The chance to take your Toyota
4x4 off tarmac and explore its capabilities in the rough
stuff is one of the most enjoyable things you can do on
four wheels. But whether you intend to cross a muddy field
or join a major expedition, here are some important ways
to prepare yourself and your vehicle.
Get to know your vehicle
- Before you even
think about going off-road, you must get to know your
vehicle. Learn how your Toyota 4x4 system works, how
to use the controls, where the spare tyre and jack are
located and how to use them.
- You can find much
of this information and maybe even some off-road
driving tips in your vehicles owners
- Get used to driving
your 4x4. You need to get a feel for its size and driving
characteristics. Know where all four corners are and
how tall the vehicle is. Practise using the low ratio
gearbox, and if your vehicle is equipped with manual
locking hubs, try those out too.
- Learn what you
and your vehicle can do but leave your ego at
home. Every vehicle (and driver, for that matter) has
its limitations. Backing off early and accepting that
a manoeuvre is impossible or choosing another approach
may prevent vehicle damage and, more important, personal
injury. Never try a manoeuvre that you are uncomfortable
- Before leaving
civilization, thoroughly check the condition of your
vehicle or you could be looking at a long walk back.
Keep track of maintenance on filters, belts and hoses
and keep all fluids topped up. Make sure your tyres,
including the spare, are in good condition and inflated
properly. Look under your vehicle. Are there any leaks
or mechanical problems? All repairs should be carried
out before leaving home. Ensure you check both the steering
and brake condition.
- Once you return home, service
your 4x4. Fluids and filters need to be changed more
often when you drive on rough terrain. Transmissions,
transfer gearboxes, differentials, hubs and brakes can
be contaminated with mud and water. These parts need
to be cleaned and serviced when used under such conditions.
What to pack
- Be prepared. Sooner or later,
your vehicle may get stuck or have a mechanical failure.
If you pack the basic tools and supplies, you should
be able to get under way again.
- Youll need
a good hydraulic jack, a 60cm square section of 2cm
thick plywood for a jack base, a long-handled shovel,
an axe, two D-ring shackles, a recovery strap, tow hooks
properly mounted to your 4x4, gloves and possibly tyre
- To make field
repairs, you will need a tool kit and some supplies
and spares. Besides the obvious hand tools, pack a torch,
a spark-plug socket, jump leads, tyre pressure gauge,
an air supply (compressor, aerosol "fix-flat"
or foot pump) and a box or canvas bag in which to store
everything. Also bring duct tape and some key spare
- Once all these items are assembled,
think about on-board stowage. Be sure to tie down and
secure the items in the vehicle. Loose tools and spare
parts can quickly become potentially dangerous projectiles
if the vehicle stops suddenly or encounters large bumps
along the track.
- The most experienced 4x4 drivers are
extremely smooth. They are as interested in leaving
minimum impact on the terrain as they are in getting
through it. Off-road driving is a game of finesse.
- An experienced driver treats loose
or wet surfaces as if they were ice. Everything is done
gently. The throttle is applied smoothly and released
slowly. This keeps the tyres from spinning on acceleration
and from lock on deceleration. Steering is very precise,
and the brakes are used as little as possible. The driver
always controls the vehicle; the vehicle should never
control the driver.
- Several techniques will help you stay
in control and conquer terrain with finesse and safety.
Each obstacle along the route should be attempted as
slowly as possible but as fast as necessary.
- Here are driving tips and techniques
to help make your off-road driving fun, safe and rewarding.
- Travel with at least one other vehicle
and stay on established routes. If one 4x4 gets stuck
or disabled, the other can assist. If you go on your
own, take a mobile phone (but remember that mobiles
have limited coverage). And tell someone where you are
going and what route you plan to follow.
- Keep your thumbs on the steering wheel
and out of the spokes. Steering wheel kickback on rough
roads can cause injuries.
- Be prepared by putting your 4x4 into
Diff Lock or four wheel-drive (if part-time) before
you enter a track where you would not drive an ordinary
- Know your vehicles dimensions
height, width, length, approach angle, departure
angle and ramp angle so that you can pass through
tight areas without damage.
- In tight quarters, the driver should
keep his/her side of the vehicle close to obstacles
to judge distances more accurately. However, do not
lean out of your vehicle to continuously watch your
side and forget about the rest of the vehicle.
- Be aware of the surrounding terrain
and changing conditions. Look in all directions and
well in front of the vehicle, so that you know what
- Check water, snow, high grass and mud
crossings for hidden obstacles, such as logs, rocks
- Use a stick to check depth and bottom
conditions of water crossings. Most 4x4s can be driven
in water that is axle deep without taking special precautions.
When the water is deeper, you must know where the engines
air intake and engine computer are located and not allow
water to enter.
- Cross streams only at legitimate fords.
Drive slowly and steadily, creating a small bow wave
in front of the bumper that will reduce the height of
the water behind the bumper and keep the water away
from the air intake and electronics.
- Cross fast-flowing streams at an angle,
driving slightly upstream. This presents a smaller surface
area and lessens the force of the stream on the vehicle.
- Apply your brakes several times after
a water or deep mud cross to dry them out, and be aware
that mud and water will affect their operation.
- Do not cross fast-flowing deep streams.
Your vehicle can be swept away.
- Whenever you encounter a difficult
situation, get out of your vehicle and assess the terrain.
Pick a route or line that will allow the vehicle to
pass with the least difficulty.
- Use someone outside the vehicle to
help negotiate difficult sections. The driver cannot
see under or on the passenger side of the vehicle.
- Use your common sense and do not drive
in conditions that you are uncomfortable with.
- When climbing steep hills, use caution.
