The Off Road Bible: 50 Valuable Tips For Taking Your Vehicle Off Road!
Off-roading is a remarkable adventure into the outback, or a simple drive to your favorite backcountry picnic spot.
Wherever your wheels take you, there are shortcuts and tips that will make your adventure all the better.
At XPLORE OFFROAD we want you to enjoy every outside moment you can, so we offer you these 50 Off-Road Tips to start your journey.
• Differential or “pumpkin:” this mechanical device differentiates the
power being applied to the wheels/tires by the rotating driveshaft,
and allows the road wheels to travel at different speeds, such as
when going around a turn. Many solid axles 4x4’s have diff’s front
and rear. Some vehicles have independent suspension and do not
• Lockers, or Limited Slip: are terms applied to gears/devices that lock
the spider gears together in the differential, in either full lock
(lockers) or spin reduction lock (limited slip).
• 4 Wheel Drive: a misnomer in most vehicles as only one tire up
front and one tire in the rear have applied power when in 4x4. To
get true 4 wheel drive, you need a locker or limited slip in each axle
to get all four tires/wheels “locked.”
• Rims; Wheels: interchangeable terms for the metal the tire is
mounted on. Off-road applications usually require further
knowledge of backspacing and rim width, as well as lug pattern (the
spacing and configuration of the lug bolts holding the wheel to the
• Sway Bar/Sway Bar Disconnect: is a part of your vehicle’s
suspension that helps reduce the body roll during cornering or over road irregularities. A properly outfitted 4x4 vehicle will have Sway Bar Disconnects that disconnects the sway bar from the axle
allowing the axles to articulate more over the rocks.
• 4-High/4-Low: Properly outfitted 4 wheel drive vehicles have the option of 4-High or 4-Low. 4-High is for driving on terrain where 4 wheel drive will help you (snow, mud, steep dirt, etc.), but you are driving at normal everyday speeds. 4-Low is for going over terrain where the vehicle is required to ”crawl” at incredibly slow speeds for stability and safety.
50 OF OUR MOST VALUABLE TIPS
• Tip # 1: Tell a friend. Prior to venturing off road, be sure to let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. This way, if you have an issue in the back-country, people will know where to start looking for you. Also, be sure not to deviate too far from your route.
• Tip # 2: Take a map. Be sure to have a map and a compass with you and know where you are on the map at all times. Although GPS is a great navigation tool, they will not work if they are damaged, lose satellite signal or lose power. A map and compass will get you home in an emergency.
• Tip # 3: Travel as a team. Don’t go off road alone if you can avoid it. You need a partner not only for spotting your rig, but also for emergencies where one of you may be incapacitated and need help.
• Tip # 4: Leave no rig behind. In convoys/trail rides, stop occasionally to make sure that everyone is still with you, including the “tail gunner”, who is the last driver in the group. Stop at all turns so no one gets lost. Leave no one behind, even when broken down.
• Tip # 5: Have a way to communicate. Many times you will have no cell signal while off-road. Carry a quality CB or, if you are licensed, a Ham Radio. Be familiar with the emergency channels in your area and always know what channel others in your group are on.
• Tip # 6: Water up! Carry plenty of drinking water, as well as some food for your trip into the backcountry. Although you may plan on being back home in a few hours, it is best to be prepared just case something happens and you get stranded. Water could be lifesaving, and food will make you more comfortable if you get stranded in the backcountry.
• Tip # 7: Take a jacket. During cold weather, be sure to have extra clothing and perhaps a sleeping bag and small tent in your vehicle, in case you get stranded in the backcountry. Shelter and protection from hypothermia can mean the difference between life and death.
• Tip # 8: Prepare a “go bag.” Put together a grab bag of critical personal survival gear (maps, water, food, extra clothes, matches, flashlight, signal mirror, whistle, and cell phone) to carry in your vehicle at all times. The “go bag” can be tailored to the season. Make it a habit to grab the bag and put it your rig before you hit the backcountry.
• Tip # 9: Fuel up! Never go off road without a full tank of fuel! Seems obvious, but people run out of gas all of the time. It’s another habit to achieve – fill up before you leave.
• Tip# 10: Check those tires too! When you fill up your fuel tank prior to your adventure, be sure to check the pressure in your tires, including the spare. Nothing worse than finding out that your spare is flat. Carry a tire plug kit for those repairs you can make. Don’t forget to rotate your off-road tires like you do your car tires – makes them last longer and perform better.
• Tip # 11: Take your lug nut lock key. Speaking of spare tires, make sure that you have the key to unlock the spare and whatever lug nut locks you use, as well as a jack and wrench. Believe it or not people forget these items all of the time.
