If you’re going four-wheel-driving, you’ll need safety, reliability and performance from your 4WD tyres. BFGoodrich 4WD tyres have more than 20 SCORE Baja 1000 wins and 70 overall four-wheel SCORE Desert Race Titles. So it’s safe to say that we know a little about off-road tyres.

In New Zealand, off-road driving can be fun, but it can also be dangerous due to our country’s unique terrain and extreme weather conditions. We recommend that you understand the basic techniques of off-road driving, or visit a 4WD drive school.

A key to driving on sand is steadily maintaining momentum to give your tyres a chance to roll over the top of the sand rather than dig into it. For softer sand, keep the balance of acceleration and momentum to avoid your tyres digging in. However, not so much power that the wheel-spin you create enables your tyre to dig its own way down.

Avoid any violent or sudden moves or sharp turns on the steering wheel, as the vehicle won’t respond, you’ll just plough ahead like under-steering on a wet road.

A 4WD vehicle is prone to toppling over due to their high centre-of-gravity. It’s recommended that you turn in big wide arcs with plenty of time before reaching the bend or the obstacle. If you’re forging new tracks, you’ll need more power so you’re not getting stuck.

We recommend you carry a tyre pressure gauge and drop your pressures by 5psi until you reach your optimal footprint. We advise not to drop your tyre pressures to under 20psi. By dropping your tyre pressure, you’re increasing the tyre’s footprint on sand. This increases the area of contact between your vehicle and the road.

Avoid driving back to town to reinflate your tyres. If you don’t have an air compressor, drive short distances very slowly to ensure that your tyres don’t overheat. At 20psi you don’t want to be going any faster than 25kmh.

Sand driving tips:

  1. Check tide times and drive at low tide if you’re driving on beaches
  2. Momentum is your best friend on sand
  3. Use a proper tyre gauge and don’t guess your tyre pressures
  4. Deflate your tyres by 5psi at a time to increase your tyre’s footprint until you reach optimal traction
  5. Be smooth in acceleration, steering and braking
  6. If your wheels start to spin, ease off the acceleration a little to let the tyres slow down and regain traction.
  7. Don’t follow other vehicles too closely

Driving up hills and steep terrain is one of the most exciting and dangerous activities you can do in your 4WD, especially on New Zealand’s hilly terrain! However, it can be dangerous as there is a high risk of you rolling your vehicle.

Ascending the hill
Before you rev your engine and charge up the hill, this is a good chance to step outside your vehicle and do some exercise by checking the track in advance to ensure there are no obstacles en route and a clear exit at the top. A surprise cliff at the end makes for a very bad day.
Use a high gear – if the gear is too low you will spin the tyres, if it’s too high you will lose power. We advise you start by selecting 2nd gear, low ratio and use a short run up to gain momentum. Try to gauge your momentum so you climb the hill at a walking pace and no faster. Never change gear or direction once you’ve committed to a hill and be prepared to lose vision as the sky may fill your windscreen on a steep climb – this is why you check beforehand to ensure there’s no surprise cliff at the end.

Ascending hills and steep terrain tips:

  1. Approach the hill straight on so the weight is distributed equally, providing equal traction to all four tyres.
  2. Use the highest gear the vehicle will handle comfortably on the hill. If the gear is too low, you will spin the tyres. If it’s too high, you won’t have enough power.
  3. Always prepare for a failed climb and have an escape plan.

What to do if you don’t make it up?
Don’t fret if you don’t make it up the climb the first time, this happens to both novice and experienced drivers. However, if you don’t make it up the climb, it’s very important to know how to get back down safely. It doesn’t sound hard, but it’s riddled with dangers.

Pitfalls of not making it up the hill
If you’re losing control of your vehicle down a steep gradient and going backwards, your first reaction is to kick the clutch to prevent the engine from stalling – Don’t do this. If you put your foot on the clutch, it means you no longer have forward drive – worst of all – you are helping gravity to roll your vehicle backwards quicker.

Once the backwards rolling has started and if you’re not kicking the clutch, your next automatic reaction is to pump the bakes. On a steep gradient, this also won’t help you. The backwards momentum of your vehicle will send you into a slide, but with no wheel rotation, you’ll lose your ability to steer your vehicle.

I am rolling down a hill backwards and I can’t put my foot on the brake or clutch?
So you’ve reach that moment of truth with the hill you’re trying to conquer and have realised you don’t have enough momentum to take you over the top… Instead of jumping out of your car here’s what you do to get back down.

Stall Recovery Technique (Manual vehicles)

  1. Don’t touch the clutch – this is harder than you think
  2. While you’re going into your engine stall depress the foot brake slowly and smoothly
  3. Pull your hand brake. Now you have three mechanical elements that prevent you from rolling backwards: you’re still in gear, your foot brake and your hand brake
  4. If someone can get out of the car to guide you back down great, but don’t get out of the car as this means you’re releasing the foot brake
  5. Put your foot gently back on the clutch
  6. Shift your vehicle into reverse gear and engage in low range
  7. Slowly take your foot off the clutch
  8. With your foot still on the foot brake , slowly release the hand brake
  9. Carefully and slowly remove your foot brake
  10. With reverse gear engaged and the engine off, you should remain still
  11. Restart your engine with your foot off the clutch to let the car’s engine braking control to assist in your descent

Stall Recovery Technique (Automatic vehicles)

  1. Put your foot on the brake
  2. Pull your hand brake
  3. If you’ve stalled your engine, put the transmission into ‘Park’. Now you have three mechanical elements that prevent you from rolling: Your transmission is still in Drive or Park mode, your foot brake and your hand brake
  4. If someone can get out of the car to guide you back down great, but don’t get out of the car as this means you’re releasing the foot brake
  5. If your engine has stalled then you need to restart it
  6. Shift your transmission into Neutral
  7. Engage in Low Range
  8. Shift your transmission into Reverse
  9. With your foot brake depressed, carefully release the hand brake
  10. Slowly remove the foot brake to start your controlled descent

You should now be on your way back down, but try not to touch the accelerator or brake. If the hill is steep, you may need to tap the brakes gently, but this is risky as you may lock your wheels and trigger a slide. Once you’ve made it back to the bottom, have another go, but try a different tact. If it didn’t work the first time, it probably won’t work again, so try a different route, change your tyre pressure or mule some equipment up the hill on foot.

