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The Complete Guide to Off Road Driving. Chapter 3

Started by Freeman, April 03, 2003, 12:20:02 pm

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The Complete Guide to Off Road Driving


The previous article explained some of the fundamental principles of how a four wheeled vehicle manages to provide drive to each wheel (most of the time) and is still able to go round corners. Before we embark on the vast subject of preparing and getting the best out of your vehicle, it is worth considering what type of off-road vehicle could best suit your needs.

It would be easy to fill a book on the subject of choosing an effective vehicle to tackle the rigours of off-road driving. The only certainty is that the choice isn't easy. There are too many variables to enable snap decisions or take advice from barroom 'experts'. Factors such as how many people the vehicle needs to carry, how many miles are you likely to cover in a year, and the terrain you will mainly use the vehicle on are all considerations that need careful thought. Of course, there is also the minor matter of available budget to be factored into the equation too.

Tough Decisions.

If you are looking for a vehicle that will be used solely as a recreational vehicle for weekend green-laning trips you won't necessarily need to be faced with laying out large amounts of your hard-earned cash to get something that is both reliable and effective. If this description fits your circumstances then you could do a lot worse than considering one of the smaller 4x4's such as a Suzuki SJ or a Daihatsu Fourtrack. These can be bought in reasonable condition for just a few hundred pounds. They are also reasonably economical to run. Down here in the South West of England these smaller vehicles are very popular, for good reason. The very narrow lanes mean that a 'conventional' off-roader such as the larger Japanese vehicles or Land Rovers are simply excluded from many lanes, and a large percentage would incur major panel damage. For this type of use, a Suzuki simply can't be bettered, and to see one in action on these restricted routes is very impressive and makes even a Land Rover 90 look clumsy. The lighter weight of these vehicles such as a Fiat Panda 4x4 can embarrass a Land Rover on some steeper muddy slopes too.


If your off-roader is needed to provide a dual role and be used as year round family transport then you will definitely be looking at spending much more money. Vehicles such as Series Land Rovers can be bought for a few hundred pounds but they are not really feasible regular transport and will be expensive to feed if you are covering anything like average mileage. A Land Rover 90 or 110 would be fairly high on the shortlist for a UK driver; in other parts of the world it could be a Toyota Land Cruiser or a Mitsubishi Pajero or Jeep. This type of vehicle doesn't only bring the obvious benefits of added comfort and performance but in most cases they are even more capable off road. There is no doubt that the added suppleness provided by coil springs enables the wheels to stay where they need to be to provide traction when the going gets tough, on the ground!

Modern high-speed diesels finally solved the conundrum of combining performance with economy, a major consideration for use in any European country.

If funds allow, any of the range of vehicles that includes Land Rover Defender, Discovery, Isuzu Trooper, Jeep Cherokee, Toyota Land Cruiser, Nissan Patrols, Mitsubishi Pajero (Shogun in the UK), Mercedes G Wagon, will combine practicality for family use, reliability, good spares availability, reasonable on-road performance, excellent off-road performance even in standard form and good fuel economy.

Part-Time Work.

There are subtle differences in the way that the four-wheel drive systems operate on different makes of vehicle. Generally speaking everything except Land Rover Defenders, Discoveries, Freelanders and Range Rovers are 'part-time' four- wheel drive. In most cases this means that there are two transmission control levers, one of these is for the four or five main gears, the second is used to select low range (4L), whilst simultaneously engaging drive to the front axle. Low range cannot be selected with two-wheel drive. Other vehicles, when in high range on the road (2H) can bring the front axle into play with a switch on the dashboard (4H). This is the same basic system found on early Land Rovers up until the introduction of the Range Rover in 1970, except that the yellow-topped lever brings the front axle into play in high range instead of a switch.

As we mentioned in the previous article Land Rovers are different in that the Centre Differential Lock in the transfer gearbox is switchable. That is to say that both the front and rear axle can be driven on the road without transmission wind-up. This is true for both low and high range. This can be especially useful when manoeuvring trailers on tarmac.

Ultimately, once you have considered all the practical aspects of which 4x4 to buy, you will also probably be led to some extent by the heart, and unless your choice is totally impractical why not go for it. The important point is to ensure that the particular example you buy is sound and reliable. How do you determine that?


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