Everyone needs to start somewhere and for me the first foray into off-road driving was a vital lesson in the importance of proper training in both 4×4 systems and driving techniques.
ON A TRIP up the coast of NSW in a Range Rover Sport I passed a vehicle accessible beach and, having only seen the promotional videos and advertisements from Land Rover assumed that the vehicle could be driven straight from the freeway and onto the beach.
I selected the ‘Sand driving mode’ on the terrain control system and off I went. Initially things progressed well and the thrill of off-road driving hit me, I loved it. In this state of freedom and enjoyment I decided it would be a good idea to stop for a photo. Wary of the waterline I drove up into the softer, dry sand and used the brakes to come to a stop parallel to the shoreline.
Photos taken, I jumped back in and went to head off, only I couldn’t go anywhere and the wheels began to spin. Not a worry, I thought, I’ll just try going back and forth to rock the car out of the hole I was now beginning to dig. Although this didn’t work I kept at it until the Rangie was bogged up to the chassis rails, and definitely wasn’t going anywhere.
Jumping out of the car I realised the full situation and while in the midst of thinking of how to extricate myself a local passing by in a Ford Ranger stopped to help. First question – Have you let the tyres down? – err…no. Do you have any recovery gear? – err… no. Fortunately for me the rescuer spared me any lecture or finger wagging and set right the mess I’d got myself into. He grabbed a long handle shovel and began to dig out the car while using a set of tyre deflators to reduce the pressure in the tyres. The digging and deflating complete, a snatch strap was then used to gently tug the Rangie out of the one foot deep holes I’d managed to make. After a number of thanks and my ego thoroughly in check, I jumped back in the car and drove straight off without a further drama.
With the ego bruising complete I vowed to actually learn a thing or two about off-road driving and consumed as many helpful YouTube videos (eg Ronny Dahl), internet articles (eg Practical Motoring 4×4) and books (John Basham’s 4wd Survival Guide). However I also realised that learning the theory can only take you so far and I decided to join a 4×4 club that had a nationally accredited training program. I found this multi day program to be an incredibly fun and rewarding experience that helped me gain confidence in both my ability and that of the vehicle.
Had I known what I do now, I would have done the following differently:
1. Reduced the tyre pressures
2. Carried appropriate recovery gear such as recovery boards and a snatch strap
3. Let the vehicle come to a rolling stop rather than using the brakes and causing the car to ‘dig in’ with sand built up in front of the tyres
4. Stopped with the vehicle facing downhill towards the waterline to have gravity assist
5. Once the vehicle started to spin wheels with no forward momentum to stop and avoid digging further into the sand
Subsequent to this incident I took the Range Rover for a trip to Fraser Island and with my newly gained knowledge managed to drive all over the island, including passing the infamous Inskip Point without even getting close to being stuck. This proved to me that it was not the Range Rover that lacked the capability, just the driver.
Most people would be surprised at just how capable 4x4s are, however this capability isn’t just at the press of a button. A basic understanding of driving techniques and your vehicle itself can be the difference between being stuck in the middle of nowhere or causing vehicle damage and an enjoyable off road experience. I have found that the best and most thorough way to get this understanding is through properly qualified practical driver training programmes.
This story was the winning entry for our Getabout Training course competition! Well done Daniel, and you get training to the value of $400!
A very well written story that makes numerous good points! One other tip for modern Land Rovers is to use the command select transmission to select gears, and to switch stability control right off, although sand mode does de-sensitise it. It is also wise to take a shovel, a flat plat for the jack, and a set of four traction boards. Also, try to come to a halt in a straight line and on the flat, preferably also downhill.
Read more about sand driving: