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Simple Tips for 4WDs

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by Anne Dignam (subscribe)
I am a amateur freelance writer from Sydney. My passion is Aboriginal history, Australia and its unusual places. My aim is to share my knowledge to better your experience. Thank you
Published March 3rd 2014
Know your 4WD
Got a four wheel drive and don't know how to utilise it to its capacity?

courtesty of Misty Mts 4WD Tours

Many people today are buying vehicles with higher clearance - all wheel drives, Rav4's, Honda CRV's - that don't have low gear. These vehicles run in 2WD or high range. However many are unaware how to use a 4WD to its full ability.

Four wheel drive in simple terms means that at some stage all four wheels are able to turn at some point for traction benefits, and clearance height is also of great importance to 4WDrivers.

One of the older Toyota model 4WDs courtesy of wikipedia

Some tips for new buyers

Firstly and foremost, be aware if your vehicle is AWD or 4WD. There is a difference. 4WD has a second gear stick which is smaller and has high range 4 for faster speeds with added traction and high range 2 for lesser speeds but not hard 4WDriving. High range is often used ascending hills and driving on sand and on some dirt roads.

When driving on a dirt road or unsealed road, you don't have to always engage 4WD and 4WD should never be used for highway speeds. Low range or low gear is mainly used for more control of the vehicle, for example, if you are descending a steep gradient or hill then you would use Low 4 or Low Low 4.

If buying a second hand 4WD, check the nuts and bolts at the lowest point around the springs. If they are gouged the vehicle has been off road.

Second gear stick lever for 4WD courtesy of wikipedia

Make sure you are aware what side your diff is on (that is the lowest point under the vehicle this is important for clearance on rocks). Once you have purchased your four wheel drive, please change the hooks over. The hooks supplied on front and rear are for tie down reasons, not for towing or snatching. Centre difflocks are great but beware you can get wind up in rear axles if not used correctly, this will stop your vehicle from moving until you jack it up and allow the wheels to correct themselves.

Diff of a 4WD courtesy of wikipedia

Tyre choice is important. Many like off road tyres (tyres that have a chunky tread). Off road tyres are noisy and will wear out a lot more quickly on bitumen roads than an all terrain tyre. I have been a tyre fitter and have seen the wear and tear on tyres over the years. I would suggest an all terrain unless you want to change from highway to off road tyres every time you wish to go off road.

All terrain tyre courtesy of wikipedia

My strongest suggestion is to run the tyre pressures for a smaller 4WD, like Suzuki at 32 psi (pounds per square inch) and larger models Landcruisers and Nissan Patrol between 34 and 36psi, depending on what weight you are carrying. Inside your drivers door will be a compliance plate that will show your vehicles recommended tyre pressure.

Tyre compliance plate found under the bonnet or inside the drivers door courtesy of

Off road, tyre companies will strongly suggest leaving your pressures where they are. Because I've been offroading since 1983, I will say otherwise. Drop your tyres on Landcruisers no more than 25-28psi and no more than 18-22psi on smaller vehicles. Each vehicle is different and a portable air compressor is advisable to be an addition in your tool kit. Each vehicle should be able to have a small baggy look in the tyre, allowing it to roll over sharp rocks instead of piercing the tyre, and sometimes in sand you may have to drop them a little further. Please be careful; if you drop your pressure too low the tyre can roll of the rim, doing permanent damage to your tyre.

All tyres should be re inflated to original psi pressure before travelling back on bitumen roads, or at a slower speed until you reach a service station.

Snatch n strap courtesy of

Each vehicle should have a snatch 'n' strap, D bolt, and hooks front and back. A bullbar is advisable and possible extras are to change the springs, readjust sway bars (as they can be damaged off road) and sometimes put a sensible height lift kit on your vehicle (which adds clearance), full tool kit for repairs, and preferably install a CB.

[ADVERT]There are a few general rules of 4WDriving. Respect the environment, stay on the track where possible, and do not drive over new saplings. If you go through a gate and its closed, the last vehicle should also shut the gate. Many gates stop the landowner losing cattle, and you don't want an unhappy landowner tracking you down, with a shotgun (because some will). It's the law of the land, respect and leave the area as you found it.

If there is rubbish along the track, pick it up even if its not yours. The main rule is don't be a fool and ruin it for everyone else by ripping up a track, because they will close the track very quickly and have done so in the past. If you see a campfire alight and unattended please douse it with soil or water.

During river crossings always keep forward motion otherwise the water will go through the exhaust and you will blow your motor. Never travel alone, because if you get stuck, you need someone to assist in recovery. Check waterholes with a stick for depth and road base stability (I learnt this by sinking my Lada Niva) and have fun exploring our wonderful country.

For sand driving, drop your tyres and approach sand dunes head on. Never approach on an angle as the sand will shift and you will roll. On top of dunes, always stop and make sure the downhill side is driveable, if it isn't, drive the ridge until you find a section. Turn on a 45 degree angle and descend, place a flag on your aerial so others can see you.

Four wheel drive clubs are a great way to meet new friends, learn how to drive your vehicle to its full ability and get off road with other enthusiasts. They hold training days which includes driver training once you have paid your yearly membership.

You are now ready to talk the talk. Ask about modifications - what works, what doesn't - and check your insurance covers you off road on fire trail, because there are many insurance companies that fine line this policy. When in doubt ask a 4WD member, because they are a wealth of self taught information or many have mechanical knowledge or can use bush mechanics to get you home.

Now you have the basics get busy packing and look around. Clubs no longer insist you have that vehicle (Nissan Patrol 4WD Club is where I grew up and we had a Toyota and a Lada). Many lifetime friends can be made and heaps of fun and exciting places will be found. Enjoy your 4WD without putting yourself or your family at risk.

These are great insurers that insure camping gear as well, not just your vehicle. Please be aware not all insurance companies insurer for offroading.

For four wheel drive clubs, ask around. Some off the top clubs, that I personally can recommend are Nissan Patrol 4WD Club, Toyota Club, Range Rover Club, and Suzuki Club. I have been affiliated with all these clubs over the years and think they are a wonderful way to start your four wheeling experience.

This article is written as my personal opinion and experience in the Australian Bush.

Happy and Safe four wheeling everyone, and enjoy the bush for its glory.
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Your Comment
great article for a novice 4wdriver you certainly covered the basics to 4wdriving, thank you maybe now people will understand what their vehicles can do.
by zanes (score: 1|89) 3255 days ago
You didn't elaborate on AWD.
A 4WD doesn't have a centre differential, so no need for a "centre differential lock", but a AWD could be fitted with a "centre differential lock".
Axle differential locks are helpful, but 'recirculating power' or 'binding up' can happen between the front axle and rear axle on a standard 4WD, it is not exclusive with the fitment of a diff lock,
by barnf (score: 0|6) 3254 days ago
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