With a few guidelines and some good old-fashioned common sense, almost anyone can drive off-road in a Jeep® 4x4. Simply click on an item in the table of contents for a few of the basics. And be sure to get those thumbs up!
Always check your vehicle before going off-road. Make sure your battery is fastened, all hoses are in good condition and oil and fluids are topped off, including fuel. Also be sure that all four tires are in good condition and have the proper tire pressure. Avoid travelling alone, especially into unfamiliar territory.
Once off-road, put your vehicle in 4WD whenever you anticipate a situation that will demand the additional traction. It's difficult to engage 4WD after you get stuck. You'll also want to get into the habit of looking over your hood, scanning left to right so you can clearly see what you're approaching on the trail. If you're just watching the left tire, there's a good chance you'll get the right tire in trouble. Avoid putting your head outside the vehicle to see what's coming (that's what Wrangler's folding windshield is for). Also, many trail masters recommend keeping your thumbs up and out of the way of the steering wheel spokes in rough terrain. For example, if your tire suddenly falls off a rock, your steering wheel could quickly rotate and catch your thumb with a spoke — ouch! Generally, vehicles with power steering, like all Jeep® vehicles, lessen the chance of sudden steering wheel rotation.
Speed and power are not required in rough off-road driving. In low-range 4WD, the low gearing and low speed of Jeep® vehicles at idle will generally pull you over obstacles. In many cases, with manual transmissions, letting the clutch out slowly and allowing the vehicle to crawl over obstacles in the lowest gear is the best scenario. As a matter of fact, on the Rubicon Trail, the average speed is a mere 1-5 miles per hour.
Generally, when snow or mud is present on the driving surface, it is the right time to engage your on-demand or part-time 4WD system. If you have an all-time system like Quadra-Trac I®, there is no input required from you. In heavy snow, when pulling a load, or for additional control at slower speeds, shift the transmission to a low gear and shift the transfer case to 4WD-LOW if necessary (Quadra-Trac I and Quadra-Trac® SRT® do not offer a low range). Don't shift to a lower gear than necessary to maintain momentum. Over-revving the engine can spin the wheels and traction will be lost. If you begin to lose traction in snow or mud, turn your steering wheel back and forth rapidly. This will generally help the wheels bite into fresh terrain and pull you through. If traction is lost, STOP. Wheel spinning will just dig you in deeper. The key is to maintain forward momentum.
For better traction in sand, drop air pressure 10-12 pounds below normal pressure on conventional tires. (Return to normal pressure after use in these conditions.) Try high-range 4WD to maintain forward momentum. Depending on the condition of the sand, low-range 4WD and alternative gear selections may be necessary. Also try to make wider turns if at all possible. Tight turning slows the vehicle abruptly and can get you stuck. Again, maintaining forward momentum is key.
When climbing hills ALWAYS go straight up or down. It's also smart to know what's on the other side before going up. At the base of the hill you should apply more power. Ease up on the power as you approach the top and before going over the crest. If you stall on the ascent, back straight down the hill in reverse. For downhill travel, always use the lowest gear with a manual transmission. When descending a hill in low-range, do not disengage the clutch and allow the vehicle to coast. Severe damage to your clutch disc may result. Allow the gears and engine compression to slow you down, using the brakes only to fine-tune your speed. If equipped with an automatic transmission, use low-range and the lowest drive setting. NOTE: NEVER drive up a hill at an angle. If the hill is very steep and you don't feel confident that you or your vehicle can make it up, don't attempt it. Never get sideways on a steep slope as this can lead to vehicle instability. Off-roading can be very challenging. Remember, go as slow as possible. Use common sense with safety being the foremost concern.
We call it "crawling" for a reason. Use a low gear and low-range 4WD and just let the vehicle crawl and idle (with as little throttle as needed) when going over obstacles like rocks or logs. Never straddle rocks. A vehicle with 10 inches of ground clearance will not go over a 12-inch rock! Maneuver the tire on top of the rocks and crawl over them slowly. If you hear scraping, don't panic. Your Jeep® 4x4's skid plates and rock rails (this equipment varies depending on what Jeep® 4x4 and packages have been purchased or leased) will take the brunt of the beating. Dropping tire pressure 3-5 pounds improves traction and helps avoid tire punctures. (Return to normal pressure after use in these conditions.) Remember, the ideal speed for rock crawling is 1-3 miles per hour.
Leave it better than you found it. Observe posted signs and stay on trails and recreation areas approved for off-roading. Use your good judgment in protecting the beauty and solitude of the area. Don't leave anything behind and, better yet, pick up and remove any trash that others have discarded. And if the terrain looks especially fragile, take an alternate route. For more information on how to Tread Lightly, click here treadlightly.org. Leave it better than you found it.