• Tip # 12: Know your limits. Don’t hide from your limitations as a driver when going off road. Do not attempt to go over obstacles that are beyond either your rig or your capabilities. Egos and cheering crowds can be dangerous, so know when to call it quits! Facing up to your limits will make you a better wheeler, and keep you from unnecessarily breaking down.
• Tip # 13: Click it or ticket. Be sure to wear your seat belt or harness at all times. Also, be sure to keep your arms inside of the truck at all times. Seat belts do save lives, on and off road. Train your passengers to not put their limbs/hands outside the rig.
• Tip # 14: Carry Band-Aid’s. Carry enough basic first aid supplies in your vehicle at all times to treat any first responder type injuries. Include wraps, bandages, bee sting stuff, and whatever your area dictates for emergencies. Be able to stop blood flow and keep someone breathing.
• Tip # 15: Know your rig. Learn and know the limitations of your vehicle. Understand the manufacturer’s limitations. Just because it is a 4-wheel drive vehicle, does not mean that is a tank or a submarine! All rigs have limits; test yours and know where they are so you don’t break unnecessarily.
• Tip # 16: Look before you leap. It is a good practice to scout what is on the other side of a steep hill, before driving over the top. Never know what could be there or what may not be there!
• Tip # 17: Talk it up. Install a good CB (and/or HAM) radio.
• Tip # 18: Stay put when stranded. If you break down and are alone, it is best to stay with your rig and wait for help to arrive. If you have an emergency GPS device, you will be found by authorities. If you’ve left proper word with friends of your route, your chances of being found are better if you’re still with your vehicle.
• Tip # 19: Hike out smartly. If you decide to hike out of the backcountry, after becoming stranded, do so only if you are familiar with the area and are in good enough physical condition to make the full journey to safety. Also, stay on established trails and backtrack your route, unless you are certain of where the trail leads. Do not forget your “go bag” with your survival gear.
• Tip # 20: Pick the right speed. The ideal speed for most trails varies, but usually slower is better. Many trails are traveled at less than 15 miles per hour. In addition, it is a good idea to shift into 4-wheel drive and grab the right gear before you need it. Excessive tire slipping in 2-wheel drive can cause trail damage. • Tip # 21: 4 Low and go slow. On many vehicles, 4L will provide engine-braking on steep descents, which will save your brakes, as well as providing better control.
• Tip # 22: Don’t top out. Do not forget to keep the height of your truck or 4x4 in mind when you are driving off road. If you’re on fire roads or trails in forested areas, low hanging.
• Tip # 23: Rock but don’t roll. Be very careful when traversing steep side slopes, as roll overs are possible. If your center of gravity has been modified, you could be “top heavy” and more prone to roll. Rollovers usually hammer vehicles pretty bad and are not good for the occupants either. Use a spotter you can trust when in doubt.
• Tip # 24: Minimize trail impact. It’s all about the conditions of the route that dictate your speed and approach. Slow steady speed is usually the best bet in mud and sand. Remember that it is best to “go as slow as possible, but as fast as necessary.” If you get stuck, you were either driving too slow or too fast!
• Tip # 25: Pick a good line. Try to pick a line (route) and stay with it. Keep looking out ahead of your rig and don’t focus solely on where your tires are, but on where they will be. If you are looking at your tires outside of the driver’s window, all of the time, it is just a matter of time before you lose your good line.
• Tip # 26: Deep water crossings are tricky. When legally crossing deep water, many drivers like to create a small bow wave in front of the vehicle. The wave can displace water in front of the rig, effectively lowering the water level around the engine compartment. To do this, accelerate when you enter the water until a small wave is formed. You want to keep the gentle wave about 3’ in front of the bumper. On the other hand, many water crossings can be done with a very slow approach, with little or no current disturbance.
• Tip # 27: Avoid sucking up water. Try to avoid taking your vehicle into water deeper than the axles, even if equipped with an air intake snorkel. Problems can occur in water deeper than this, as it can enter into the engine compartment and drown your computer. Water sucked up through exhaust such as during engine starting while in the water, can blow your engine.
• Tip # 28: Scout it first. Always scout any where you plan to off road through. You can check out a terrain by using Google maps first so you have a better understanding the route once you get there.
• Tip # 29: Stay out of fast water. Don’t attempt to cross a body of water that has fast moving water or is flooding. You and your vehicle can be swept away by the current.
• Tip # 30: Don’t restart in water. If your rig gets stuck in a body of water, do not cut off the engine and attempt to restart it. You may have difficulty getting it started again, and most likely you’ll suck up water through the exhaust and blow your engine.
