Driving off-road requires knowledge, skill and confidence, which can make it intimidating for people who haven’t done it before. Even behind the wheel of a vehicle with 4×4 capabilities, it can be difficult to take that first step and leave the comfort of a well-tarmacked road.

Many Kenyans take up road trips out of town to spend the long Easter holiday with family and friends. Here are some top tips from Ford on how to tackle challenging terrains and stay safe when driving off-road.

Be prepared

Any off-road driving presents a range of challenges. However, you can help to reduce the risks by thoroughly planning your journey and taking along a few essentials. At the very least, you will want a full fuel tank, a tow rope, a shovel, a spare tyre and tyre-changing kit, a portable air compressor, a map and compass (or a GPS unit).

Get to know your vehicle

It’s important to get a feel for your vehicle and understand how it behaves in different scenarios. You should also learn how to engage specific features that are designed to aid you in off-road environments. For instance, the new Ford Everest has a low-range setting and an electronic locking rear differential that you should learn how to engage and disengage before driving in extreme off-road conditions.

As well as understanding the technology in your vehicle, it is also important to be familiar with its dimensions and capabilities. You may have to squeeze through some tight spaces, wade through water, or climb over challenging obstacles. In these cases you will need to know your vehicle’s width, water wading abilities, ground clearance, and approach and departure angles.

Reduce your tyre pressure

This is one of the simplest tricks to improve your vehicle’s off-roading performance and your comfort level in the cabin. There are a number of advantages to reducing the air pressure in your tyres:

  • It means that more of the tyre is touching the ground so that the weight of the vehicle is more evenly distributed. This helps you to stay on top of softer surfaces like sand or mud.
  • The tyres can absorb more impact pressure, which helps to protect the wheels and the rest of the vehicle in rocky terrains.
  • It will give you a smoother, more comfortable driving experience when off-roading. Slightly deflated tyres will absorb many of the smaller bumps in the road instead of bouncing over them.

Be sure to check the optimal tyre pressure for the specific terrain. When driving with reduced tyre pressure, keep in mind that you should avoid sharp turns. Turning sharply when your tyres are under-inflated can increase the chance of detaching them from the wheel.

Just remember to re-inflate your tyres before you get back on the road. Using under-inflated tyres for regular road driving will reduce vehicle safety, the life-span of your tyres and fuel efficiency.  

Use low range, or the lowest gear available

Keeping your vehicle in low range gives you more control and power at low speeds. Increased control is exactly what you require when you are driving over highly technical or rocky terrain with reduced traction, or when tackling steep descents and ascents.

With the new Everest, low range can be manually engaged when the vehicle is stationary with the flick of a switch, and also works in conjunction with the Terrain Management System’s (TMS) rock mode, which gives you maximum control when you need it most.

Drive as slowly as possible

Driving quickly means you will have less time to react if something goes wrong, and it will take longer to stop. High speeds will also increase the damage to your vehicle when driving over obstacles or if you collide with anything. Driving slowly lets your vehicle’s suspension absorb most bumps for a more comfortable ride. It will also give you more time to examine your surroundings, and anticipate and react to situations.

Some obstacles might require more speed to tackle, such as steep ascents, but most obstacles need little more than walking pace. Try to remember to drive as slowly as possible, while still driving fast enough to overcome the ascent. If you find you are driving too slowly, it’s easy to step on the accelerator – but if you are driving too quickly, you may face more risks and find it difficult to safely correct.

Understand how to drive in different terrains

Different terrains call for different driving techniques. The smart TMS modes in the new Everest make your job easier by optimizing performance for different conditions.

For instance when driving in terrains with deep sand, the key to successful off-roading is to maintain your momentum and keep your engine RPMs high. If you slow down too much or don’t keep the wheels moving, you run the risk of sinking into the sand.

When parking in deep sand, you should always allow your vehicle to roll to a stop. This prevents the wheels from digging into the sand when the brakes are applied so that it is easier to get moving again.

Whether you are driving down to Maasai Mara or to Naivasha or even to Mombasa for a weekend getaway, the Ford Everest is a truly capable off-road vehicle that has been engineered to flatter the novice driver and reward the expert. It has also been tested in some of the most extreme environments in the world.

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