Know the basics of 4x4ing

As a 4×4 novice, you might be itching to take your four-wheel drive vehicle off-road. However, with a lack of experience and limited knowledge on what you will need, what your vehicle is capable of, or even how some of the vehicle’s features work, it can be daunting. Lizaan Snyman, a 4×4 novice, recently went for her Level 1 4×4 training course provided by Ford Adventure Club to find out just what you need to know before tackling the bundu.

Off-road driving can be a fun adrenaline-filled adventure leading you to some scenic remote destinations – it is what overlanders live for! However, one mistake can lead to you getting stuck, damaging your vehicle or worse. So as a novice adventurer, it was important for me to get to grips with 4×4 and off-road driving – and what better place to gain this knowledge than with the Ford Adventure Club? I completed the introductory Level 1 4×4 training course, which covers the theory behind 4×4 technology you will use off-road and a lot of practical driving experience where you implement what you learned under the supervision of expert 4×4 instructors.

Some of the basics I learned during the training include:

  • Before you even think about heading off-road, you need to make sure you know and understand your vehicle and all its features that play a role off-road. You can find most to all of the information in the vehicle’s manual. A few things you need to focus on is the break-over angle, departure angle, approach angle, ground clearance, wading depth and how to switch the various off-road system you are going to need on and off.
  • It is important to place your thumbs outside the steering wheel, especially when driving over any large ruts or potholes, as the wheel could suddenly turn. If you leave your thumbs on the inside of the steering wheel, this may result in your thumb being bruised or even dislocated.
  • When off-roading, you will find numerous obstacles you need to conquer to continue your travels. A lot of off-road driving is based around correctly identifying your environment and setting yourself and your vehicle up correctly for the obstacle or terrain. If you’re unsure about an obstacle, get out of your vehicle and walk the obstacle to identify the best route. After walking the obstacle, you can also use a spotter (a fellow adventurer) to help guide you on difficult terrain as they can see and prevent damage to your vehicle. You must also realise that not all obstacles can be conquered; sometimes, you need to turn back.
  • Momentum plays a key role in driving off-road, but people often confuse momentum and speed. Ideally, you want to maintain your speed throughout the obstacle, as altering your speed often leads to loss of momentum, traction and control. However, when off-roading, you need to drive as slow as possible as it will give you more time to navigate issues that unexpectedly pop up and limit damage to your vehicle, but you still need to go fast enough so you can maintain momentum throughout the obstacle.
  • Then a few things that might seem a bit obvious. Engage four-wheel drive as soon as you make your way off-road, even if it is just flat, loose gravel roads as it is safer, and you will have more traction. Also, make sure to engage your vehicle’s off-road aids, such as Hill Descent Control, before you enter your obstacle. After you conquered the obstacle, make sure to turn the aid you are no longer using off.

Although reading and watching YouTube videos can help you understand some basics of off-roading, your vehicle and its various off-road features, it can lack some valuable information, and it does not give you the practical experience. So it is a good idea to go for some basic 4×4 training as it will help you acquire the necessary knowledge about your vehicle’s modern technology and the skills to become comfortable and confident with the capabilities of your vehicle.

* Ford Motor Company South Africa has included a free Level 1 4×4 course as part of Ranger, Everest and Raptor purchase. The free course is valid for 12 months from the date of purchase. Check it out on or mail them on for more info.

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