Know what is on the other side of a steep climb. Get
out of the vehicle and scout the area.
- If you must park on a hill, remember
to turn off the engine, leave it in gear with a manual
transmission or in park with an automatic and apply
the hand brake. You might additionally wish to place
chocks, rocks or logs under the wheels to provide additional
- When climbing a hill, use as high a
gear as the vehicle will "pull" comfortably.
If the gear selected is too low, you will spin the tyres
and, if it is too high, you will not have enough power
to climb the hill. (The general rule of thumb is 3rd
gear up and 1st gear down with an automatic, 2nd gear
up and 1st gear down with a manual, all in Low Range.
If this doesnt work, try High Range.)
- Line up your vehicle so it has a straight
approach at the hill. If possible, keep the vehicle
parallel with the slope of the hill. This equally distributes
the vehicles weight, providing equal traction
to all four wheels.
- Climb straight up the hill, apply power
at the bottom and ease off the throttle when you go
over the top to keep the vehicle under control.
- Be prepared for a failed climb. Work
out an escape route and know where all of the obstacles
Descending hills on failed climbs
- On manual transmission vehicles, if
the vehicle stalls going up-hill, apply the brake pedal,
engage reverse gear, remove feet from clutch and brake
pedal and turn the key to restart the engine. Then allow
the vehicle to descend back down the hill using only
the engine to keep the descent slow.
- Visibility is limited when breaking
downhill and remember that steering is much quicker
and steering kickback is more violent when reversing.
- Avoid a side-hill situation. Do not
attempt to turn around on a steep hill. The vehicle
Descending hills driving forward
- Before descending a hill, get out of
the vehicle and look over the edge. Avoid surprises
and mentally work out a route. Avoid any hill that you
do not feel comfortable with.
- Make sure your front wheels are centered
(pointing straight ahead) before descending. If they
are turned to the right or left you could roll the vehicle.
- Descent straight down a steep hill.
Use the brakes sparingly, and instead use engine braking
to slow down. Descend all hills in first gear and in
Low Range, and make sure the wheels do not slide.
- Keep the engine running.
- Never roll down a hill with the transmission
in neutral or the clutch depressed.
- Keep your foot away from the clutch
pedal to avoid depressing it accidentally.
- If the wheels start to skid while engine
braking down a steep hill, apply some throttle and steer
in the direction the rear of the vehicle is skidding.
Do it smoothly.
Mud, snow and ice
- When crossing sand, deep hard-packed
snow and marshy terrain, deflate the tyres slightly
to increase a tyres footprint and provide better
traction. Deflated tyres, however, will decrease your
ground clearance, and they are more vulnerable to sidewall
damage. Remember to reinflate the tyres before going
- Snow and ice may require properly fitted
snow chains on all four tyres. Remember that hard snow
crossed in the early morning can be impassable when
soft in the afternoon.
- Use steady momentum to carry you through
deep sand, snow and mud. Do not use a gear that is too
low it will spin tyres more easily than a high
- When wheels start to spin, ease off
the throttle just a bit and allow the tyres to slow
down and regain traction.
- If traction is lost and the vehicle
is barely moving, turn the steering wheel quickly from
side to side in short strokes (only 1/8th turn) to allow
the front tyre walls to find extra grip.
- If muddy conditions force you to drive
in the ruts, know where your front wheels are pointed
at all times. The vehicle will follow the ruts, even
with the wheels turned to the right or left. If you
encounter a dry spot with the wheels turned, the front
wheels can regain traction and suddenly throw the vehicle
out of the ruts, with resultant loss of control and
Rocks, logs and obstacles
- In rough, rocky terrain, drive slowly
and traverse obstacles with care.
- Approach a log, rocky step or ditch
at an angle. This will allow three tyres to push the
vehicle past the obstacle, while one tyre is passing
over or through it.
- Straddle deep ruts with your vehicle.
This will keep the vehicle level and avoid getting stuck
in the rut.
- Drive over large rocks with the
tyres. This will keep the rocks from damaging the vehicle.
Remember, the area between the vehicles wheels
can ground if the rock has a steep approach and departure.
Build a ramp in front of and behind such a rock to avoid
- When travelling in a convoy, keep the
vehicle behind you in sight and wait at intersections.
If anyone has a problem, you will know about it right
away. You are responsible for the vehicle behind you.
- Never follow another vehicle too closely.
A vehicle stops very quickly when it gets stuck, flying
rocks can damage vehicles following too closely, and
you cannot see obstacles or stopped vehicles in dusty
- In dusty conditions, keep windows closed
and use the air conditioner (if fitted) or ventilation
system. This will pressurize the vehicles interior
and keep out dust.
- Never follow a vehicle up or down a
hill until the leading vehicle is off the hill.
- There is always the possibility that
the vehicle in the lead will lose control and roll backwards
into you (or you could roll onto it!).
- Never park at the bottom of a hill
behind a climbing vehicle or in front of a descending
- Never stop on a corner. The vehicles
approaching from the rear will not be able to see you.
- Never leave anyone alone along
Back on the road
- When returning to the road, first disengage
the Diff Lock if applied.
Then stop and take time to check your vehicle for any
- Check for cuts to the tyres, bent steering
rods and debris that might have become lodged in the
underside of the vehicle.
- Check for body damage that will rub
against tyres or be a hazard to others, and remove mud
stuck to wheels (which can cause tyre imbalance).
- Repair damaged parts before driving
at speed and once you return home, remember to service
- Of course, no matter how well you pay
attention to all these tips and techniques, sooner or
later you may get stuck. To find out how to get unstuck,
see the next chapter on Vehicle Recovery Off-Road.