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How To Not Die Off-Road

Tips To Keep You Alive And In One Piece On The Trail

As if trying to keep alive every day while living at least a halfway exciting life isn’t hard enough, adding off-roading to your adventure activities certainly won’t increase your chances of keeping your boots above ground. Most of us plan to live long fruitful lives, become a grandparent, retire from work, and enjoy our golden years. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t always have your best interest in mind. It’s not that your 4×4 is out to get you, but many things in the 4×4 world can end you, or seriously injure you, quicker than juggling three running chainsaws while blindfolded. But they don’t have to. The use of your brain and a little planning can help you reach those golden years as well as make your 4×4 trips much more enjoyable sans an unplanned emergency room visit. We have the 411 that will help keep your friends from having to call 911. Most of our tips are simply common sense, but others will require some thought on your part. Read up and remember to stay safe out there.

Be a self-aware spectator. Standing in the middle of the trail or anywhere near a difficult obstacle is a great way to get a vehicle on top of you. There is no way to predict what a vehicle will do or mistakes the driver may make. Notice in this photo there is nobody standing below the vehicle where it could roll onto them.

Never connect two recovery straps together with a steel clevis for more reach. If it breaks it will become a deadly projectile and tear through a windshield or a spectator. Use a soft shackle instead. Make sure all of your recovery gear is in good condition. Frayed recovery straps and damaged clevises are a big no-no.

Collateral Damage Spectator

Half the fun of four-wheeling is climbing a hard obstacle and then challenging your buddies to follow suit. Or better yet, convincing them there is no way their rig can make it up whatever the nearest insurmountable obstacle is. Of course, you and all of your friends will have to gather around to watch, but it’s essential to understand where the best and worst spectating places are. Stay away from the outside of high-speed turns, away from the fall line of an obstacle or hill, and in general away from the trail’s edge where the vehicle could be inadvertently misdirected or flipped over. Also, never jump in during a rollover situation to save the day by trying to stop a rolling 4×4. Always stay clear of any vehicle navigating an off-road obstacle. This all seems like basic stuff, but it is incredible how many times we see it out on the trail.

Strap and Clevis Projectiles

Experts will tell you that if you haven’t been stuck, you’re not trying hard enough. Most of the time, a quick tug with the proper recovery strap will set you free. Be sure to use solid recovery points. Never attach the strap to a trailer ball or other component that could be ripped loose and made into a flying projectile. This includes tie rods, sway bars, A-arms, control arms, spring shackles, and so on.

Furthermore, never connect two straps with a steel clevis. Recovery straps stretch and store energy like a rubber band. If something gives, that clevis will become a skull crusher flinging through the air. Regardless of the recovery being performed, it’s always best to stay clear if you want to keep from being 6-feet under.

Always wear a seatbelt and keep your hands, arms, and legs in the vehicle while driving off-road and during a rollover. If we could predict when a rollover would happen, they never would. Planning for the worst will keep you alive and injury free in the long run.

Both wire and synthetic rope winch lines can store energy during a hard pull. Overloaded and frayed lines that snap can cause serious bodily damage or death. Regularly inspect winch mounts, steel cable or synthetic rope, as well as your recovery points.

Crushing Rollover

If you’re not the one on the sidelines egging your ego-fueled buddy up some obstacle he can’t make, then you might be the ego-fueled buddy trying to drive up some obstacle you can’t make. Or maybe you’re just a little careless or inexperienced about picking your lines. Either way, a rollover in your 4×4 is a potentially dangerous situation, even when you wear a seatbelt. If you do begin to flip, don’t try to exit the vehicle or stop the vehicle with your arm or leg. Trust us, it is not going to happen. Remain calm and keep your legs and arms from flailing. If you can regain control of the vehicle during a rollover, do so. If not, remain seated until the tumbling stops. Kill the ignition, put an automatic transmission in Park and a manual transmission into First and set the parking brake. This will prevent your 4×4 from becoming a runaway that could kill you or others once it’s righted. It should go without saying, but always securely strap down your gear in the interior of your 4×4. During a rollover, any loose heavy items like coolers, tools, jacks, and recovery gear can become flinging projectiles.

Winch Cable Whip

In the same way a rubber band or recovery strap can store energy when stretched, so can a steel or synthetic winch line during a winching operation. Of course, the steel cable can do significantly more damage to you. Consider it a steel whip. Regardless of what kind of winch line you use, if a hook or recovery point fails, the resulting metal projectile could easily embed itself into your noggin. Stay clear of all winch lines under load and always use a winch weight, blanket, sleeping bag, or even a jacket to help slow the flinging cable down should it snap. Inspect winch cables and ropes regularly and replace them if they become frayed or damaged.

Farm-style jacks are incredibly useful off-road, but they can be unstable. Always lock the handle in the up position when you aren’t operating the jack. Keep clear from under a 4×4 that has not been supported by a spare tire, log or another sturdy object under the axle.

Every 4×4 should have at least one properly secured and easy to access fire extinguisher that is close to the driver and passenger. Ideally, a second fire extinguisher should be mounted where someone outside of the vehicle can reach and use it.

Farm Jack Flack

Changing a tire in your garage or on the side of the road can be hazardous. Changing a tire or making a repair on the side of a trail can be downright deadly. The traditional farm jacks that are used off-road aren’t all that stable on solid level ground. When you combine a farm-style jack with uneven and loose or swampy terrain, your vehicle can easily fall off the jack and crush you. It’s best not to get under your vehicle when it’s raised with a farm jack, but sometimes this situation is unavoidable. Regardless of if crawling under your 4×4 while it’s raised is avoidable or not, you should push the spare tire, a few large rocks, or a log under the axle to keep the vehicle raised if the jack base shifts on loose ground. As always, the farm jack handle should be locked in the raised position whenever your hands are not on the handle.

 4×4 Fire Avoidance

Pretty much every modern 4×4 is clad in flammable plastic, foam, and rubber. They are also filled with fuel and oil and have several heat sources distributed around the chassis. Even a small fuel or oil leak onto one of those ignition sources can result in the entire vehicle being quickly engulfed in flames. To avoid becoming part of a car-beque, regularly inspect the vehicle for dangerous leaks. Minor oil leaks away from heat sources are not overly problematic. However, due to the extreme volatility and a low flash point, any fuel leak should be repaired immediately. Check the fuel lines and filler neck at the fuel tank. Follow the lines along the frame rail and up to the engine. Fuel pumps, filters, carburetors, and fuel injectors should be checked carefully for leaks too. Not only are these areas close to the exhaust heat, but they can also be close to the engine ignition components. Both could turn a fuel leak into a really hot bad day for you and others. Ideally, every 4×4 should have a first aid kit and two fire extinguishers. One extinguisher should be easily accessible for the occupants, and one should be accessible for anyone outside the vehicle.

Another important tip is to make sure that you have a rollcage if you are going to play hard. A factory metal roof or a “sport bar” doesn’t protect you in a hard rollover. A stout rollcage should be on the top of your priority list if you are going to use your vehicle off road. It might not make your vehicle more capable, but it can literally save your life.