Free Shipping on All orders $100+ All Orders over $300 Receive a FREE GIFT Go to our Gift Page and Choose your free Gift

Off-Roading FAQs | Seven Core Essentials

Going off-road is all about having fun and adventuring. Between the wind whipping past your ears, your bated breath as you try to maneuver your rig over a patch of rocks or a ford, or the fear you might damage more than just your bumper, it’s hard to decide what’s more exhilarating.


It can be hard, however, to jump straight into the wide world of off-road driving and racing. Perhaps you’re not very knowledgeable about cars but still a big fan, and would like to kickstart your journey into what might become your lifelong hobby.


Well, stop worrying about that! I’m going to brief you on everything you need to know and 

answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the craft.

Table of Contents

What Is Off-roading?

Off-roading, or Going Off-trailing?

Are Off-road Cars Different?

Tires

Suspension Kit

Bumper

What Off-road Terrains Are Popular?

How Do I Stay Safe When Off-roading?

Getting Stuck Off-roading

What Is Off-road Recovery Equipment?

Traction Pads

Recovery Straps

Winch

Is There Any Basic Advice For Me?

Driving Uphill

Driving Downhill

Driving Through Water

Driving Through Mud

How Do I Get Started?


This article does not focus on detailing or purchasing specific equipment models. If you’re looking for car parts, try Rad.Parts!

What Is Off-roading?

Off-roading is when you drive a car over anything that is not a road, such as paved concrete, tarmac, or cubic stone. It is mostly seen as separate from driving on a road due to the additional difficulty of uncleared ground, such as being liable to puncturing your tires from sharp rocks.


In general, passenger cars designed for traditional driving are not going to perform well when taken off-road. While they aren’t going to buckle and explode at the first bump, they will receive sustained amounts of damage over the course of your trek.


This is the reason why most experienced drivers roll their eyes in anguish when realizing they have to take a backtrail. Whether they’re worried about getting stuck in thick mud or denting their car from bumping into a tree, off-roading with a typical sedan is never going to be a fun experience.

Off-roading or Going Off-trailing?

Interestingly enough, off-roading doesn’t explicitly involve driving off a planned route.


Almost all off-roading trails (with a handful of exceptions) are taken care of by an organized group who oversees and maintains them and their safety, so even the large tracts of apparent wilderness that make up a trail are artificial.


Therefore, each and every route you see being driven in, say, an off-road race, has been very carefully planned and thought out. If you have the ambition to do it, then you could easily drive on the same routes as your favorite drivers or racers, assuming you seek them out.


Going completely off-road and into the wilderness by yourself is called going off-trail and should only be practiced by experienced drivers. Not only would you put yourself at a huge risk if you were to be stuck in an area with no human traffic, but you would also risk damaging the environment without the proper driving know-how.

Are Off-road Cars Different?

Off-road cars have a couple of differences when compared to normal, passenger cars. Since they cannot perform well when taken off-road, a specialized vehicle must have dedicated equipment that can sustain harsh terrain conditions.


When deciding on their “rig” - a common term for an off-road car - most enthusiasts opt to purchase a vehicle that has been designed for off-road use since manufacture. On the other hand, there is also a percentage of people who have a passion for mechanics and would like to modify one of their cars into an off-road leviathan.


Buying an off-road vehicle from the get-go is always the easier choice, but it might turn out to be more expensive, depending on the model. If you are excited at the prospect of creating your own, custom car, then feel free to modify your existing vehicle, but be aware of the fact that you need extensive mechanics knowledge or else you’re going to ruin it.


I almost always recommend the first option unless I’m shooting off ideas to my mechanic friends.


Below are the main differences between normal car parts and off-roading ones.

Tires

One of the most important parts of an off-road car. The main difference between off-road tires and all-terrain ones is that they have more tread edges, which means they can grip onto surfaces better, thus providing more traction in most conditions.


While anyone can learn a couple of things about tires from the internet, my suggestion would also be to have a chat with your mechanic. They will be able to explain crucial aspects to you as well as give you advice on how to approach your chosen terrain since the specifications of off-road tires can differ.

Suspension Kit

You will probably be very uncomfortable without a proper suspension kit. Off-road cars find suspension kits even more important than passenger cars due to the fact that they’re designed to be driven over bumpy, rocky, and uneven terrain.


A good suspension kit will be able to protect your underside from damage as well as cushion your tailbone and buttocks so you don’t go straight to the ER after an off-road trip. Potentially a car part you might want to invest good capital in.

Bumper 

It’s rarely a good idea to go off-road without a bumper. If a car is a medieval knight, then the bumper is its shield, acting as an additional layer of protection against damage. Bumping into an obstacle or an object, as the name suggests, is a common occurrence in off-roading, which is why enthusiasts typically opt to buy an after-market upgrade to their stock bumpers.


