Tackling The Off-Road

The long holiday season is almost here. Many Kenyans will be travelling upcountry to visit their relatives while experiencing a calm and composed scenery away from the noisy and brisling cities. There is a higher chance that the rural home many will visit will lack proper road infrastructure such as tarmac. For the lucky few who own SUVs this will not be a major problem. However, most of Kenyan SUVs owner drive them on properly constructed tarmac roads all round. Many would never bother ‘playing’ with the 4WD switch or gear. Leaving it in auto is all they will do. Hence, when they visit the upcountry most of them cannot use the 4WD systems to their advantage. The following will help you know the terms used in off-roading and which gear you will need when tackling different road surfaces across Kenya.

Terms used in 4×4

4×4 High (4H) – All-purpose four wheel drive mode used in most cases. As opposed to 2 wheel drive, all four wheels are engaged and powered by the power train. “High” refers to the gear ratio, meaning that the gear ratio is unchanged from the ratio used in 2 wheel drive.

4×4 Low (4L) – Four wheel drive mode where a lower gear ratio is engaged, thus delivering higher torque to the wheels and lowering maximum speed. 4L is useful in slower off road situations, rock crawling, and for getting unstuck when things get slippery.

Locking Differential – Also known as “diff lock,” this refers to the speed at which the wheels turn. In most standard 4×4 modes, the wheels spin at different speeds to compensate for loose or uneven terrain. When the differential is locked, all wheels move at the same speed. The diff lock is advanced off-roading tool especially when getting unstuck.

Approach Angle – This is the maximum incline angle that a car can climb or descend without any part of the body or suspension making contact with the driving surface.

Driving tips and tricks

Off-road – When off-roading, one has to tackle each particular surface with precision and style using the following tips:

Driving on the rough road (such as gravel, dry dirt or grasslands) is the simplest and safest form of off-roading. If you are new to off-roading, make sure you are comfortable with the level of difficulty. Don’t attempt any steep climbs or descents or water crossings of any type, particularly if the off road machine also serves as your everyday car.

Mud or shallow water

The tendency with driving in the mud is to floor it, spin the tyres, and maybe slide the vehicle around a bit. While this is certainly fun, it is also risky business. Once your vehicle starts sliding, it won’t stop until it wants to, and you have forfeited all control. Many of the same principles apply to mud driving as sand driving. Maintain momentum if possible. If you feel you are getting stuck, quickly and repetitively turn the wheel left and right. Most importantly, if you do get stuck, the last things you want to do is to dig yourself in deeper, so avoid the tendency to floor it and spin the tyres. First, get out and look at what you have gotten yourself into. Try rocking the vehicle back and forth by shifting from reverse to drive, at very low RPMs if you think it is escapable. If not, you may need to call for a tow.


Since traction is not easily acquired on sand, you will need to deflate the air pressure in their tyres down to between 15 and 20psi, allowing the tyre tread to spread more and grip more surfaces (remember to immediately air back up to recommended levels before driving on pavement). Momentum is key when travelling on loose terrain such as sand, so be sure that if you are driving through soft sand, you do not slow down unless absolutely necessary. If you feel the vehicle digging in or getting stuck while moving, turn the wheel left and right repetitively to allow the tyres to grip fresh terrain and gain better traction.


In off road driving as well as life in general, nothing beats knowledge. Prepare for every circumstance and know what you are getting yourself into. Familiarize yourself not only with the environment you are entering, but with the vehicle itself. Read the vehicle’s manual and you will be best equipped for the unexpected. Most importantly, never, ever go alone. Have another driver in another vehicle with a tow rope and be sure you have cell phone reception in case of an emergency.


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