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Top 3 off-road mistakes in Desert & Mountain

Top 3 off-road mistakes that driver makes in the UAE

People assume driving off-road is a lot easier due to no rules and restrictions  as compared to driving on the road. That may be true to a certain extent, but after a while it might get messy if certain rules aren’t followed. Off-road freedom is awesome, but you should always remember these three MAJOR off-road mistakes that every experienced and in-experienced off-road drivers come across in the UAE. By the way, all these 3 rules apply for desert,  mountain, small drive - overnight drive, beach sand & sand dunes. So by remembering these 3 golden rules you will save yourself from 75% of the off-road threat that may spoil your enjoyment or cost you some expensive repairs. It's always good to read little bit more on how to drive off-road before you embark with your most capable 4x4 vehicle. If you are new to off-road then you should listen to people advice, see what others are doing and learn how to negotiate with various off-road obstacles.

Deflate, deflate and deflate:

No car in the world is capable of driving off-road without deflating. You might get away with few 100 meters without deflating, but eventually you will get stuck. Yes you need to deflate in sand and on rocks as well. For sand, ideal is to deflate to 15-18 PSI as per terrain difficulty and also as per the temperature (deflate more in summer, when sand is loose). Maximum you can deflate to 12 PSI (not lower) if you are in very challenging terrain like Liwa, Sweihan or Al Wagan sand dunes.  For wadi's and rock crawling you need to deflate lesser up to 22-25 PSI as compare to sand. In wadi and rocks little deflation help in better traction by increasing the footprints while crawling and absorb LOT of shocks on loose gravel or rocky terrain, while driving. 


Plan your stop:

About 90% of off-road stuck happen due to stopping in wrong places. Always choose the safe spot to stop, and stop slowly. People driving in sand dunes while climbing up and down the dune, get tempted to stop in amazing scenic spot, but when they start again they get stuck. Don't stop on uphill, sideways and on loose sand which will make it difficult for you to move the vehicle again. When in motion, use that momentum to choose the flat, hard spot (as much as possible) so that moving again is easy. Stopping hard with harsh brake will dig you in the sand and moving again will be even more difficult. In the inevitable situation if you brake hard, then go backwards few meter and gain momentum to drive further. Driving in sand is very simple physics that needs common sense more than an ego of being an owner of "most powerful car" and "most expensive car". Take it easy and be ready to go back little bit and start again if you are stuck in a difficult spot, try to find work-around than forcing your way in because mother nature is sometimes more stubborn than you are. For rock climbing, crawling and wadi passage plan your stop carefully so that you can start back safely and avoid any excessive wheel-spin or slippage of your vehicle. In rocks while negotiating with big boulder (stones) you need more of patience and external help than too much gas and distractions. External help means to have your friend or family person outside the car who can guide your exact tire movement (very slowly) and help you step on safe spot and pass through.


Don't panic when you are stuck:

The beauty of off-road driving is EVERYONE will get stuck, whether you are a super sales achiever, manager, leader, CEO or the VP. The idea is to stay calm and "DO NOT PANIC". Majority of off-road stuck are very minor and you can recover yourself in less than a minute if you are calm. If you panic and give too much acceleration it will dig you deep in sand and might dislocate your vehicle more in rocks. When vehicle is not moving, first attempt is to try reversing immediately and seeing what is blocking so that you can avoid it. If reverse is not possible, then step out and identify the situation, have few sips of water and you will get creative in thinking different ideas to get out. If you are stuck in wadi's and mountains, you can probably move few smaller rocks aside by hand and make your way or sometime you can place smaller rocks under your tire and use them as a stepping stone. In sand stuck, if vehicle is not moving engage your Lo-Gear (4WD lo-gear) and start with little aggressive acceleration up to 2500 RPM (ONLY) and that too in quick short intervals (no full gas for long stretch). See if it helps moving your vehicle few meters or even centimeters, then repeat the same in front and reverse several times and make little movable path and when you have a good stretch, then take off with more acceleration up to 5000 RPM (sometimes even full gas). Idea here is to avoid full gas in beginning as that will dig you down and once you have little movable path and vehicle is in motion for 5-10 meters and you give more or full acceleration, it will help you cross that climb, loose-sand or uneven spot more easily. If everything fails as per self-recovery, call for help and don't dig yourself deeper by too much excessive self-recovery, as that will make the situation worse for other car to pull you out. 


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Awesome descriptive best 3 points highlighted. Good job adil.

