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A guide to Off-Road Competition

Towns, Trains and Trails of Nevada.

Towns, Trains and Trails of Nevada 2004

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Sponsors: West Coast British 

Here at "ORE" we are here for you. Our Off-Road Driver Training classes are designed to instill confidence in your driving abilities, let you experience your vehicle in varied conditions, learn its abilities and disabilities. Family fun and adventure is more than possible with your 4wd. Scratches? Body Damage? I don’t think so! We are well aquatinted with today’s 4wd suv’s and their purchase price, hence the whole reason behind the class. We are here to teach you how to do it correctly and with confidence. There’s no reason to damage your vehicle. As with anything you do, practice makes perfect. To begin, one must always start at the beginning... "ORE" policy is; all participants must complete the Beginners course, "a guide to off-road driving". This policy has proved itself many times over, from the novice first-timer, to those who call themselves "veteran off-roaders". Any number of times per season we are asked to make acceptation to this policy, we’ve yet to budge, and for good reason. Making the Beginner class mandatory we are able to meet all participants under the same sort of conditions, thus enabling our instructors to get to know you, what you want from the class, your abilities and those of your vehicle (like people, most 4wd’s aren’t alike). Some tell us they are not beginners... by days end (beginners class) these same people are singing a different tune, the "veterans" telling us they learned things they didn’t know, whether about their vehicle, its abilities, or their abilities. Did they enjoy their day? You bet! Since we began operation, we are pleased to say that we have had not one complaint, all responses have been positive. Ranger, Forest Service, Fire Fighter & Search-Rescue classes available (with certificate).

Above: "ORE" instructor Bret Morshead discusses the finer points of approach and departure angles, as well as break-over (shown here). Why don’t you join us for a day of fun and adventure?

Off-Road Driving Tips

During every "ORE" Beginner class we have a short period set aside for what we call "classroom time", it is during this period that we discuss, among others things, the off-road driving tips listed here. These "tips" are proven material, and used by a number of companies throughout the world, including numerous 4WD manufacturers. Since you’ve read our web pages thus far, you must be ready to sign up for one of our classes, right? Hey, we even teach Camel Trophy participants and hopeful’s alike! How about you? Maybe you’ve read about "ORE" in one of a number of publications or saw us on KCRA-TV3. Yes?

1) Read your owners manual thoroughly before going off-road, or on road for that matter. Learn your vehicle.

2) Never go out alone as a short trip could be costly. Venturing off the highway alone is never suggested.  One canít foresee everything that could go wrong. Being prepared yourself, having your vehicle prepared and maintained to a reasonable degree will help counter some problems, but not all. A thought: You're ten miles off the main paved road, your 4WD quits, you have an accident, or someone is injured; Now what?

Taking along another car is a smart thing to do, chances are both cars wonít quit while out. The second car could surely tow out the first, or go for help if necessary.

Remember the western bound pioneers? Do you have any idea as to how long it took them to cover ten miles on foot? How about the hardships involved? Lack of water? Lack of shelter? Poor clothing? Have you thought of these things? NO? Just think, what if... Your cell-phone doesnít work, no one in sight, do you sit tight? Walk out? Something to consider, isnít it? Okay, so you walk, do you have the right shoes? Clothing for when it gets cold at night? Water? Well? Lots of questions, but few answers. Bottom line is: Are you prepared to walk out?  Read "Travel Kit".

3) Always make sure your vehicle is prepared before departing. Read "Preparing & Maintaining".

4) Adopt a relaxed and upright driving position with a loose grip on the steering wheel, taking note to keep your thumbs out of the center section of the wheel, thus avoiding broken thumbs from steering wheel kick-back. This is a common problem on vehicles not equipped with power assisted steering.

5) Contact between your right foot and the gearbox tunnel will help increase throttle control. The use of a "dead-pedal" on the left is also helpful. DO NOT use the clutch pedal as a "dead -pedal". Once the clutch is engaged (out), keep your foot clear.

6) Know your minimum ground clearance.
On vehicles equipped with "live" axles (fixed), the minimum ground clearance is the lowest point of the axle housing, normally the differential. This minimum clearance always remains the same as the axle goes up/down with the wheels. To obtain your minimum clearance, measure from the differential housing (its lowest point) to the ground, there it is, your minimum ground clearance. The minimum won’t change, though maximum can when a wheel climbs up.


The "Live" axle always maintains its minimum ground clearance (arrows left).

6A) On vehicles fitted with independent suspension however, the front wheels are attached to the A-arms which go up/down independently from each other, at the same time the center portion of the chassis/suspension goes up/down as well, though the exact opposite of the wheels. Type of terrain, as well as braking can effect your ground clearance dramatically; when the front wheels are bottomed on their suspension points (up in the fenders as far as they can go), your chassis and front suspension pivot points are now very vulnerable to damage as they come closer to the obstacle. It is a proven fact, that for heavy duty off-road work vehicles fitted with "live" axles are preferred.

