4WD top tips and tricks for driving in steep terrain.

(SPONSORED) In Australia, we are blessed with a variety of terrain that offers infinite challenges to 4WD owners and enthusiasts. Driving in steep terrain requires common-sense, traction and the ability to drive as slow as possible but as fast as necessary. And if you’re attempting a section of steep terrain you and your travelling buddies are unfamiliar with, then you need to pay attention to a few things before trying to drive up the hill.

Make sure you look at what you’ll be driving up…

It’s important to park your vehicle and have a good look at the track before attempting to drive up it. It’s a great idea to walk up the track to get a good idea of the ideal line to drive on in your vehicle; considering things like ground clearance and any obstacles that you might need to build up to improve both traction and your 4WD’s approach and departure angles.

Sometimes, when walking a track, you’ll discover that while it looked incredibly gnarly from the bottom, there’s actually an easy way up that will mean you can avoid the worst of the terrain. There’s no point stressing either you or your vehicle unnecessarily.

And, if you’re finding it hard to walk the track, then judge if your 4WD is capable of success, and be honest. If it seems like the climb might be a struggle for both you and machine then you need to find an alternative route. In most cases, there will be a side track somewhere close that offers an easier way up.

So, you’ve walked the track and determined the best path up, this is where the adage of drive as slow as possible but as fast as necessary comes into play. You’ll want to be in low-range but the gear you use will be dependent on the slope and the amount of traction. If you’re driving a Ford Everest 4WD then select low-range and depending on the make-up of the hill, you could also select Rock Mode via the Terrain Management System.

Traction is key…

Depending on the surface you’re driving on you might want to reduce your tyre pressure to lengthen out the tyre, creating a longer contact patch with the ground. And having aired down your tyres will mean they’ll shape around a sharp rock and roll across it rather than risking a puncture. Creating a longer footprint and the ability to deform to suit the terrain will improve your 4WD’s traction no end… it’s worth noting that some 4WD tyres have a stiff sidewall and so won’t bulge out when aired down to the same level as a tyre with a softer sidewall which will balloon out sooner. The aim with airing down is to keep your tyre gripping at its maximum when travelling at slow speeds in reduced traction conditions, but airing down does increase the risk of popping a tyre off the rim. And only air down if you’ve got a compressor onboard and can re-inflate your tyres.

Good momentum and driving carefully will get you to the top… most of the time

When you’re approaching an obstacle on a hill make sure you drive up to it very slowly and then inch your way over it very slowly, listening for any scraping or graunching noises that indicate you might need to build up the obstacle to reduce the pressure and strain on your 4WD.

If driving a high-tech vehicle like the Ford Everest 4WD, you should always choose the most appropriate Terrain Management Setting for the terrain type. If the hill is rocky, then select low-range and Rock Mode. You can also engage the electronic locking rear differential, but never use it when running on either the road or high traction, hard-packed surfaces as this can cause increased tyre wear and damage to the axles. In low-range, the Everest won’t need much throttle input thanks to its Idle Control which allows it to crawl with no throttle application from the driver; only extreme rock climbs require the driver to feather the throttle.

Drive straight up and down

While you should never drive across the face of a hill, there are times when climbing a hill or descending that you’ll come across a ditch and, rather than attacking this straight on and risk hitting the base of the obstacle with your front bumper and then scraping it with the rear bumper, you should angle your vehicle just enough that each wheel is able to independently cross the obstacle. While raising a wheel looks impressive when off-roading, the aim is to keep all wheels on the ground at all times.

When you’re driving down a steep hill…

Make sure you manually select a low gear and engage hill descent control if your 4×4 has this option; you can use the cruise control buttons (+/-)to either speed up or slow down your vehicle. Remember, when hill descent control is active and you’ve set your target speed you shouldn’t touch the pedals; just concentrate on the steering. In the Ford Everest 4WD, hill descent control also works in reverse, so, if you’ve discovered you can’t proceed any further on the hill and need to go back the way you came, then hill descent control can be used in reverse for a controlled descent. Be mindful that you keep the steering straight to avoid swerving and swaying as you reverse down the hill which could cause you to roll your vehicle.


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The team of journalists at Practical Motoring bring decades of automotive and machinery industry experience. From car and motorbike journalists to mechanical expertise, we like to use tools of the trade both behind the computer and in the workshop.

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