Few more points to add:

  • Never go off-road only in one car, minimum two car is must.
  • Always carry shovel, tow rope and rated shackle at the least.
  • Never drive with deflated tires on road, and if you do small stretch then drive below 80 KMPH.
  • Always carry plenty of water and food even for the short drive.
  • Respect nature and don't litter your trash. Plastic, metal and glass kill thousands of wild life every year.
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Get the rated tow rope and shackle, those petrol station chini-mini strap is NOT AT ALL enough for desert tug.

In desert when car is bogged down half, then 2500 kg car become 5000 kgs and you need a tow rope or snatch strap and shackle that is rated for 5000 kgs (10,000 lbs). I have seen those petrol station recovery straps breaking in seconds every time I go for newbie drives.

If you use viking rope then change after every 10-15 serious recoveries as their elasticity tend to break after few pulls in deep stuck.

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Never use a "tow rope" - these have zero elasticity, or stretch capacity.  Use a "recovery strap", which has about 20% elasticity, or better yet a kinetic rope, which should have about 30% elasticity (and priced accordingly).  Never use a recovery strap or kinetic rope to actually TOW another vehicle however....that's what tow ropes are for.

Don't just carry a small shovel - with a large enough shovel you can unstick yourself from almost ANYTHING in the sand.  It may seem impossible if you are carrying a wimpy folding shovel better suited for gardening or digging a latrine, but with a proper shovel you can move enough sand to make anything driveable.  I carry two actually, just in case the shaft breaks on one, and to let my passenger help if I have to dig.

And carry two shackles...you cannot guess that the other vehicle will have proper rated shackles, and having a shackle break is one of my nightmares.  That's the same reason that I always insist upon using my own rated kinetic rope...I have seen the videos and heard the tales of snapped recovery shackles or points sending a shackle through the pulling vehicle's windscreen.   It can kill you - make sure the equipment you use is up to the job.

Make sure you have a jack and a thick base board for the jack to steady it in the sand.  And make sure you know how to USE your jack and change a tire.

Always carry SOME type of tools - even if it is a folding Leatherman  pocket tool, or a cheap "Automotive Toolkit" from Ace. With zero tools you have zero options if something breaks.  If you want to go all-out, carry a complete set of wrenches and spanners and screwdrivers, and pliers - they don't have to be the best make (Yato or similar Chinese brand is fine), but make sure you cover the 6mm - 20mm range in spanners and socket wrenches, and some common screwdrivers (cross and blade heads).  A hacksaw is also useful for cutting away damaged body panels after an accident.  I think I got a complete boxed set of Yato tools from Speedex in Dubai with everything for around 700 AED...for as infrequently as I use them they didn't have to be the best.  But they have been VERY useful...possibly the best 700 AED I have spent on my truck.

And lastly, carry two flashlights, one a powerful handheld, and the other a head-strap carried worklight.  And batteries for both.  

Also blankets, jacket or two, food and water, and an emergency whistle or two...but those almost go without saying.

Edited by futureshock999
spelling mistake
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These are the most comprehensive off-road guidance I have ever read. This is brilliant guys.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of travelling in a convoy of at least 3 - 4 cars when venturing out to the off-road scene and best to have atleast 1 person who has been there and knows what to do. Carry plenty of water and food as venturing in the unknown, you do not know what surprises would spring themselves.

On long journeys like in Liwa it is advisable to carry some extra fuel also, there are special containers for these which you can find at Ace Hardware.

One more thing that comes to mind to to carry a two way radio per car, preferably UHF, you can find them at under AED 200/- each in Dragon Mart, I personally use the Crony CN-888. This is not for chit chat but a very important tool, for example, the car leading does not know the terrain and might come down a dune to find a tree in front of him or an ugly pocket. If all cars have radios communication is easier and timely to avoid getting more cars getting stuck in the same place which would make it worse as lesser place to maneuver

A flag pole is one more thing that comes to mind, these are much higher than the height of the car and are visible if a car goes over a dune and help the cars behind to get the hint whether everything ahead is clear or not. Also maintain distance in the desert, at least 3 to 4 cars gap as in the desert it is more difficult to break and as mentioned sudden braking can get you into nasty stucks.

A good air compressor should also be carried in case of a pop-out. A pop-out is when the tire comes off its rim and it would be difficult to change the tire in the desert or to consider that fact that more than 1 tire has poped-out. In this situation a good piece of wood, a good high lift jack and air compressor will come very handy.

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