• Tip # 31: Use a winch weight. Winch cables can be very dangerous to people when they break. It is a good idea to place a towel, jacket or floor mat on the cable to add “weight” to it. This way if it breaks, it will fall to the ground. Use gloves and eye protection anytime you work around machinery like winches. Keep all bystanders out of harm’s way.
• Tip # 32: Pick a good spotter. A spotter is a great aid to utilize when crossing an obstacle. However, use a single spotter you trust and not a group. Crowds tend to all yell at the same time and coach a driver. But more than one spotter will confuse the driver and inevitably lead to an incident. Pick one good trustworthy spotter and listen to him/ her alone.
• Tip #33: Do a 360 walk around. Whenever you leave the trail and get ready to hit the pavement, give your rig the “360.” Walk around your vehicle and look at tires, hanging parts, brakes, and anything that might make you a safety hazard on the way home.
• Tip # 34: Stay in charge of your rig. Keep in mind that the driver controls the vehicle; the vehicle does not control the driver! Lose sight of this and you are going to be in big trouble. Know what your rig is doing and what you are capable of; keep control.
• Tip # 35: Know your tire direction. When driving in deep ruts, be aware of which way the tires are pointing. Often they are not straight ahead and the driver will be surprised when the front tires grip and try to pull the front end out of the rut. 50 TIPS
• Tip # 36: Don’t spin to win. Try not to let the tires spin, which means that they have lost traction. Ease off the throttle and let the tires regain traction. Don’t bounce your rig either if you want it to get home in one piece.
• Tip # 37: Manual tranny and granny. On manual transmission vehicles, you have to match the amount of throttle to the gear. Don’t over power your chosen gear or you’ll just spin tires like crazy! Granny gear (1st) works well as long as you aren’t pumping up the rpm’s and spinning away your traction.
• Tip # 38: Know what’s hanging low. Remember that while 4x4s and other off road vehicles usually have high ground clearance, there are still critical parts of the vehicle that are low enough to get hung up on obstacles. Critical components like the oil pan, T-case and differential can be easily damaged if banged too hard.
• Tip # 39: Strap it down. Keep your “go bag”, tools and other items adequately secured in the vehicle at all times. Heavy or sharp stuff flying around in the cab while “off-roading” is very dangerous! Use tie downs and ratchet straps to secure loose or dangerous gear that could hit you in the back of the head during an incident or sudden stop.
• Tip # 40: Watch your temp gauge. Monitor your temperature gauge to make sure that you are not overheating. If you see the temperature rising, often turning on the heater will help dissipate the heat. If it continues to rise, stop and check for the source of the overheating. Be sure to let the engine cool off before opening the radiator cap. • Tip # 41: Steer hard in deep mud. If you are stuck in deep mud, accelerate while turning the steering wheel from side to side. Often this is sufficient to gain traction. However, be aware that you may be heading in a new direction. Better yet, use a strap or winch to recover from your stuck.
• Tip # 42: Don’t lose your lead. It is possible to lose tire weights or have them shift when driving off road. Many drivers will make a grease pen mark on the tire where the weights are located on the rim. Then it is easy to determine if they have been lost or have moved, which will save a lot of time trouble shooting the problem if you have a bumpy ride, when you hit the street again. Packed snow in your rims can also change the tire balance dramatically.
• Tip # 43: Listen to the elders. Off-roaders with some gray hair or a few wrinkles, or those that have been around a few trails in their time have tons of advice you can learn from. You might have to learn to sort through the stories, but gain what you can and learn the easy way.
• Tip # 44: Beware of beach driving. If driving on the beach legally, always obey the laws and rules for tidal travel. If rules are not posted, try to stay within 20 feet of the sea and the high tide mark, as this is where the sand will be the firmest. If you stop for lunch or to camp, be aware of the tides! More than a few vehicles have been lost to rising tides!
• Tip # 45: Show a friend. Help keep the sport of four-wheeling alive and well. Introduce someone new to the sport of off road driving. The more responsible people involved the better!
• Tip # 46: Always offer to help. If you see another driver stuck or broken down, stop to offer assistance, even if he already has another driver with them. Otherwise it may be you stranded the next time and he may not stop! Four-wheelers stick together; leave no one stranded.
• Tip # 47: MRE for me. A good food product to keep in your “go bag” is military “meals ready to eat” (MRE). This is what our military members eat when they are deployed in the field. They are not bad and have a long shelf life. 50 TIPS
• Tip # 48: Smell the flowers. Take the time to enjoy the surroundings and being outdoors with your friends. You are in the backcountry in areas that not many people get to see.
