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4x4 Driving Tips

The Subject:
Snow & Ice Title
Jeep Wrangler in the snow.
The lifted Jeep Wrangler, with
a winch and siped Super
Swampers, handles the
snow just fine.

   The K-Blazer with siped BFGs.
The K-Blazer, with siped BFGs, ventures off the beaten path.
How are you at winter driving? Test yourself by deciding how you'd respond to these scenarios. The correct answers are at the bottom of the page.
Scenario One:
You're in 4-wheel drive on a road covered with hard-packed snow. There's a steep, rocky drop-off to the right. About half way around a curve to the left, you suddenly feel the rear of your rig breaking free and sliding to the right. Another second, and you'll be doing a 360 off the road and over the edge!
        Question 1: What's happening? (Choose one):
           a) Rear wheel (oversteer) skid.
           b) Front wheel (understeer) skid.
           c) A tire blew out.
      Question 2: What is your immediate response? (Choose one):
           a) Keep cranking the steering wheel into the turn and step
                 on the gas hard.
           b) Turn the wheel back toward the drop-off on the outside
                 of the curve and quickly step on the gas.
           c) Turn the wheel back toward the drop-off on the outside
                 of the curve and hit the brakes hard.
     Question 3: What do you do next? (Choose one):
           a) Keep accelerating gently and ease the
                 wheel back into the turn.
           b) Tap the brakes gently and turn the wheel
                 a little bit back into the turn.
           c) Crank the wheel hard back into the
                 turn and hit the brakes.
Using the HiLift 
	jack to dig out.
High centered in deep, sticky snow. Sometimes you just have to break out the HiLift jack and dig out. Carry a buck saw so you can cut some dead branches to throw under the wheels.
Scenario Two:
Same 4-wheel drive, same snow-packed road as in Scenario One. Same curve to the left, same rocky drop-off to the right. You start to turn into the curve. The vehicle starts to swing to the left in response to your steering input, but then suddenly stops turning and just goes straight, right toward the side of the road and the drop-off.
   Wrangler on a steep slope.
The Mopar Fuel Injection Kit keeps the engine churning on a steep slope.
     Question 4: What's happening? (Choose one):
           a) Rear wheel (oversteer) skid.
           b) Front wheel (understeer) skid.
           c) A tire blew out.
      Question 5: What is your immediate response? (Choose one):
           a) Keep cranking the steering wheel into the turn and
                 tap the brakes lightly.
           b) Turn the wheel back toward the drop-off on the outside
                 of the curve and step on the gas hard.
           c) Come off the gas and turn the wheel back toward
                 the drop-off on the outside of the curve.
     Question 6: What do you do next? (Choose one):
          a) Turn the wheel back straight
                 and hit the brakes.
           b) Keep off the brakes, keep off the gas,
                 and turn the wheel a little bit
                 back into the turn.
          c) Step on the gas and turn the
                 wheel a little bit back into the turn.
   Scenario Three:
You picked the right answers on those last two turns, and you're still in 4-wheel drive on the same snow-packed road. You come over a small rise at about 35 or 40 mph. Suddenly you realize there's a large boulder, about 4 feet across, lying dead ahead in your lane. You know you can't stop in time on this slippery road. But if you try to swing around the rock at this speed, you'll lose control and probably end up doing a 360 into a tree.

   Wrangler on a snowy trail.
Sometimes you have to use judicious wheel spin to keep moving on a slippery trail.
     Question 7: What's your strategy? (Choose one):
           a) Slam on the brakes and skid into the
                boulder at as slow a speed as possible.
           b) Slow down as much as you can without
                skidding, then steer around the boulder.
           c) Drive off the road into the snow-filled ditch
                on your right to avoid hitting the boulder.
      Question 8: What braking technique to you use? (Choose one):
           a) Slam on the brakes and hold the pedal hard
                 all the way down.
           b) Pump the brakes firmly and fast.
           c) I don't know - I need more information.
   The Number One Winter Driving Rule - SLOW DOWN!:
All the know-how in the world doesn't help a driver going too fast for slippery conditions. The Laws of Physics are very unforgiving. Adjust your speed according to the traction of the surface you're on.

	secluded areas for cross-country skiing.
Using a 4x4 to access a secluded
cross-country skiing trail.

