Driving a 4WD vehicle in the city is a vastly different experience compared to driving a standard car. Off-road driving presents a whole new set of challenges that you wouldn’t encounter in your hometown.
For example, crossing rivers, driving on deep sand, tackling steep tracks, or conquering sand dunes are activities that require preparation. Without proper knowledge of 4WDs, you might be in for unpleasant surprises, damage your vehicle, or even get stuck in the middle of nowhere.
If you’ve never driven a 4WD before, you might be surprised by the difference. In our opinion, completing a 4WD training course before heading out on an outback adventure is crucial.
We took a one-day 4WD course before embarking on our 30,000-kilometer trip around Australia to learn all the essentials. This way, we felt more comfortable and confident when tackling different tracks and water crossings.
There are three main reasons why you should consider completing a 4WD training course.
#1 Learn about your 4WD vehicle
4WD vehicles are typically more complex than standard cars, with many devices and enhancements designed to make off-road driving easier.
Some of the systems that may be present in a 4WD vehicle include:
- Differential locks (front and rear): These can help with traction on steep tracks by locking the front or rear differentials.
- Electronic traction control: This system uses sensors to apply individual braking when losing traction, improving stability and control.
- Electronic stability control: Helps to stabilize the vehicle when detecting a momentary loss of control.
- Hill start assist: Prevents the vehicle from rolling back when starting on a hill.
- Hill descent assist: Provides automatic assistance when going down a steep hill on rough terrain.
- Emergency brake control: Allows for immediate, maximum brake force in emergency situations.
- Adjustable suspension: Enables different ride heights or ground clearance.
- Multi-terrain selection: Regulates wheelspin by automatically adjusting the engine throttle and traction control.
During a good 4WD training course, these systems will be covered, and you may even have the opportunity to practice using them. For example, differential locks may be used during ascent exercises.
While new 4WD systems are continually being invented, it’s essential to have a good understanding of the basic systems and techniques before using more advanced ones. Over-reliance on technology without proper understanding could lead to accidents or vehicle damage.
Before booking your 4WD training check what activities and terrains are included in the price.
#2 Understand different terrains
Understanding different terrains is crucial before going off-road. After all, the ability to explore varied and challenging terrain is often the primary reason why people invest in a 4WD vehicle.
Whether you’re traversing through sand dunes, crossing a river, or tackling steep tracks, having a good understanding of the terrain and its unique challenges is essential. Without this knowledge, you may put yourself and your vehicle at risk, leading to damage, getting stuck, or other unpleasant surprises.
Depending on where you live, and your 4WD training course you can learn the following things:
- ascent of a steep hill
- descent of a steep hill
- river drive
- water crossing
- driving on forest tracks
- driving on mud tracks
- driving on water ruts
- driving rocky tracks
- beach driving including deep sand
- negotiate corners and find a right path
Learn about tyre pressure and how to monitor it
Tyre pressure is an important factor to consider when driving off-road, as it can greatly affect your vehicle’s performance and safety. Different surfaces require different tyre pressures to be applied for optimal traction and stability.
At the beginning of a 4WD training course, your instructor should explain the importance of tyre pressure and how to adjust it according to the terrain you will be driving on. For example, driving on soft sand may require lower tyre pressure to increase surface area and prevent sinking, while driving on rocky terrain may require higher pressure to reduce the risk of punctures.
Another important thing to know is that you can constantly monitor tyre pressure in your vehicle while driving by using TPMS (Tyre Pressure Monitoring System)
#3 Understand gear configurations
In a standard 4WD vehicle, there are usually three gear options available:
- 2H: Two-wheel normal drive on bitumen or other flat, stable surfaces.
- 4H: Four-wheel off-road drive on rough, sandy, or rocky surfaces, with a maximum speed of around 80 km/h.
- 4L: Low-range four-wheel off-road drive for more challenging terrain, such as deep sand, mud, steep uphill or downhill sections. The maximum speed in this mode is typically around 50 km/h.
It’s important to understand when to use each gear option, as using the wrong mode can affect your vehicle’s performance. As part of a 4WD training course, you will learn how to select the appropriate gear option for the terrain and driving conditions you encounter.
Typically during a 4WD course, you will be required to use 4L low-range gear most of the time.
#4 Learn about recovery
It’s not uncommon to get stuck during 4WD adventures, so knowing how to perform a safe recovery is essential.
Recovery techniques are a separate topic and 4×4 centers often offer dedicated recovery courses. However, a standard beginner course should include some recovery theory and practice to prepare you for common situations you may encounter off-road. This could include topics such as selecting recovery points, using recovery straps and winches, and safely extracting a stuck vehicle.
By understanding these principles and practicing recovery techniques, you can minimize the risk of injury or damage to your vehicle during a recovery operation. It’s also important to remember that a safe recovery often requires teamwork and communication, so make sure to work with your fellow adventurers and follow a well-planned recovery strategy.
