For people who want to get off the beaten path, off-roading is the ultimate driving adventure. Off-roading is used to describe driving on any unpaved surfaces — which can include mud puddles, grassy fields, rocks, steep hills, sand dunes and more.
Although you could technically take any car off-road, not every vehicle is equipped to handle the many bumps and ditches associated with uneven ground. Off-road vehicles are designed to tackle rough driving conditions because they’re equipped with four-wheel drive (4WD or 4×4). In a 4WD vehicle, the engine powers all four wheels, giving them greater traction. In vehicles with two-wheel drive (2WD), the engine powers only two wheels (usually the front wheels). 2WD vehicles aren’t necessarily more dangerous off-road, but they may be harder to navigate over rugged terrain, which means you might wind up getting stuck
Slow is boring, and there’s no speed limit off-road. Properly set up, two-wheel-drive trucks rule where speeds are high, corners are tight, agility is paramount, and the driver has the skill, reflexes and ability to keep the thing going. But woe betides a rear-drive truck that hits the trail improperly prepared and the driver who loses momentum while on it.
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Importance of 4×4 in Off-Roading
One of the biggest advantages to taking a 4WD vehicle off-road is increased traction on the road — that is, the ability of the wheels to cling to the ground, no matter how rough the terrain is. That means even if your back two wheels get stuck in the mud, your front two wheels have enough traction to pull you out. The 4WD will help you get through more technical terrain or softer terrain.
4WD vehicles also have low-range gearing, which will help you make it through deep puddles and climb steep hills. Yet 4WD vehicles can still get stuck in the mud more often than people think because they have the same basic differentials as a 2WD car. Differentials are what allow the wheels to spin at different speeds during a turn. [In] off-road or in minimum traction conditions, the differentials tend to think we’re in turns all the time so they’ll put power to the tire that’s easiest to turn, and if that tire is starting to slip or skid or spin, then we get stuck, whether we’re in a 2WD or 4WD.
The possibilities are not endless, but you can still have fun. Let’s cut to the chase here. Overlanding & off-roading with a 2wd truck or SUV isn’t the greatest idea. Having a 4×4 is always the best route, and this article isn’t meant to be another 4wd vs. 2wd for off-roading debate. But the old saying “use what you got” can apply in this scenario if you take the proper steps.
You just have to be more careful when heading out to remote locations with half the traction of a true off-road vehicle. I am in no way advocating to buy a 2wd truck if you have the slightest urge to explore. By all means, if you’re in the market for an off-road overland vehicle, get a 4×4. However, if you’re like me and purchased a Toyota Tacoma Prerunner — not having any clue that in the future you’d like to go explore off the beaten path — there is still hope.
Precautions when taking your two-wheel-drive off-road
This should go without saying — TIRES.
A good set of all-terrain tires can make a huge difference offroad. I’d recommend something from Cooper or BFG. Once I hit the trail, I always air down to about 20psi. This gives you more traction and a softer ride.
Be proficient at getting unstuck.
Bring plenty of off-road recovery gear such as traction boards, snatch straps (to get pulled out), a hi-lift jack or something safer to get the wheels up easily, a winch/come-along, tire deflator and air compressor, and of course tools in case something breaks.
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Have plenty of experience.
This is huge, especially if you decide to go out alone. Join your local off-road club or find an online community where you can partake in trail runs and meetups. I have been a member over at tacomaworld.com for a few years and gained invaluable experience just from reading and joining a few groups runs. Picking your lines on off-camber or steep areas will get you through most ugly stuff. Avoid sand like the plague, and be careful where you decide to stop. The gas pedal is your friend.
Try to go with a 4-wheel drive buddy.
You can relax mentally and enjoy the trail a lot more when you know you have a friend that doesn’t mind pulling you out if things go wrong. This brings me back to my second tip about having recovery gear. Don’t make your friend use his snatch straps and gear to get you out. Have your straps ready and make sure you know your recovery points around the truck. If you don’t have good recovery points, then you’d better work on getting some fabricated and installed.
