Experience is what you acquire just after you need it… what sort of driver training do you need?

WE SHOULD BE grateful to the pioneers of any sport, because they made all the mistakes that we can now avoid. Learning by trial and error is, at best, time consuming, at worst, costly, or even fatal.

Nobody is born knowing how to drive (although some blokes may think different), and no driver knows instinctively how to drive off-road. In fact, some skills acquired on the road, on the racetrack or behind the wheel of a truck might be the complete opposite of what works off-road, so there’s some unlearning to be done.

Let’s take a few examples. On roadcars you’d have been taught to use the brakes, not the gears for slowing down. Off-road, you descend steep slopes in a low gear, using the engine to brake as far as possible.  Sportcar drivers are taught to grip the wheel at opposite spokes, 9-to-3, fix their hands, and sit as low as possible. Off-road drivers use the 9-3 grip, but will push-pull the steering wheel at low speeds, and sit as high as possible for better visibility. And nothing in previous driving experience prepares you for the need to drop tyre pressures to about half of what you’d normally run.

The list goes on, and then there are all the controls for the car – low range, different automatic transmission modes, potentially different modes like Rock, Mud, Sand, traction control and stability control, maybe adjustable suspension, limited-slip differentials or locking differentials. When to use which, why and how?

This is why you need offroad driver training, regardless of your other driving background. It’s informative, fun and could save you a lot of money and time in the future.

Training types compared:

There are lots of training courses available, so here’s a buyer’s guide:

Club training – pretty much every 4×4 club runs training courses for members, sometimes for free, other times for low cost. These are often very good value for money as there’s few of the commercial overheads, the trainer may well be very familiar with your vehicle and will be a recreational offroader who knows what’s what. Some club trainers are professionals working in the industry. Usually only available at weekends, and no national standards certificates. Clubs are generally a very good way to start out offroading in general, even if you later leave because you’re not really a club person.

Commercial corporate training – if you drive a 4×4 for business, then as part of OH&S you’ll need training to the national standards. That’s what this is. Unfortunately, the national standards don’t really reflect what offroaders need to know, and many providers do the bare minimum required for people to pass which gives them the tick but little actual skill. Look for the trainers that go the extra mile, cover the curriculum but also equip the trainees with what truly useful skills.

Commercial recreational training – via specialised driver training companies, offered to the public recreational users. There are two broad types here; specialists and generalists. The generalists might offer a range of training from racetrack to defensive driving, and do offroad as a sideline. Some of these outfits are very good, largely depending on the specific trainer, and others lack the in-depth experience required to really train offroading properly. The specialist offroad trainers probably come from a recreational background and would live, eat, breath 4×4. How to tell the difference? Ask the trainers when last they had to recover a vehicle or when they last led a trip.

How to choose

If you need a box ticked for a certificate look for someone that does that. Some of that training will be very good, some not so good. If you’re more after skills improvement rather than a certificate start to ask around, and ask the trainers about their involvement in offroading other than training. Ask about advanced courses, and their support from the aftermarket. If you get the impression that the trainers do more in the offroad scene that just train, and they are happy to provide references, then give them a shot.


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