If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve dreamt of tackling some of those tougher, more adventurous touring destinations, right? Maybe you’ve been itching to give the blacktop the flick in favour of some dusty, dirt-road adventures?
Even with a capable offroader, you’ll still need a few basic skills to get the most from your rig and navigate your way safely through any hair-raising obstacles.
CONTROL YOUR SPEED
If you’re new to the caravanning scene, just new to offroading, or an old-hand who likes to brush-up on your skills and techniques, there are a few basic things to keep in mind when towing offroad.
The first one, and the most important of all, is speed – you’ve gotta keep it under control! Most of us are pretty well behaved on the road, but we often underestimate how dicey things can get on dirt or gravel roads. Reduced traction is the major issue here; it’s a heck of a lot harder for your tyres to hang on and grip the road, especially as you negotiate a bend. Chuck in corrugations and pot holes and things get even dicier. The problem is when these bumps cause the suspension to unload, or lift pressure off the wheel, thus reducing traction. When this happens on a bend at speed, well, you’ll probably make the six o’clock news!
While a good suspension system is absolutely crucial in these circumstances, as we found with AL-KO’s Enduro Outback, less speed means there’s less momentum, so there’s less chance of bouncing, skipping, hopping and flipping.
AVOID DEAD-END TRACKS
Another common mistake which, admittedly, catches the best of us out at some point or another, is getting stuck up a dead-end track. You don’t need me to explain how frustrating and difficult it is to turn around with an 18ft caravan sitting pretty in the rear-view! We’d done a recce before the Toughest Tow Test so we had a bit of a head-start but we also used scout cars to poke their nose up and down suspect tracks – they would use the UHF to radio back and give us the all-clear before we committed to it. That won’t always be an option, especially if you’re travelling solo, however, even sending a scout ahead on foot could alleviate some issues.
PICKING THE RIGHT LINE
For the really technical stuff, you need to be aware of how your increased turning circle (with caravan in tow) can impact things if you don’t swing wide enough to account for it.
And when it comes to picking the right line to negotiate rocks and boulders, you’ll need to consider where the vulnerable, low-hanging parts of the undercarriage are for your caravan and 4WD. Things like water tanks and taps are usually the first to cop an impact but it’s often avoidable if you pick the right line. And when it comes to exiting river bed crossings and the like, a little bit of smooth momentum can help account for the extra weight in tow – so no throttle-stomping madness! If you do get stuck, sometimes the slightest shift in positioning can make all the difference, so don’t be afraid to try a different line. Just make sure you don’t end up with the caravan sitting sideways on an incline – that’s a recipe for disaster!
Those tight High Country tracks sure make performing a U-turn with a caravan in tow an absolute mission! But there are a few little tricks of the trade that can really help. The first one is to activate your trailer’s brakes independently to your vehicle as you start to reverse. It will cause the caravan to jack-knife much faster than usual which, in this circumstance, can actually be quite useful.
I often see drivers having to take a few swings at straightening the car and caravan up after a tight turn. Believe it or not, it isn’t always as simple as driving straight if you don’t have enough room ahead of you. Instead, exaggerating the turn both ways before you end up straight should get the job done a bit quicker. Give it a go, it works for me!
The right gear selection plays a massive role in successful offroad driving, especially when you’re halfway up a steep descent with a 2-3 tonne anchor on the back! On steep hills, you really want to avoid shifting gears if you can – you’ll lose valuable momentum on the way up, and engaging the clutch on the way down means you lose engine braking, which allows the vehicle to free roll down hill and pick up unwanted speed. So, the best tip I can give you is to pick a gear and stick to it.
Low-range gearing will be your biggest ally but, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be tackling a gnarly stretch of track to warrant the use of the stubby stick. In fact, even on the main dirt roads through the High Country, where the hills are quite gradual and it was fairly slow-going, using the low-range gears actually increased our level of control, and it means the engine won’t labour anywhere near as much, thanks to the increase in available torque.
Well, that should be enough tips and tricks to let you hit the tracks with confidence. Granted, it’s usually a smarter option to leave the caravan at camp before you go exploring offroad but, every now and then, those premium camping spots require a little bit of extra effort to reach.
Sure, you could settle for second best but, hey – where’s the fun in that?
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #564. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!