How to Make a 2WD Truck Work Off-Road
A Balancing Act
A rear-drive, off-road truck has one major factor working both for and against it: weight distribution. Street trucks have rear-drive, and light rear-ends because it’s assumed the driver is going to need the extra load capacity for hauling. On the trail, though, that weight deficit over the drive wheels can be a serious problem when you’re trying to put the power down. This makes rear-drive trucks difficult to accelerate from a standstill and comparatively unstable at high speed, but this is also one of the rear-drive truck’s greatest advantages. The fastest Group B rally cars in history were incredibly unstable, which is why they could change direction so quickly. But they were also eventually outlawed as death machines for the same reason. So suspension setup in this application becomes a critical balancing act between preserving agility and taming the truck’s inherent desire to go everywhere sideways.
Basic Suspension Setup
Soft springs are generally preferable off-road, but rear-drive trucks have to contend with weight distribution as a major factor. When you accelerate, weight usually shifts to the rear, which enhances traction. But rear-drive trucks often lack the traction off-road to make this weight transfer happen. The trick, then, is to get that first bite at traction so you can use the subsequent weight transfer to put more of the power down. Use a set of “linear” or “single-rate” springs on the front, and street-type “progressive” springs on the rear. The progressive rear springs will compress faster initially than the linear springs up front, but they’ll stiffen up under further compression, so you don’t bottom out. Adjustable shocks all around are a big help, too. You want the front shocks stiffer under compression — “bound” — and the rear shocks harder under decompression, or “rebound.” This will keep the rear squatting down for longer on acceleration, giving you a deeper first bite.
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Any rear-drive truck will try to swap ends when you hit the gas — it’s nature of the beast. That’s a good thing when you’re drifting around corners, rally-style, but it’ll kill you if you’re trying to maintain speed on a bumpy straight. To keep the truck stable and safe on the straights, start with rear tires that are about 25 per cent wider than the fronts. Combine that with a couple of degrees of “toe-in,” where the front of the tires points toward each other a little bit. Toe-in on the rear will make that end of the truck more stable at speed. Adjusting rear camber — the inward lean at the top of the tire — can help too if your truck has the adjustment for it. A little inward lean at the top, about 1 or 2 degrees, will allow your rears to lean into turns like a slalom skier so that you can put the power down in a corner. That’s especially important when you consider that loose dirt and sand tend to collect in the corners on well-used trails — and that’s the one place you can’t afford to bog down.
Lightweight is a rear-drive vehicle’s trump card, but that’s only true if it’s in the right places. Ideally, a good RWD truck would weigh as little as possible, but you need weight in the back to put the power down. Considering that, you should do everything you can to strip weight off the front half of the truck. That might mean something as simple as stripping out the AC system, the smog system if it’s a dedicated offroader, the heavy front bumper and anything else the truck doesn’t need. You can continue the front weight-shedding with a fibreglass hood or fenders, lightweight wheels, an aluminium intake or heads, and even a Lexan windshield if it’s a dedicated trail rig. Once you’ve done all that, you could look into adding some weight to the rear to balance the chassis. The weight should be as low and as far back as possible; tubular rear bumpers filled with lead shot have always been popular for ballast. But don’t resort to rear ballast before you deal with your front weight, or you’ll end up defeating the purpose of having a light, agile speed machine in the first place.
How to get a basic idea that you can drive on the relevant sand track or not?
There are so many sand types out there in different tracks. Mainly sands in desserts are a whole other story when we are talking on sands on beaches. Even beach sands also differ in various locations.
But the main thing you have to be concerned about before putting your 2wd on sand is, is it possible for your vehicle to get the necessary traction in that sand.
In beaches, there are mainly two types of sands: soft, powdery sands and hard sand. If you have ever walked on a few beaches, you may have experienced what I am talking about right now.
For off-roading with your 2wd vehicle, you should avoid these soft sand beaches. They will bog your vehicle down to your axel and trap you in place. So you should be careful about that and try to choose a track with somewhat hard sand.
To get an idea about the sand type first, you can take a walk along the beach for a while before putting your vehicle.you can watch other vehicles riding on the sand to get the basic idea.
When you walk on the sand, if you feel more resistance, boggy and it’s hard to walk, never put your 2wd on that sand. If it’s hard even to walk, your vehicle will never make it.
If the sand is tight enough and you feel like you can drive through it. Oh, yes! Then you can go to the next step.
