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The Manual: Rough Road Driving

Don’t get stuck in the mud. Learn to evaluate road hazards, overcome obstacles, and navigate the unpaved passages between your front door and your next adventure.
rough_road_driving_445x278Illustration by: Supercorn

TACKEL OBSTACLES SAFELY

WATER CROSSINGS
>> Check depth. Walk across a puddle or stream to scout for rocks and assess the depth. If the water is shallower than your tires’ hubs, it’s safe to cross. Any deeper and you may stall or damage the engine.
>> Test the flow. Current too strong to walk across? Don’t drive through it. Tires act like pontoons, and you may float downstream.
>> Cross. Go slow and angle slightly upstream, which helps keep sediment in place and improves traction. Use designated crossings.

STEEPS
>> Assess the angle. A 4WD can handle inclines up 35 degrees on firm surfaces. In AWD vehicles or on loose turf, be cautious. Don’t charge hills; hitting the slope at speed can harm your alignment.
>> Scout the descent. Recon steepness before committing.
>> Go slow. Three to five mph is the sweet spot where you’ll have enough speed so the tires won’t slide, but not so much that a rock could derail the car. Downshift for more control.

BIG BOULDERS
>> Pick a line. Get out of the car and plan your path. Check for rock height, sufficient width, and safe places to stop. If possible, have one passenger get out and direct the driver.
>> Beware of wheel cheat. In turns, a car’s front and back wheels don’t track the same (see left). Compensate by making wide turns. Adjust your mirrors to monitor your rear tires.
>> Use rocks. If two rocks are aligned with your wheel base but are too tall to straddle, drive directly over them to avoid getting hung up (see above). Tip: Build a ramp so the approach angle isn’t so steep that you hit the car’s undercarriage.

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