The thrill, excitement and sense of freedom that comes with 4WDing adventures is intoxicating. It’s what makes 4WDing so irresistible to adventure seekers across Australia and around the world. As 4WD enthusiasts, we love to get others behind the wheel enjoying this amazing country of ours in the safest way possible. That’s why we’ve put together a list of four-wheel driving tips to help beginners build skill and confidence. Read on for our 4WD tips and basic off-road driving skills every 4WDing enthusiast should have.
4WD Tip #1: Plan your route
Exploring uncharted terrain is best left to the experts. If you’re just getting started, do some groundwork and plan your route before setting off. With pre-existing knowledge of water crossings, gnarly dropouts and other challenges, you’re significantly increasing your chances of success.
4WD Tip #2: Know your tow limits
One of the most basic 4×4 driving techniques is knowing your vehicles limits. If you’re planning to tow an off-road caravan or trailer, it’s important to understand your vehicle’s capabilities and adhere to local limits and legislation.
4WD Tip #3: Carry recovery gear
There’s nothing worse than spinning your wheels into sand or coming to a standstill in deep mud only to realise you’re not travelling with recovery gear. A recent incident in a West Australian national park proves just how life-threatening it can be to overlook essentials like recovery tracks, snatch kits and tow straps.
4WD Tip #4: Travel with a first aid kit
From fractured fingers to snake bites, you never know when you could run into an emergency on a 4WD trip. With this in mind, the beefier your first aid kit, the better. Travelling with an emergency locator beacon can also save lives.
4WD Tip #5: Don’t be intimidated
It’s easy to feel out of your depth when the new 70 Series Land Cruiser or high spec Jeep Grand Cherokee cruise past. The good news is, four-wheel drivers are generally an incredibly friendly and enthusiastic bunch, who are more than happy to share their knowledge, exchange banter and help out in sticky situations.
4WD Tip #6: Sign up for a 4WD course
Run across Australia, 4WD intro courses are a great way to gain confidence and experience on the track. They usually run over the course of a weekend and teach key skills. These start from the basics like how to work 4-wheel drive, then progress to tackling tough terrain, recovering from a stall and crossing obstacles.
4WD Tip #7: Avoid precarious water crossings
Water crossings are one of the most dangerous obstacles you’ll encounter while 4WDing. While shallow streams and creeks are okay, fast-flowing rivers can severely damage your engine. In a worst-case scenario, they can sweep your car away entirely.
4WD Tip #8: Be crocodile conscious
Queensland and the Northern Territory are both prime 4WDing destinations, with routes like the Old Telegraph Track, Frenchman’s Track and Pascoe River Crossing gaining cult status. While spectacular, tracks in these regions can come with toothy surprises. Yes, we’re talking crocs. Always take precautions in croc country and never cross on foot unless the water is crystalline with good upstream and downstream visibility.
4WD Tip #9: Keep it cool
Every experienced 4WDing enthusiast knows to let their ride cool down before making a splash in icy-cold water. If you’ve clocked up a few hours on the track before reaching a water crossing, it’s best to enjoy a break on the bank and let your axles cool down before taking the plunge.
4WD Tip #10: Drop tyre pressure in sand
This is one of the oldest four-wheel driving tips in the book. Dropping your tyre pressure before driving on sand can make a huge difference to your traction. Deflating to 16psi increases surface area and keeps tyres rolling on soft sand. Of course, this means you’ll need to travel with a portable air compressor.
4WD Tip #11: Avoid driving at dusk and dawn
If possible, avoid driving technical tracks at dusk and dawn. The light is gorgeous, but it can be difficult to spot obstacles and gauge things like depth and angles.
4WD Tip #12: Invest in 4WD-friendly storage
From tents and sleeping mats to fishing gear and recovery kits, 4WDing is a gear-heavy hobby. Sure, you could throw everything in your tray or boot, but clever storage solutions can save you time and headaches. Are your storage boxes strong and secure enough for your upcoming trip? Check out our Australian-made Expedition134 heavy duty storage boxes, which are weatherproof, lockable and can handle the toughest conditions.
4WD Tip #13: Go with the flow
Rocky trails can ramp up steering feedback. While it’s critical to stay in control, minor movements shouldn’t be met with too much resistance. Instead, keep your vehicle moving forwards with a series of gentle right and left turns to stay on track without losing control.
4WD Tip #14: Travel in a group
When you embark on a 4WDing trip with friends, you’re seriously ramping up your safety and increasing your chances of a successful recovery in a sticky situation. We guarantee you’ll also learn some more 4WD tips from your fellow travellers. Or be able to share some of your own.
4WD Tip #15: Mind the gap
Two seconds of stopping distance between your vehicle and the one in front is standard when driving on sealed roads in good conditions. However, this distance changes depending on the conditions and road surface. You need to double this to four seconds when driving on sealed roads in wet conditions. You should also maintain more than four seconds of distance when driving on gravel or dirt roads in good conditions. This distance is also necessary for the best-possible visibility on dirt or gravel roads and to avoid stray stones flicking up and hitting your vehicle. It also stops your vehicle from sucking so much dust in the air intake.
4WD Tip #16: Roof rack storage safety
Roof rack storage is an excellent way to carry enough supplies for a long 4WDing holiday. However, you must make sure that you don’t overload your roof rack. Often, experienced 4WDing enthusiasts will store their bulkier, but lighter items on the roof rack, while the heavier items go into the back of the 4WD. Heavier items have a higher chance of falling off if you have to brake suddenly or make a sharp turn. Weight on your roof also affects your vehicle’s centre of gravity and handling, so you’ll need to make adjustments while driving depending on how much weight you’re carrying.
4WD Tip #17: Don’t overload your vehicle
When packing your 4WD before a big trip, it’s important to not overload your vehicle. You need to pay attention to your vehicle’s GVM and GCM. The GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) is the total mass your 4WD can carry on its own wheels. The GCM (Gross Combination Mass) is the total mass of your 4WD plus its trailer and both loads. Your 4WD’s GVM and GCM can usually be found on the weight placard, which is typically stuck on the inside of the driver’s door. You need to make sure you do not exceed either of these weights. Doing so can result in some serious vehicle damage. Avoiding an excess GVM and GCM is actually one of the mean reasons we designed our Expedition134 4WDing storage boxes to be ultra lightweight, yet still tough as nails.
4WD Tip #18: Always carry a UHF radio in your vehicle
Sure, we might be in the age of smartphones and nationwide 4G, but you’ll be surprised just how crucial a UHF radio can be in emergencies and general day-to-day touring. A UHF radio allows you to easily communicate with other vehicles on the road and learn about any hazards up ahead. It’s also a lifesaver in untimely breakdowns where there’s no phone service. Trust us, UHF radios get a lot of use out on those dusty outback roads. For instance, drivers will often contact other drivers before overtaking if visibility is low and the vehicle in front is towing a caravan or trailer.
4WD Tip #19: Secure your loads properly
Speaking of items falling from your 4WD, it’s important to ensure all your loads are secured properly to your vehicle or trailer. We recommend using durable straps that can either attach to tie-down points on your storage boxes or be stretched over your gear to secure it in place. Make sure you attach your straps or ties to a solid anchor, such as the 4WD’s roof bar. Do not attach them to a flimsy piece of plastic or anything that could come loose. If you’re using some of our Expedition134 storage boxes, we highly recommend investing in the Expedition Quick Release Straps, which have been designed exclusively for the Expedition134’s unique tie-down points.