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4WD Tyres - Advice for safe driving in a 4WD vehicle
4WD vehicles are designed to drive through obstacles and terrains that conventional (2WD) vehicles cannot manage. Many places in the Australian bush are simply not negotiable without a 4WD however owning a 4WD does not mean that you automatically have the skills to drive it safely.
Driving a 4WD vehicle requires a fair degree of understanding about the mechanics of the transmission and the effects that water and dust (common occurrences on off road tracks) may have upon your safe progress.
Every owner of a 4WD vehicle should check these essential skills and practise them before going off road.
One of the most notorious challenges to outback driving is bulldust. Initial instinct is to treat bulldust as if it is sand, but that can be a fatal mistake.
Never deflate your tyres, for beneath those deep and powder-fine stretches lurks a rock hard base which pounds the chassis on impact and could split the sidewall of a partially inflated tyre. Select high range and maintain a constant speed between 60 and 80km/h, correcting any sideways slews with both the steering wheel and more throttle.
The skill in tackling rocky conditions is to keep the tyres pointed to the high ground at all times. This avoids "high centring" (hanging the vehicle up on diffs, the transmission or bash plates). Torque is more important than power in climbing rocky slopes, so select first or second gear low range to ease the vehicle over any obstacles. Use minimal throttle openings to prevent tyre slip.
Where possible, stick to recommended road tyre pressures, only dropping them when the vehicle is stuck and all other recovery techniques have failed. Though lower pressures maximise the tyre footprint, they also increase the danger of pinching the tyre in a narrow crevice or slashing the sidewall on a tree stake.
The most common "mud negotiation" confronted by the average four-wheel driver is a bog hole on a bush track; usually furrowed with massive wheel ruts and axle-deep pits.
Where possible, place the tyres on high ground to avoid dragging the diffs through the mud, but if you slip off, keep the accelerator down and turn the steering wheel from side to side, enabling the side lugs of the tyres to gain purchase on the side face of the ruts.
Check for build up of mud in the guards. Clogged guards effectively eliminate any tread pattern on the tyres, so clean them out with a shovel where necessary. Getting through mud requires momentum, so as a general rule, high range and a steady throttle are recommended.
On the Beach
Where possible, stay in high range four wheel drive to maintain speed, but if you bog down, go into low range and try again. Everything depends on the conditions. Driving on coarse, hard packed sand can be like rolling along a super highway, but more often, beaches will be windblown, with soft and traction-sapping sand, requiring continual momentum, full throttle and partially deflated tyres.
Absolute minimum pressure 102 - 110 kPa. Dropping pressure "bags" the tyre, creating better floatation through a wider footprint. Re-inflate as soon as possible after leaving the beach. En route to the service station drive at a maximum of 80km/h.
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