With basic 4×4 training and minimal off-road driving experience, a novice 4×4 driver can take on a range of adventures. However, there is always much more to learn, particularly about vehicle recovery and how to read the conditions you might encounter when heading further off the beaten track. After completing a basic 4×4 training course, Lizaan Snyman decided it was time to raise her skill levels with the Advanced 4×4 and Recovery course offered by the Toyota Gazoo Racing Driving Academy.
Advanced training courses build on the foundations you have learned in a typical Level 1 training course, so the theory repeats the basics of 4×4 vehicle technology and safe off-road practice, but adds more layers to cover a wider range of situations. On the practical side, the instructors take you through a more challenging range of driving experiences.
Some of the things I learned:
- Brush up on the basics: Before heading off-road, you need to make sure you know and understand your vehicle and are familiar with all the features that play a role off-road. This information is in the vehicle’s manual. You need to know how to switch on and off the various systems you might use (4×4 high- and low-range, diff lock/s, traction control, etc), and you should also have an understanding of where the vulnerable parts are underneath the vehicle, how to place the vehicle on obstacles, and what the limits of the approach and departure angles are. (For more on the basics, check this link: https://4x4afrika.com/2021/08/19/know-the-basics-of-4x4ing/).
- Recovery techniques: When taking on an adventure, it is always said that it is not a mater of ‘if’ you are going to get stuck, but ‘when’. You should be familiar with at least two recovery techniques that will help you get out of trouble, whether you have got stuck in sand, mud, water or cannot scale a rocky obstacle. When the vehicle has run out of traction, you need to be able to decide on the best technique for the situation. This is why these courses exist: you learn by doing, and recovery practice is the best way to get familiar with what works. Remember, it is vital to always travel with a 4×4 buddy who is experienced with recoveries, and can help you get back on track. You might be able to simply use recovery tracks, you might have to jack up the car and place rocks or branches under the wheels, or you might need another vehicle to help with a snatch or towing recovery. Whatever the case, your most basic recovery tool is often simply a spade, used to clear a path ahead of the wheels – among a variety of other uses. Bear in mind that certain recovery techniques are highly effective but can be extremely dangerous, even life-threatening if not done right. Also, make sure you have bought quality recovery equipment that is rated for double your vehicle’s weight.
- Tyre sense: Tyres are an often overlooked aspect of 4x4ing. These are your contact patches with the ground, and the primary means for getting traction. Reducing the pressure in the tyres lengthens their footprint, and is the first step when trying to get through soft sand, for example. They must, however, be inflated to the correct pressure when speeds increase, or the tyre will be damaged. Note that off-road vehicles are often heavily loaded, so you need a tyre that can take the weight. Plus, when driving off-road, there is always the potential for sidewall damage from exposed roots, rocks and a myriad other hazards. If you are heading out into the wilds, your highway-oriented standard tyre might not be up to the task. You should choose a sturdy all-terrain tyre with tough sidewalls and more prominent lugs to improve traction. Every day on the trail, it is also vital to check tyre pressures and inspect each tyre for damage.
- Make safety a priority: Taking care of a few basic safety precautions is the best way to enjoy a trip into the bundu. Be sure all your equipment is properly tied down, inside and out. Use straps and regularly check everything is still in place, as bumps and sudden stops will otherwise have your heavy items dangerously flying about inside the vehicle, or shaking off the roof rack. People also need to be kept securely in their seats, so insist that everyone wears a seatbelt at all times. Also, keep the windows closed when driving through dense bush, and also when driving in very dusty conditions.
Situations can change fast, and emergencies can crop up in seconds when travelling, so while your basic and advanced 4×4 training course will provide a good foundation, they cannot cover every possible scenario. Proceed with caution, be aware of the situation, and build up your store of experience with every adventure.
*Toyota Gazoo Racing Driving Academy offers eight challenging training courses to choose from, of which three specifically focus on off-road training (namely, Gravel/dirt road training, Advanced 4×4 and Recovery, and On-road/off-road driving for both 4×2 and 4×4). Visit https://www.toyota.co.za/explore-toyota/beyond-toyota/tgr-driving-academy or contact them via 060 985 5519 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to book your spot.
*Read more on Lizaan Snyman’s experience and what she learned during her Advanced 4×4 and Recovery course provided by Toyota Gazoo Racing Driving Academy in Issue 14.