Many 2wd overland tips also apply to 4×4 drivers
You might notice that most of the tips in this article can also be applied to overlanders and offroaders with 4×4. You can still get stuck in 4-wheel drive, and you’ll need a way to get out. It’s just a lot more crucial to a 2wd owner to be prepared since the chances of having no wheel power is a lot higher. Be smart about where you go and know when to turn around. Don’t try anything stupid if you’re alone.
Modifications that help make a 2wd vehicle more offroad capable
Don’t go too crazy spending a ton of money on “mods”. My Toyota Tacoma has a lift, and modest suspension upgrades to help with bigger tires and ground clearance. These two modes have proved to be helpful on trails where I would have been nervous about hitting something underneath or getting hung up on rocks.
Locking Differential for 2wd trucks
A rear locking differential or limited mechanical slip will go a long way to keeping your back wheels moving even if one side is up in the air. Toyota sells a 2wd model that comes with a locking rear differential dubbed “TRD OFFROAD”. A lot of people think the TRD Offroad automatically means 4×4. It does not work in the Toyota world. You can get it in two-wheel drive, and it has a rear locker. Everything else about this truck is the same as the 4×4, just without the transfer case In Southern California. You can’t drive more than five minutes without seeing at least one TRD Offroad Prerunner. If you don’t have one from the factory, you can always go with an aftermarket locker or limited slip.
Winch for 2wd offroaders
Lastly, a winch can get you out of some trouble if you’re alone. It won’t help much in the desert or beach, but in forests, you can find a tree to help get you un-stuck. If you have it mounted on your truck, you might need a custom bumper that will house the winch and make it safe to use. If I go this route, I’ll probably end up with low profile winch bumper that’s lightweight and retains the factory look.
Tell someone your detailed overland plans
I can’t stress this enough. Again, this is also necessary for 4×4 expedition vehicles with all the bells and whistles. Let a family member, friend, or both, know about your detailed trip plans. Include daily locations and times you intend to follow, and when you should be expected home. This will give rescuers the best chance of helping you if you become stranded or disabled in a desolate area. GPS tracking devices such as SPOT or inReach can send your location hourly and allow you to send text messages via satellite in areas your phone will not have reception. I haven’t picked one of these up myself, but I plan to in the near future. If you break down in the middle of Death Valley, you’ll be glad you have a way to ask for help.
COMMS are important
I have a HAM radio, but I haven’t figured out how to use repeaters yet. If you have a license (not hard to get) you can communicate with a HAM radio on frequencies and repeaters where you can call for help should something go bad. I know a few people who set it up to use multiple repeater towers to speak with loved ones at home via the internet. Pretty amazing stuff and I can’t wait to dive into the HAM radio world.
How to tackle sand with your 2wd drive?
Traction is the king in sand driving. Try to Keep necessary steady momentum throughout the sand, but be cautious about your speed and surroundings. On the beach, there may be people and kids out there.
Reduce tyre pressure. It will reduce bogging down and give more traction to your wheels.
Engage differential lockers, if your vehicle has them. It will allow your both drive wheels to spin at the same speed keeping you moving on sand smoothly.
Non- aggressive tread pattern tyres will also help you to tackle sand efficiently.
When airing down, make sure to do it considering your tyre type. Because normal tyres with thin sidewalls may not work well for more airing downs, so do it according to your tyre type. We usually reduce tyre pressure for about 18 – 16 psi in vehicles which are replaced with suitable off-roading tyres.
Before entering any beach or sand trail, check for off-roading on that location is legal. There are many beaches restricted to off-roading due to various reasons. Mostly considering the prevention of vegetation and wild lives like turtles and so on. So consider that fact and check about those restrictions first.
There are so many things and techniques you should know for headache-free sand off-roading. As mentioned above, I had talked about all of them, including how to recover your vehicle easily, if you stuck on the sand in my “beginners guide for sand off-roading”.
Buying a 4WD vehicle costs prohibitively for a lot of people, but you don’t necessarily need to spend extra money to have a great off-roading experience. Today, many 2WD models are designed with suspension systems that can handle off-road terrain. Plus, you can customize your 2WD vehicle with lift kits (which provide extra ground clearance) and bigger wheels that give you greater traction off-road. You can also get traction enhancement devices, like a locking system for the differential gear, which will lock up the axle when a wheel starts to slip, delivering full power to both wheels if you get stuck in the mud.