How to be a good student at an offroad driver training event
Quality offroad driver training is perhaps the best investment a novice driver can make.
WE HAVE COVERED what to look for in an offroad driver training course, but no matter how good the training you, the student, needs to do their part to get the most from your time and money.
Get a good night’s sleep, even if you travel the night before so you’re close to the course location. Pay attention to the pre-reqs; most of the time you’ll need outdoor clothing, sometimes your own food. I have had students turn up hungover, wearing office clothes, and with small children when we said not to bring any as they distract.
Prepare your car
Clean your car out. Ensure the instructor can sit in the passenger seat. Get it serviced beforehand so there will be no issues mechanically. Remove the towbar and put the pin back so you have a recovery point. Pay attention to the pre-reqs; do you need to remove the sidesteps, or have a working winch?
Know your car
In theory, the driver trainer should be a expert on your car. However, that’s not always the case. When training instructors I’ve seen them not notice a Jeep had air suspension and complain it was low. Also seen an instructor struggle on a hill because he didn’t realise that the Prado he was in didn’t automatically lock its centre diff in low range, and another one on the dunes take a full half day to realise the vehicle had a Sand mode.
You can help by carefully reading your owner’s manual, and if your car has a detailed review on this website then we will have covered what the vehicle can do. You don’t need to be an expert, but a bit of “what about…?” doesn’t hurt.
Even if the instructor is an expert on your car, a bit of prep on your part will help a great deal with the training.
If you’re read this far you probably aren’t the sort to not listen, but I’ll say it anyway. Pay attention to what the instructor is saying, and the questions from other students.
Some of what you’ll be taught will contradict your existing knowledge. Lowering tyre pressures, holding the steering wheel strangely…by all means ask why, but accept that every type of driving is different to the next and what’s right for say truck driving or race driving isn’t right for offroading. I once had a truck driver flat-out refuse to try key starting on the basis he wouldn’t do it in his b-double.
Be clear about what you want
You can turn up and just see what happens, but if you have specific questions or trips then make that clear. For example, you might be looking at a Simpson run, or lots of weekends in the High Country. The instructor should ask, but regardless, make it clear what you need.
If at any stage you’re not clear or want more information, ask. Sometimes the instructor will have no clue and dance around the question, but try anyway. A good instructor will know the answer, or take you aside later when they have time to explain. Please do pick a suitable time to ask, and good instructors will make such breaks available at regular intervals.
Don’t try to impress
If you want to impress then follow instructions and drive smoothly and carefully, and learn. There are no talent scouts at 4X4 training venues.
When we review 4X4s on this site we spend a lot of time watching them being driven. You learn at least as much that way as driving yourself. In the same way, as a student you will learn a lot from watching other cars – how easily they get over an obstacle, how they work, and how effective the other drivers’ techniques are, or are not.
Get the most out of the obstacles
There will be several driving exercises. The objective of each one is to learn, not to get over the obstacle in the minimum time or maximum speed. If that means going slower, or trying with and without traction aids then do it. In the same way that racetrack driver training focuses on technique which then delivers faster laptimes, offroad driver training focuses on general learnings which deliver better drivers. If that means deliberately driving different lines or with locking differentials unlocked then so be it…learn as best you can.
A good course will allow you several attempts at the same course so you can compare different techniques and vehicle configurations, for example third gear up a hill rather than second, crossing a ditch at a 10 degree angle and then a 40 degree angle, engaging the rear locker or leaving it out.
Ask for feedback on yourself and your car. What generally should the instructor recommend you do or stop doing, any comments on your car for your intended purpose?
This guide might seem a bit heavy, but it in practice it’s easy to follow and means you just have more fun in the day and get more from it. Offroad driver training is rewarding and enjoyable..as thousands of students can attest!