Before booking a 4WD course, check if basic recovery is included
In our case, we drove through a muddy river and our car got stuck right at the exit. We learned first hand how to safely extract our car and continue on with our journey. Looking back, it was certainly an experience to remember! Experience like this will give you more confidence with your ability when you find yourself in the tricky situation.
#5 Learn your 4WD capabilities
Completing a 4WD training allows you to learn about your vehicle as well as various driving techniques that you may not have known before.
While some activities may come easy to you and you feel confident in performing them correctly, others may be more challenging, and you may decide that they are not for you.
There is nothing wrong with avoiding situations that you are not comfortable with. For instance, you may feel confident driving on rocky surfaces during ascent and descent, but you may not be comfortable with navigating through slippery mud, which can be very challenging.
After all, safety is the most important – for you and your vehicle.
What did we learn during our 4WD course?
Our 4WD course was very hands-on, and we covered a wide range of terrain types throughout the entire day of training.
Ascend the hill
Ascending the hill was only the first part of the challenge. The more challenging part was to reverse from the stop position using only the 4L low-range gear. This required a different approach and a good understanding of how to control the vehicle at low speeds. It was essential to use the clutch and accelerator together to prevent stalling the engine or spinning the wheels.
Additionally, it was important to maintain control of the vehicle while reversing downhill, especially on a steep and uneven surface. The instructor provided guidance and feedback on how to execute this maneuver safely and smoothly, which helped build our confidence and skill level.
Descend the hill
Even on a very steep hill, the 4WD system is designed to allow for a slow and controlled descent with minimal braking input from the driver. This is achieved through the use of technologies such as hill descent control and engine braking, which work together to maintain a safe and steady speed on steep and slippery descents.
Driving on mud ruts
When we left the training and hit the bitumen road, I noticed that my steering wheel was shaking uncontrollably. At first, I was puzzled as to what could be causing this issue.
It felt as if the wheel balance was completely off. However, upon further inspection, I realised that a big chunk of mud had become lodged behind the wheel rims. It was quite a task to remove it by hand, as it weighed around 5 kg, but once the mud was removed, the shaking stopped and the vehicle drove smoothly again.
It was a valuable lesson learned about the importance of thoroughly cleaning the wheels after off-roading to prevent any issues on the road.
After driving in mud check if there is nothing stuck behind your rims.
Driving on forest ruts
Navigating through deep ruts can be challenging, and having adequate ground clearance is essential to prevent the vehicle from scraping on the terrain. It’s important to note that every 4WD model has different clearance specifications, so it’s worth checking your vehicle’s manual before attempting any off-road adventures.
When driving through these ruts, it’s helpful to have a partner who can guide you on the safest path to take. Communication can be made easier with the use of UHF radio, allowing for clear instructions on how to navigate through tricky terrain.
Driving on a rocky track
During our 4WD training, we discovered that driving on a very rocky track can be made easier by lowering the tyre pressure to 25 psi or even less. This allows the tyre to conform to the shape of the rocks and provides better grip, making it easier to navigate through the rough terrain.
However, it’s important to note that tyre pressure is highly dependent on the specific terrain and vehicle, so it’s always a good idea to consult with your instructor or do research before making any adjustments.
Driving trough the river
Before attempting to cross a river in your 4WD, it is essential to walk the river first and assess the depth, current and any obstacles that may pose a risk. However, in some parts of Australia, such as the northern regions, it is important to be cautious about saltwater crocodiles that may be present in the water.
If you are not confident about crossing, it is advisable to wait and observe other drivers before attempting it yourself. This way, you can take a break while also learning from other drivers’ experiences and ensuring that the crossing is safe. We call it – ‘It’s time for a cuppa’
Should you complete a 4WD training course?
Absolutely, we highly recommend taking a 4WD training course, especially if you have never driven a 4WD vehicle before. The training will equip you with the necessary skills and knowledge to safely navigate through different terrains and situations.
It’s important to ensure that the provider you choose is registered as an RTO (Registered Training Organisation) that specialises in delivering training in the VET sector. This ensures that you receive high-quality training and service.
If you’ve recently purchased your first 4WD vehicle, taking a training course can give you the confidence to take on new adventures and explore off-road terrain safely.
Have you taken a 4WD training course? Share your experience with us below!
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4WD Equipment Checklist
Tire Repair Kit – to fix the tire by yourself when you don’t have access to the tire shop (we use Oztrail)
UHF Radio – for communication with your mates and in emergency
Full Recovery Kit (with Dampener Blanket) – must-have if you are going on real off-road
High Lift Jack – useful if you do serious 4WD tracks
Shovel – useful if you get bogged, also good for campfire cooking
Fuel funnel with water filter – additional protection when fueling up in dodgy places