If you have never driven off-road, then you are missing out on an adrenaline-filled experience that is hard to replicate elsewhere. However, as fun as off-road driving can be, it is critical to understand a few things to prevent damage to your vehicle, keep from getting stuck and guard yourself from being injured. Below are a few considerations about your vehicle that will help you maximize your off-road driving experience:
Understand your tires
Not all tires are made the same, and even though they may look alike to an untrained eye, you should have an understanding of what makes for a good off-road tire. Off-road tires are usually made in bias ply or bias belted configurations; tires with ply construction are the ideal type of tire, in that they have the most sidewall strength and they have more tread flexibility. These attributes provide a great ride experience while on trails and terrain. Bias belted tires are stiffer than bias play tires, but this gives them a superior ability to handle paved surfaces. If you are going to drive your off-road machine on paved roads, too, then you should consider bias belted tires as a good compromise. Also consider looking at places like City Limit Tire & Service as you buy tires.
Another characteristic used in measuring off-road tire capability is the tread-to-void ratio. The lower the ratio, the more "digging power" a tire will have available in off-road situations. If you are seeking to use your tires on rugged, harsh terrain, then you probably will want treads that really dig into the soil, mud or loose rock. However, keep in mind that a lower ratio will also mean the tire has less rubber on the road than tires on the opposite end of the scale. This makes them less suitable for driving on paved surfaces where grip is important, too.
Know your clearances
The clearance of your vehicle can be measured in more than one way; for example, the distance from the ground to the underside of the vehicle is a classic measure of clearance and is vital to know for off-road drivers. However, clearances can be evaluated in other manners, such as via angles that determine how much a vehicle can clear from its front end to tires. If the angle is too low, then you can expect that a vehicle may get caught on objects in its path and not be able to successfully scale them. Keep in mind that it is important not only to be able to drive over objects without being hung on the underside, but to get your vehicle in a position where it can do so.
Be aware of submerged driving capabilities
Off-road vehicles are designed to get wet, so don't be afraid of taking your vehicle into the water. However, it is vital that you know its exact capabilities before doing so. Here are some things that you should know:
Air intake height - It is important to know the exact height at which air enters your motor, as this also will tell you how deep you can go before water enters instead. Otherwise, incoming water will cause your motor to suddenly stop, which could result in extensive damage to cylinders, pistons and valves. Air intake locations vary greatly, depending on vehicle type and manufacturer specifications. Some off-road vehicles are specially equipped with snorkels that permit air to enter at a point well-above the water line.
Component waterproofing - Though engines themselves can operate while submerged, at least partially, you will need to prepare the motor on your off-road vehicle for water exposure to prevent possible damage. That means that any electrical components should be covered or insulated to keep out moisture, and you will also want to ensure that lubricants are applied properly to protect mechanical components from corrosion.