Off Road Driving – Tips & Techniques

Off Road Driving – Tips & Techniques

Every year, some Australians get into trouble when taking their 4X4 off road.

In the vast majority of such cases, a few basic preparatory steps and precautions would have avoided that.  So, here are a few hopefully helpful hints to at least start you thinking about what’s important. 

In passing, these are aimed at novices in off-roading terms rather than people with extensive experience!

Respect nature

In spite of mass education on the subject, far too many Aussies still fail to grasp how dangerous the outback can be for the unwary.  It’s important to remember that wild nature can be unforgiving if you make mistakes or fail to prepare thoroughly. 

So where possible, before setting off, make sure that you have:

  • spare fuel and plenty of water plus some high-energy foodstuffs;
  • a two-way radio (don’t rely exclusively on your phone);
  • a good quality and up-to-date first aid kit;
  • an air compressor - which might have many uses including inflating your tyres;
  • a decent map which you have familiarised yourself within advance;
  • ajack capable of lifting your vehicle up so you can change the wheel;
  • a tyre repair kit;
  • some rope and steel cable that just might help you in situations where you are stuck – and a winch is also a powerful accessory;
  • a shovel;
  • a fire extinguisher;
  • some navigational aids (which you know how to use).

This isn’t a complete list and depending upon your intended destination, it will be sensible to take the advice of a locally-qualified expert in the countryside concerned.

Take lessons

There are different driving techniques required depending upon the surfaces you encounter.

Sand, mud, rock, expanses of water and inclines, they all demand special techniques. 

A short article like this can’t possibly go into these things in detail and you won’t want to realise that you are short of basic knowledge in a situation where you are in the outback and encountering these things for the first time.  So, be prepared to spend a few dollars and go on an off-road driving course before you start.

Reduce your tyre pressures

The standard recommended pressures for 4X4 driving are usually based upon on-the-road driving environments.

Reducing your pressures by a few psi (just how much depends upon the surfaces you are traversing) can increase your grip and make life a lot more comfortable.

Keep your hands on the outside of the wheel

Hitting a bad bump unexpectedly can send the steering wheel flying with a lot of force.

If you’d like to avoid your thumbs or fingers parting company with your hand joints, it’ll be best to keep them outside of the wheel rather than inside when driving.

Inspect the land rather than take chances

There are two ways you might deal with problem terrain ahead:

  • you’ve seen it coming and planned on the best way to tackle it or;
  • you crash into it and hope for the best.

If you have good visibility ahead and you are sure you can manage what’s coming at you, fine.  If the visibility is restricted or you’re not sure quite what the road ahead entails, get out and inspect it BEFORE driving over/up/down it.

Don’t “give it stick” when your wheels spin or get stuck

As a general rule, stamping down hard on the gas when your vehicle is sticking or the wheels are spinning, often just makes the problem a whole lot worse.

Instead, try rocking the wheel from right to left before re-applying a little gentle acceleration.

Tell people where you are going and track your position

The first of the above recommendations should be common sense, just in case the worst happens and people need to look for you.

The second is important because if you have to call for assistance (it does happen), then it’s going to be twice as traumatic if you haven’t got a clue where you are at the time.  So, make sure you constantly plot where you are on that excellent map and GPS you thought to take with you.


Almost everybody likes the idea of taking their 4X4 through a little bit of deep water but be aware this is one of the scenarios that most commonly causes problems.

If you need to do so, make sure that your vehicle has some form of air intake snorkel fitted. 

Far more important, remember that even with such devices, your vehicle isn’t a submarine.  Before entering a body of water, it is imperative that you are sure you know its depth.  Get out before starting and check it, even if necessary by wading out and using a stick - providing it is safe to do so.

You won’t want to get halfway across and suddenly discover that there is a three metre deep trench in that otherwise gentle-looking creek! 


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