Tyre pressure for uphill ascend
In your conquest of hills, you’ll need as much traction available to you as possible and to help you achieve this, you may want to reduce your tyre pressure before you start your ascend. There’s no recommended tyre pressure for this, as different terrains will need different tyre pressures, but remember you don’t want to puncture your tyre halfway up the hill, so be conservative with the deflation of your tyres.

Descending steep hills
Going down a steep hill in your 4WD is much easier than going up, for a start you’re facing the right way with better visibility than going uphill and you’ve also got gravity on your side. However, gravity isn’t always a good thing when the gradient is too steep, therefore, like driving uphill retaining traction will be the key to your successful descend.

Driving down steep hill tips

  1. Take a look at the track and walk down beforehand. If you can’t walk down the track, then more than likely you won’t be able to drive down it
  2. Have a contingency, if you’re in your vehicle and lose control or it gets too steep for your liking, you’re going to need a back-up plan before your descend. Just remember this may mean reversing up a steep hill, so choose your descend carefully!
  3. Tyre pressure, like going uphill you’re going to need as much traction as possible. There’s no optimal tyre pressure for this, as different pressures will apply to different terrains so deflate your tyres conservatively
  4. Decide on the best path for your vehicle to descend, usually an existing path that someone else has used is a good start
  5. Use a low range gear, if you don’t your car will run away
  6. Use first gear – a combination of low range and first gear will help your car’s engine brake control your descend down

I am not going to make it down safely what do I do?
If you’ve decided it’s no longer safe to keep going down the hill, then you’re going to need to come to a safe stop and reverse back up. Supposing that you’ve taken the correct precautions, you shouldn’t be going that fast.

Recovering from a descend down steep terrain

  1. Apply the foot brake gently and smoothly, don’t slam the brakes as it puts you at risk of locking the wheels and losing control
  2. Once you’ve come to a stop, pull your hand brake and put your vehicle in reverse
  3. Reverse back up the way you’ve come

According to the experts this is the most difficult exercise in four-wheel-driving. Our first recommendation on this subject is quite simple – avoid it at all costs. However, if you do decide you need to traverse across a steep slope or hill then you should do it as slowly as possible.

  1. Make sure your tyres are well inflated (inflate to on-road pressures). If they’re not inflated they’ll come off the rim
  2. Put your car in low range first gear without the differential lock
  3. Drive as slow as possible across the slope. If you feel your car starting to slide, turn your steering wheel immediately in the direction of the slope

Caution: Remember your 4WD vehicle has a high centre of gravity. Driving across steep hills sideways dramatically increases your chance of losing traction. If you lose traction, you’ll slide sideways and probably roll your vehicle. So please avoid driving across slopes as much as possible.

Having the proper mud tyres is vital in this application. The idea is to get the full weight of your vehicle to push the tyres through the mud to grip the ground underneath.

Tyre pressure
There’s no optimal tyre pressure for this, as every situation and terrain will require a different pressure. But remember if the pressure is too low, you’ll spread the weight of the vehicle too much. Therefore, not getting maximum traction. If the pressure if too high, you won’t get the required grip to traverse through the mud. A general rule of thumb is to not go below 20psi and not travel faster than 20kmh.

Mud driving tips:

  • Ensure you have a winch on your vehicle in case you get stuck
  • Check your route first and see how deep the mud is – ruts deeper than the clearance under your vehicle’s axles will get you stuck
  • Approach the mud in 4WD and low gear and remember to build some momentum and prepare for the sudden deceleration upon contact with water and mud
  • Maintain steady pace the whole way through and keep to the high points of the track if possible
  • If you’re stuck, rock the vehicle by alternating between first and reverse gears gently, or spin the wheels a little to clean the tyre tread to restore traction
  • If in doubt reverse out before it’s too late

The modifications you’ve made – or going to make – to your vehicle is very important in conquering this type of terrain. Good ground clearance is what allows rocks, logs etc to pass underneath your vehicle without breaking its components. While good suspensions are what keep your tyres in contact with the ground.

Rocks, logs and ditches driving tips:

  1. Approach obstacles at an angle, so that only one tyre engages, leaving the other three tyres for traction
  2. To protect the underside of your vehicle, drive over an obstacle by placing one tyre on it, then gently driving over it

*Note: If the obstacle is too severe, it can cause the vehicle to become cross-axled. This means the diagonally opposite wheels will come clear off the ground resulting in no drive.

4WD vehicles can frequently tackle water. Some are able to go deeper than others due to installation of snorkels. However, this depends on the water you’re crossing as well as the current and flow.

Water should never be driven through fast. Maintaining a steady speed that creates a gentle ‘bow wave’ at the front of your vehicle will be the key.

When your crossing has completed, drive a short distance with your foot slightly on the brake to restore braking efficiency.



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