Tip # 49: Go slow in snow. Do not forget basic common sense when driving on snowy hard surface roads. Drive at the right speed for the conditions, with good tires, and proper tread pattern (mud and snow where required). If your rig has hubs, put them in before you need them.
• Tip # 50: Keep your traction. Avoid losing traction to get the best performance out of your rig. Often once it is lost it can be very hard to get back! You’ll conquer more obstacles and wheel smoother when you keep your traction
BONUS VEHICLE MAINTENANCE TIPS
• Tip # 51: Gas grades are important. Always use the gasoline octane grade that your vehicle manufacturer recommends. In general, engines run cooler with higher-octane gas, and better on proper octane ratings.
• Tip # 52: Tie in your roll cage. If you install a roll cage to your vehicle, try to tie it into frame or structurally sound locations. If is only bolted to sheet metal on the floor, it is going to more than likely get ripped off your rig or collapse if you roll over.
• Tip # 53: Check your fluids often. It is a good idea to visually inspect all of the fluids in the engine, transmission, differentials and transfer case after returning from an off road trip. In addition to looking at the levels, you are looking for water contamination, which can cause serious and expensive damage. Milky fluid in your differentials means water got in and the lubricant is breaking down.
• Tip # 54: Clean up and touch your rig. When you return from your off road trip, be sure to clean your rig while paying special attention to the under carriage. If you are cleaning it, you are touching it or at least looking at it to see if problems are developing. This makes it much easier to check for damage and any leaking fluids.
• Tip # 55: Don’t be a drip. Keep your vehicle in good condition and free from dripping fluids, as this is bad for the environment. Oil and other fluids on the ground could eventually find their way to the water sources.
• Tip # 56: Don’t ignore your tires. Prior to getting back on a hard surface road, inspect your tires for damage including cuts. Pay particular attention to the sidewalls of the tire, as they can be easily damaged. A tire failure as a result of sidewall damage can be very dangerous, especially if you are driving at a high rate of speed.
• Tip # 57: Use a crescent and a creeper. Get under your rig after every trip with a simple crescent wrench of substantial size, while on a creeper, and check bolts, links, and general tightness of everything. This is an easy inspection. However, if you do find lose parts, use the right tool to repair them.
• Tip # 58: Find the squeaks. If your engine belts are making noise or “squealing”, check to make sure that the belts are tight and the pulleys are not out of alignment. The popular remedies to stop a noisy belt do not address the real problem.
• Tip # 59: Do your maintenance on time. Always follow the maintenance schedule recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer. Never defer maintenance!
• Tip # 60: Don’t crack your lights. Allow headlights to cool off before getting them wet. Often the sudden temperature change can cause the glass to crack.
• Tip # 61: Have back-up GPS. If you are using a GPS, be sure to keep the database up to date. Roads and trails change every year and to be effective and useful, you must update your GPS (usually by linking to your computer to hit the Internet). For off road travel, get a GPS that has maps and trails, not just commercial roads and highways.
• Tip # 62: Soap as a sealer. A trick used to seal a leaking gas tank is to rub a white bar soap across the puncture until it congeals to help seal the hole. Be sure to repair correctly once home.
• Tip # 63: Panty up when needed. If you have a fan belt that breaks, some creative drivers have found that panty hose can be used as a temporary belt. Be sure to repair and replace as soon as possible. 50 TIPS
• Tip # 64: Pepper your eggs. Leaking radiators can ruin a trip. Some drivers use egg whites or pepper to stop small pin-hole leaks in radiators. You can also carry one of the commercially available radiator additives to stop the leak.
• Tip # 65: More panty hose. Panty hose can also be used as an emergency air filter, or as a wrap on your washable filter under really dirty conditions. The object is to always get clean air to your engine.
• Tip # 66: Don’t 4 wheel on pavement. Before getting onto a dry hard surface road, be sure that your 4-wheel drive system is disengaged and that your hubs, if you have them, are out.
• Tip # 67: Get the big pieces off first. If you like your paint job, always hose off the big chunks of mud and dirt before washing it with a rag or a sponge to avoid further scratches. The washing motion will cause the dirt or mud to dig into the paint and clear coat, unless it is removed first with water only. Never leave mud from places like Moab, UT on your rig too long. The paint will suffer. • Tip # 79: Epoxy can save the day. Many drivers carry a stick of epoxy putty (or liquid weld) in their off road tool kit. It comes in handy to repair damaged oil pans and gas tanks that are leaking critical fluids.
• Last Tip!: Have fun, be safe, respect the environment and enjoy every moment on the trails!