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Francois Rossouw: Gaining Experience

10 November 2014

Experience is something money can’t buy. You either gain it through trial and error or by observing others very closely.

For some reason, people seem to think they can buy experience without having to work for it or learn from the masters.

As far as off-road driving is concerned, merely watching others doing the hard work and the technical stuff will not make you an experienced driver. It will, however, give you a good idea of what to be careful about and how to tackle an obstacle.

You won’t have to reinvent the wheel… maybe just refine it a little bit. If you observe closely how experienced people take on an obstacle, what you learn could save you lots of money in repairs.

There are two very dangerous things that can have the same disastrous outcome – a driver who tells you, “I know how! Leave me alone!”, and a photographer who stands on the far side of an obstacle.

Recently we had to navigate a cross-axle section in Swaziland and Andy Cory stood there telling every driver to engage diff lock and continue very slowly. He made sure the vehicles were in low range since the diff lock in most 4×4 vehicles cannot be engaged in high range.

Things went well and nearly all 27 vehicles got through without any hassles. Then a driver obviously new to 4x4s told Andy not to worry – he knew how to cross this type of obstacle.

Well, we just heard engine revs and saw dust and rocks flying, but the 4×4 got stuck. The driver took some persuading to listen to advice first, and then try again. He was fortunate not to break a side shaft in his determination to impress the passengers in his 4×4.

On another occasion we had to cross a little river. There were some deep sections, and fortunately one driver took off his shoes and showed us the shallowest route. The real danger came when a few photographers positioned themselves on the far side of the river at an angle from which they could get the best picture.

Let’s be honest – who doesn’t like a nice photograph of themselves crossing a river with some fanfare?

The first inexperienced driver gained momentum even before the front wheels were in the water. He made a big splash, but water got into the engine compartment and drowned the plugs and wires to the extent that the engine stalled. After many attempts, it started again, but hissed, coughed and spluttered and slowly struggled to the other side.

The driver was lucky not to damage the radiator because when a fan hits water, it bends forward and cuts the radiator.

The experienced drivers waited until their vehicles were in the water before they “put foot” and then made a big splash. At the end, they made the best photos.

However, the most experienced drivers entered the water slowly and kept going slowly all the way to the other side without making any splashes. They were not popular with the photographers, but they also did not put their wallets at risk at any stage.

Trying to impress is an expensive habit when it comes to 4×4 driving. Most often you are far from home in places were spare parts are not readily available, and you could be punished for indiscretions. I’ve seen photographers boasting about good pictures, but those pictures often come at a cost to the owner of the vehicle.

So my suggestion to newcomers is to look, listen and follow the advice of the experienced drivers. Don’t try to impress them.