become overconfident about the car’s capabilities. Engaging the 4-wheel drive will certainly increase traction and keep the car going but it will not improve grip. Low revs, minimal braking, maintaining a good safe distance from the vehicle in front and driving slowly are all standard practice for snow and ice driving and it may help, if possible, to drive in the wheel ruts of a previous vehicle. However, even in a 4×4 car the safest precaution if you’re intending to drive in snow and ice is to invest in a set of winter tyres or at least snow-chains.
- Thumbs up!
Off-road driving in your 4×4 car can be an exhilarating pastime, but be aware that depending on the terrain the steering wheel may take on a life of its own. If you’re driving at speed and snag a rock or hit a rut on one side of the vehicle the steering wheel is apt to turn quickly and without warning. If you want to avoid mangling your thumbs it’s best to keep them off the wheel (i.e. raised, so that only the fingers are holding the wheel) when driving in these kinds of conditions.
- Don’t wallow in the mud
Muddy fields are a fact of life for agricultural workers and off-roaders and knowing how to take your 4×4 car across a muddy field without getting stuck can save a lot of hassle. Try to build up some speed before hitting the mud; you’re going to slow down naturally once you’re in it. In a high gear, try to maintain your speed and drive in a straight line. As soon as you encounter any slip or wheel spin lower your speed slightly. If traction is lost entirely, try quickly turning the steering wheel back and forth a short way whilst simultaneously pressing the accelerator. If all else fails you should ensure that your 4×4 car is equipped with a stout tow-rope at all times.
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