As you can see from above, the ground clearance varies as the suspension moves up/down. Left: In its unloaded position you could have 8" (example), while Right: In its bottomed position it could reduce to half. Always be aware of vehicle ground clearance and obstacles.

7) Suspension & Wheel Travel.
Since the time man first developed wheeled vehicles his thought must have been on smoothing the ride. Leaf springs have been around since what must be the beginning of time. Horse drawn wagons, buggies and the famed stage coaches had leaf springs. The leaf spring has two advantages over any other form of suspension, in that a) it’s cheap to produce, and b) they will carry heavy loads. A number of today’s 4wds are still built with leaf springs (on a HD pickup its understandable), while others have gone the Coil spring route. Coil springs do allow heavy carrying capacities to an extent while offering a smoother ride and better wheel travel/articulation (movement up/down & angle of axle). Other manufactures have sought to create car like rides on their 4WD vehicles by fitting independent front suspension, either torsion bar or coil sprung, though neither of which is in its element when off-road. The best set up? Coil sprung/Live axles; this set up offers smooth ride with extreme rates of wheel travel (wheel movement up/down) and is still cost effective to build. Independent front suspension, as described in #6A, is expensive, car like, and offers little to the off-roader, as it can be damaged easier than a live axle, has more pieces to maintain/damage, and can not offer the wheel travel and stability when off-road.

8) Know your "Approach angle", "Break-over" and "Departure angle" (Below). Knowing these figures (i.e.: Clearance), you’ll be able to negotiate obstacles much easier without damage to your vehicle. Interested in learning what these figures are on your vehicle? Try a long broom stick. Placing it under the edge of the tire, then lifting up until it makes contact with the body, you now have some idea of your angles. When off-road, drive up to your obstacle slowly, then stop get out and look to check clearances upon approach. When clearing the obstacle, be careful to "walk" the rear wheels off, remembering always that most 4WD vehicles have some sort of overhang beyond the rear axle (when "walking" your 4x4, the use of brakes, a spotter and your own sight will enable you to creep the rear wheels off the obstacle). Damage will result if care is not taken. As far as break-over is concerned, also know as "high-centered", this too will take a keen eye, the assistance of a spotter, and practice.

9) Know your vehicles height and width. Think about parking garages and parking spaces, will your 4WD clear the obstructions within the structure? Now apply the same to overhanging trees, narrow washes and rocks. Easy really.

10) Check the area(s) in which you plan to travel off-road. Ask locals about conditions. Purchase and review local maps. And... When in doubt, get out and take a brief walk to review the terrain ahead. This walk could save hours of digging and/or winching, or the anguish of having your new 4WD damaged.

11) Be aware of changing weather conditions, the last thing you want is to get caught on the desert floor. When in doubt head for high ground (when heavy rains come in), and get out of the washes or off the desert floors. Beware of fast running water... if you can’t swim it, don’t drive into it. Many vehicles have been lost in rough weather and water. Beware!

12) Know your Four-wheel-drive system. Unlike days gone by, the systems of today vary in their modes of operations and capabilities. Review your owners manual or talk with an expert concerning your vehicle make. Don’t assume anything.

13) Engage Low-Range before you need it. Choose the correct gear for the situation, see #12. Note: On vehicles fitted with a manual center "Diff-Lock", this should be disengaged once traction has been regained. However, Low-Range should be kept engaged until clear of the hazardous area(s). FYI: This center differential-lock is just that, a lock, locking the front & rear drive outputs of the transfercase together. When unlocked (disengaged) it will prevent "axle windup" with in the drivetrain. Vehicles fitted with a standard High-Low/2wd-4wd system have no center-differential, and when engaged in 4WD for long periods they will induce axle windup. You may notice that in tight turns while in 4WD that the front wheels will seem to hop and buck, this is the windup trying to escape from the system. Don’t be alarmed.

14) Before entering a difficult section, make your choice of gear selection. Remember that you should ALWAYS use lst gear (First, Low-Range) on down-hills for maximum engine braking effect, and keep the use of brakes to an absolute minimum, the use of which could cause sliding and loss of control. To correct a sliding vehicle, turn into the slide and apply some throttle, you will now have to straighten the steering wheel and let off the throttle. Gear selection for up-hill use depends on the make of vehicle, though 2nd or 3rd would be a good place to start. Choosing too high a gear can lug or stall an engine, keep you eye on the tach. Using steady rev’s of 1800-2200 rpm is a good starting point.

15) If conditions are soft (marshy ground, sand, etc.) it may be advisable to lower tire pressures. This helps improve traction, and will reduce sinking. Tires will have to be re-inflated for road use.

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