   Cross-country skiers at Ponderosa State Park. Cross-country skiers and their 4x4s at the Ponderosa State Park in McCall, Idaho.
Rule Two - PREPARE!:
1. Check your vehicle - Will your antifreeze protect you to unexpectedly low temperatures? Have you changed to a lighter weight oil? Is your battery up to the extra strain winter offers? Have you mounted winter snow tires - maybe siped and studded?
2. Equipment - tire chains, HiLift jack, tow straps, windshield and lock deicer, tools for roadside repairs, a small buck saw for cutting dead branches to put under your wheels if you get stuck.
   3. Personal supplies - emergency food and water in case you get stranded, fire building material (waterproof matches, cotton balls lightly coated with Vasoline, Duraflame-type logs for fire starting), blankets and sleeping bags for everyone in the vehicle, communication equipment (cell phone, CB radio), first aid kit.
4. Plan your trip - check the weather along your planned route, file a "flight plan" - tell friends and family where you're going along with your planned route and your estimated time of arrival. Take into account the possibility of sudden severe winter storms in high mountain passes.

Question #1: "a" is correct. This is a rear wheel "oversteer" skid. The rear wheels have broken free of traction, and the rear end of the rig is sliding toward the outside of the curve. The rig is turning more than you expect - it's "oversteering."
Question #2: "b" is correct. To recover from a rear wheel skid, turn the wheel quickly in the direction the rear wheels are sliding - that's the outside of the curve. Then touch the gas quickly and lightly. This throws more weight backward onto the rear wheels, to give them more traction. This helps recover from the skid. Answer "a" is wrong because this would increase the slide of the rear wheels off the road. "c" is wrong because hitting the brakes unweights the rear wheels, which increases the skid. They need more weight - not less.
Question #3: "a" is correct. Keep accelerating to keep the rear wheels weighted, and turn gradually back toward the direction you want to go. "b" and "c" are wrong because braking unweights the rear wheels, which is not what you want to do in this situation. If your vehicle has front wheel drive, you can be more aggressive with the throttle, because the powered front wheels will help pull the vehicle out of the skid. 4-wheel drive is next best.

   Question #4: "b" is correct. This is a front wheel skid. The turned front wheels are not steering the vehicle around the curve. Instead it is going straight off the road. It is "understeering."
Question #5: "c" is correct. Coming off the gas shifts the weight of the vehicle forward and increases the traction of the front wheels. To recover, you also have to turn the front wheels back straight and get them rolling again. This takes courage, but if you keep the front wheels cranked into the curve (answer "a" is wrong), they will simply slide without steering the vehicle. "b" is wrong because accelerating unweights the front wheels, which is wrong.
If you've got a favorite tip you'd like to see published here, email it to:
4-Wheel Freedom.
Be sure to include your name, city, and state, so we can acknowledge the contribution.

   Classic front wheel skid.
A 4x4 off the highway into the
trees with skid marks going
straight off the road. This
is a classic front wheel
(understeer) skid.
Question #6: "b" is correct. Once the front wheels are rolling again, you can gradually steer back in the direction you're trying to go. You could touch the brakes lightly, to weight the front wheels more, but you risk locking them. It's better not to accelerate or brake as you attempt to recover from a front wheel skid. "a" is wrong because you have to start steering back the way you want to go, and you risk locking the brakes and skidding more if you brake hard. "c" is wrong because accelerating unweights the front wheels.
Question #7: "b" is the best strategy. Don't try to brake and steer at the same time. Sometimes if you pump (modulate) the brakes expertly, or if you have ABS, you can manage to steer and brake simultaneously, but don't count on it. Slow down first, then come off the brakes and steer around the obstacle. "a" isn't a good idea, because you may be able to steer around the obstacle without sustaining damage to your vehicle. "c" isn't good, because you don't know what's in the ditch - there might be an even bigger boulder under the snow. And by the way, I hope it occurred to you that 35 or 40 mph may be much too fast on a slippery road, especially if the road is narrow, if the curves tend to be off-camber (banked the wrong way), or if you can't see very far ahead.
Question #8: "c" is correct. You need to know if you have ABS brakes or not. In general, with ABS, apply the brake pedal firmly and hold it down hard. Without ABS, modulate the brakes by pumping them rapidly. Push the brake pedal hard to lock the front wheels, then let up immediately to let them turn and gain traction, then lock them again, and so forth. If you only have ABS on the rear wheels, you should probably modulate (pump) the brakes, to take advantage of the forward weight shift on the front wheels. How to brake a vehicle with rear-only ABS is a subject that even the experts aren't sure about.

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   4-Wheel Freedom: The Art of Off-Road Driving. By Dr. Brad DeLong.
The definitive book on 4x4s, off-road recreation, and all-weather driving.
ORDER NOW at 1-800-4X4ROAD (494-7623). Copyright Symbol copyright Dr. Brad DeLong 2005