You can also get back bumpers depending on how you drive. While I wouldn’t call them outright necessary for whoever is starting into the hobby, at one point or another you will probably get one if you’re invested. In the end, increased caution is always better than a slight improvement in equipment.

What Off-road Terrains Are Popular?

That’s a hard question to answer because off-roading is a very diverse motorsport. When most people imagine an off-road race, they typically envision either a plain, grassy open field, a tight forest through which trails wind, or a haphazard collection of arid mounds or sand dunes.


Truth is, those are the most commonly encountered off-roading terrains simply because they are ubiquitous across the globe. However, there is almost no limit to off-roading as long as you find a trail to drive over - while also keeping it fully preserved and intact.


Many people, for example, have reported extraordinary views and experiences when driving in between red rock mesas or sliding along the edges of sand dunes deep in the Qatari desert. If your tastes are a bit more humid, then there’s nothing stopping you from driving straight into a swamp or a cold-water bog as well.


There are a lot of trails scattered across the United States. Fortunately, the country is also one of the most diverse when it comes to environments, so consider yourself lucky: you live in an off-road utopia!


Otherwise, if you’re reading this from across the ocean, then don’t despair, as I’m sure you have a lot of choices at your disposal as well. For example, if there aren’t many trails in your area, you can go exploring the wilderness, but be absolutely sure that you’re treating the environment well.


Furthermore, always take measures to maintain your continued safety.

How Do I Stay Safe When Off-roading?

The first and most important bit of advice is to maintain and practice caution. Always keep a lookout for anything that can go wrong, such as a sharp rock that can puncture your tire or a patch of ground that can swallow you whole.


“Picking your trail” is a popular line used to describe figuring out the route you should take when confronted with tough terrain. There’s a lot of advice to be given here, though one that is most applicable regardless of situation or experience is to always take it slowly and carefully.


Having a spotter or simply another person riding with you is also an advantage. That way they can let you know if there is any danger in the distance or if you need to take a different route.


Additionally, if you get stuck out in a cold canyon in the middle of a desert night, then you’ll have another person with you that can perform medical aid and keep you warm or company until you’re rescued.


The best suggestion for getting yourself out of a sticky scenario is to buy a radio set which you can use to contact help. I recommend never going off-trail in areas with bad phone connection without a radio. Even if you’re not going to expire out there, you’ll still be strongly inconvenienced.

Getting Stuck Off-roading

It can be both maddening and terrifying to notice that your vehicle is completely stuck regardless of effort. The sight of your tires swirling around in thick mud trying to drive themselves out of the patch and only digging themselves in deeper is nothing short of a blow to the face.


Getting stuck while going off-road is not a rare occurence. In fact, it is surprisingly common, which is why any enthusiast should do their homework on the best ways to get out of a sticky (or slimy) situation.


More often than not, getting unstuck is not a matter that can be solved by pushing the gas pedal. That tends to make the situation worse, such as when stuck in a patch of mud or sand, since every spin of your tires is going to drive your car deeper into it.


Therefore, the first action you should undertake is to stop the engine. An improvised way of getting around the obstacle is by trying to dig out any material from underneath your tires, such as mud or sand, but that is laborious and doesn’t always pay off.


If you’re stuck out on a trail, then I hope you’ve bought a radio for yourself. If not, then you might want to consider outfitting your rig with recovery equipment that can help protect you from a very rainy day.

cool shot of cars racing on a dirt road

What Is Off-road Recovery Equipment?

As previously described, getting stuck when going off-road happens quite often, depending on the trail and nature of the environment. Most experienced off-roaders never go out without recovery gear, however, which are essentially tools designed to help get you unstuck.

Traction Pads

Also called recovery boards, these are planks made from highly durable, industrial-grade nylon featuring a deep-set and more pronounced tread pattern that allows your tires to grip onto their surface when driving out of a patch.


Traction pads are godsent and should always be present in any rig planning on going either off-road or especially off-trail. While alternatives such as several layered pieces of cardboard might work, they are much more difficult to set up and only temporary and situational.

Recovery Straps

Traction pads can’t solve every problem, though. If your vehicle is as stuck as can be and would need traction from another car to escape, then my suggestion would be to outfit your setup with recovery straps and shackles as well.


This requires you to have another car nearby to which you can attach the shackles and elastic straps to. That way, your savior will be able to drag you out of the patch. You should take a lot of care when performing this maneuver as it is easy to hurt yourself if not done properly.

Winch

The end-all to mobility problems. At least, I hope, because otherwise, you’re in pretty big trouble.


Just as traction pads, I recommend that you absolutely purchase a high-quality winch for your rig if you’re serious about the motorsport. The more you have fun and explore, the higher the likelihood you will get seriously stuck at one point or another.


A winch works by hooking it to your car bumper and then attaching it to an immobile object such as a tree or a very heavy rock to act as leverage for the vehicle when it pushes itself out.


