Off-roading hints
Never go off-roading alone. At least two to three cars should be together since there is safety in numbers

In the last few years there has been a spurt of sales in the Sports Utility Segmant (SUV) segment. Sadly, few realised the full potential of these vehicles. It was the macho image they projected that was good for sales.

There is a lot to an SUV. It has a 4-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, has high-ground clearance. It has a powerful engine. It is a go-anywhere vehicle. And that dawned on a whole lot of SUV owners. Many off-road clubs sprung up . The SUV can take you into jungles, riverbeds, high mountain passes covered with snow. Off-road driving is the most demanding of all driving conditions. It is dangerous, risky and accident prone.

Never go off-roading alone. At least two to three cars should be together. You should carry tow ropes or straps, sand channels, a high-lift jack and an air pump. Sometimes, in deep sand, you have to reduce tyre pressure to 10-12 p.s.i. The pump will be required to bring the tyre pressure back to normal.

A winch is an essential equipment for off-roading
A winch is an essential equipment for off-roading

Most important; read your manual. Can you shift on the fly? Which means ó how do you engage 4x4 ? What is the fording depth of your vehicle ? Fit a snorkel on your diesel-engine SUV.

When you cross a body of water, a bow-wave is created in front of the car as it pushes the water out of the way. The fan will suck water into the engine compartment. To prevent this, open the bonnet, put a black plastic sheet across the front, close the bonnet, it will hold the plastic sheet in place, and prevent water from entering the engine compartment. Remove it as you come out of the water or the engine could heat up.

If the engine stalls while crossing, get a tow out. Do not attempt to re-start the engine. As you come out, pump your brakes to dry them. Wet brakes, even discs, can be ineffective. If going uphill, tackle it straight on, or at a slight angle. Too steep an angle diagonally can cause the vehicle to roll over. If the vehicle refuses to climb, roll back slowly, go back a distance, build up momentum and try again. Donít over accelerate, it causes wheel spin and that means getting stuck.

While going downhill, select your route visually, use engine to brake. Sometimes, visibility can be bad, use your co-driver as a spotter and he can guide you down. If the car skids and the tail-end swings out, drive into the skid. It will help bring the car under control.

Most SUVs have a ground clearance of about 200mm, enough to straddle most obstacles. However, boulders can do incredible damage to the underbody. An underbody protection plate or skid plate is a great help. While in rocky or gravel conditions take special care of tyres. Radial tyres do not have strong side walls. Scraping against rocks can damage the tyres. Here again, a spotter co-driver should be your eyes. Driving through slushy mud is challenging. If you follow tracks, your wheels may dig in and this leaves the car resting on itís under body, wheels in the air. Zero traction. A tow-out is the only solution.

A winch is a very essential equipment of off-roading. Its expensive but it adds a whole new dimension of fun and games to this exciting sport.

Happy Motoring.