There is an abundance of off-road vehicles out there and finding the right one for you could be daunting. Glyn Demmer offers a few tips for first-timers
New entrants to the fun of off-roading are affectionately referred to as “newbies” by the old hands. That is where they should gather information — from the older, more seasoned travellers – both before and after buying a vehicle.
Generally, the fraternity gives good advice in their assessment of a newcomer’s needs, but there is still some miscommunication and you occasionally come across a new owner who has bought a vehicle that is totally unsuited to his requirements.
After all, the 4×4 is the “enabler” that allows one to get out there and explore the outdoors in a safe, comfortable and environmentally friendly way.
I am going to touch on a few points to consider when you go looking for a 4×4, using the acronym, SPACED.
This is an important consideration and you should consider both the active and passive systems at your disposal. SA’s road safety statistics are appalling, so these items are critical in helping drivers to avoid accidents. The focus is on control through good steering and braking, and active systems include things like brake assist, ABS, brake distribution, traction control and vehicle dynamic control, or VDC. The “passive” features are the secondary systems that assist in the event of an accident, such as airbags, safety cells, crumple zones and side impact bars.
Here one would consider various options such as petrol versus diesel, taking into account the availability of low sulphur diesel fuel across our borders. Towing capacity becomes important if you want to tow a boat, caravan or trailer. You should also consider the extent to which the vehicle will be used off road and whether, for instance, a crossover vehicle would suit your needs better than a hardcore 4×4 with low range gearing.
This comes down to your personal preferences. Do you like a boxy shape for your off-roader or the more rounded, aerodynamic look? Would a shiny metallic paint job stand up to the bush, or should you opt for a flat colour? Would the type and shape of the vehicle allow for the fitment of the accessories you require?
On-road comfort and handling are important. Do you go for a rigid suspension combination or do you opt for a softer ride? Remember, this decision should be influenced by the amount and type of off-roading you want to do.
Do you need a seven-seater; is there enough interior space and are the seats comfortable enough for a long trip? These are just some of the questions you need to ask.
Evaluate the position and accessibility of the controls as well. Check the driving/steering position. You are going to spend a lot of time behind the wheel!
This is possibly the most important factor of all. You might be able to afford the vehicle, but look at the other factors in terms of the total cost of ownership – insurance, maintenance, warranty, on- and off-road fuel costs — so that you can be sure the purchase is viable. Also, at the time of purchase, factor in the accessories you will need as they can be fitted and financed at the same time.
Will the car meet your needs and go the distance, and will parts be readily available in the event of a breakdown?
Ensure adequate insurance cover, especially if you travel across borders.
Ascertain that any accessories you intend fitting are approved by the manufacturer in terms of the vehicle warranty. This is critical, as an expensive claim could be repudiated should the accessories be non-compliant.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope these few tips will be helpful to anyone planning to join the off-road fraternity. – Glyn Demmer