Without a winch, then you’ll have to contact a towing service or a friend to pull you out. That is assuming, of course, that you have a way of contacting civilization. Undoubtedly, it must be pretty clear by now as to why the proper gear is critical to your safety.

Is There Any Basic Advice For Me?

There are a wealth of resources on the internet when it comes to learning about off-road driving techniques, such as books or video tutorials. While my opinion is that nothing can beat experience, here’s a handful of advice as to how you should approach off-roading.


Driving up and down a hill as well as through water is one off-roading aspect that takes time to get accustomed to. Here’s my advice on how to proceed.

Driving Uphill

Always pay perfect attention when driving uphill, as letting go of the gas pedal or generally losing control of the vehicle means you are going to roll backward. I’m sure I don’t need to specify why that can lead to a tragic accident, let alone a roll-over, so don’t take driving up a steep hill in stride.


Additionally, depending on the degree of elevation, it is very likely you are not going to be able to see the ground. The only thing in your vision will be sky, which can easily confuse you much in the same manner as airplane pilots get affected.


Figure out the speed at which you need to climb the hill and maintain good control. A low gear range is almost always the best choice.

Driving Downhill

The most important piece of advice when driving downhill is to use low gear for better control and engine braking, which is a driving technique in which you avoid overheating your brakes. Pushing your brakes too hard is never a good idea since they might fail, leaving you rolling down the hill at full velocity with no way to stop.


Another thing worth mentioning is that you should not shift your gear into neutral as it could lead to catastrophic effects. You lose a lot of control over your car, which is exactly what you need the most when driving downhill.

Driving Through Water

Never just drive your rig through a river without any forethought! Not unless you want to get swept away by the currents, lose your vehicle, and potentially your life. Crossing water must be done very carefully, so try and find the most shallow ford before traversing.


More importantly, if you are confronted with water, my foremost recommendation would be to avoid it altogether. There is usually a bridge somewhere nearby, and risking your vehicle and your safety to save up on a couple of minutes is never worth it.


If you absolutely have to or are fully confident in your abilities, you can attempt to cross. Don’t traverse if the speed of the water current is strong enough to make it impossible for you to walk through on foot, as your car will also be swept away.


The water level should not exceed that of your wheels. If it goes over the top, then you’re in trouble, as off-road cars are not amphibious. 


Furthermore, you should never allow any water to enter your air intake. That is one of the quickest ways to ruining your rig. Also make sure there are no electronic components in risk of coming contact into water. If there are, then make sure to seal them as best you can.


One solution to the water crossing is a snorkel, which is the vehicular counterpart to what we use for recreation.

Driving Through Mud

It’s always a bit scary to drive through mud. That’s because you can get stuck in it, damage your vehicle, and if you’re lucky, even encounter some hidden debris that will make any injury even worse.


Ideally, you just shouldn’t drive through deep mud. If you have to traverse an area that has a lot of muddy and humid terrain, then decreasing the pressure of your tires will help with traction, which will allow them to grip onto the mud easier, thus helping pull the car out.


You should also never break when driving through mud. If your tires spin into empty space, then let go of the pedal and apply less throttle until they are able to grip onto the surface again, after which you increase the speed. Breaking is a death sentence and will lead to getting stuck.


An awesome trick I’ve learned is that once you lose your momentum, you can quickly turn the wheel left and right in a quick motion as if you were swerving, which adds an additional amount of traction that still allows you to move.

How Do I Get Started?

Since we live in the modern age, it can be very easy to get into the off-roading motorsport, especially since the community is quite welcoming and diverse. People from all walks of life enjoy going off-road and off-trail, and the internet is an easy place to come into contact with them.


My suggestion would be to look for off-road forums and to read through the topics there in order to gain a better understanding of techniques, terminology, and culture. Many off-road community websites occasionally gather for a couple of pretzels over at some local bar or another, so that could be a great way to meet people who share your interests.


Going to an off-road club is also a great idea as it gives you relatively formal training in off-road driving. You’ll also learn together with other beginners or at the very least be taught by an experienced driver, so it’s going to be much more rewarding than learning by yourself.


Showing up to a trail and receiving some training or practicing with other off-road enthusiasts is, in my opinion, the best way to become better at it. Even the most veteran off-drivers and racers get rusty every once in a while or need ways to experiment in order to improve, and I’m willing to bet we’re no different.

Welcome to Off-roading

At this point, I’ve mentioned off-roading about a thousand times. I’m fond of it, so what can I do? Although I’m happy to welcome everyone into the hobby, I’d like to focus the conclusion on the importance of respecting nature and the environment. Going off-road can really hurt Mother Earth, and we have an obligation to take care of the planet we live on.


Therefore, always clean up after yourself and never ruin the motorsport for the rest of us. It only takes one irresponsible person for laws and legislations barring thousands of fans from engaging to be enacted, and that’s not what we’re about.