It’s not all plain sailing

4×4 rookie Andrew Roy has owned his 4×4 for about a year now, and has slowly learned that living with one is not all adventure and serenity. There are frustrations you have to deal with that regular drivers would never even think of

4x4s are simply extraordinary: They take you to places that off er timeless beauty and untouched wilderness. They off er escape to places that the seething masses just can’t get to and, depending on the model, can take you there in style, speed and safety. They can get you into trouble and they can get you out of it, and they also inspire feelings of passionate loyalty, emotion and pride. And unlike the majority of cars out there, they allow their owners to spend endless hours waffling about potential new equipment, trips and what little improvements can be made.

I have owned my 4×4 for about a year now and I love the car and the lifestyle. However, I have noti ced a few things that come with being a 4×4 driver that would probably frustrate drivers of regular cars…

Tyres: 4×4 drivers better get to know about tyres. We seem to spend our lives talking about balancing tyres, plugging tyres, rotating tyres, inflating tyres and deflating tyres. Sadly, we even get excited about tyre accessories like tyre gauges, air compressors and tyre deflators.

Normal people probably don’t have a debate about whether the white writi ng on the tyre wall (if you have bought a tyre with white writing on the tyre wall) should be facing the outside or the inside. They don’t think about things like if you put the writing on the inside, no one seems to notice that you have just spent seven months’ salary on a set of new tyres. But putting the writing on the outside advertises to all the other drivers that you have just bought new tyres. This allows them to scrutinise your choice of tyre a lot easier. You can almost hear them thinking: “Check this guy out. He bought the cheap ones. He really should have gone for the high-end model. Those are complete rubbish.”

Performance (or lack of it): We have to deal with annoying little zippy cars that seem to climb steep hills effortlessly. We notice them doing it because they seem to be almost welded to our rear bumpers.

Just when you think that you have picked up a reasonable amount of speed, as a result of mashing the accelerator to the floor, you glance in the rear view mirror and see twelve cars behind you filled with bored-looking drivers reading newspapers, sending text messages, or having quick naps. I used to feel guilty about this but when the petrol price was at its worst I realised that if I kept the car’s revs below 2000 r/min I could save about R720 a month.

I also noti ce that cars seem to think that just because you are chugging up a hill towards them they can take gaps in front of you that they would probably never have taken if you were in a normal car. They don’t seem to realise that the braking performance of most of our cars is comparable to that of an oil tanker. I braked hard the other day and was able to SMS my girlfriend before the car actually stopped.

Streaking away from a traffic light to secure a lane of choice is also no longer possible in my car. The other day I was desperate to get from the left lane into the right lane, and made the decision to speed away from the traffic light leaving everyone in my dust. The light changed to green and I floored it, snapping my head back against the head rest, listening to the engine raging underneath the bonnet. I glanced to the left and saw nothing! I glanced to the right and saw one of those rubbish-recycler guys towing his trolley, at a walking pace, going at about the same speed that I was. It was kind of embarrassing.

Petrol: I mentioned this already, but it is probably worth more discussion. My car uses a lot of petrol. If the car has done more than 40km before the fuel needle dips below the “Full” mark, wild celebrati ons ensue. Dancing girls climb out of the glove box and “do the locomotion” between the front and back seats. On a recent Kalahari trip we drove a substantial distance in deep, soft sand – I could literally see the fuel needle moving towards the “Empty” mark. I bet normal car drivers have rarely experienced that.

Vehicle Height: I would also bet that not many ordinary-car drivers have prevented other cars from being able to enter the underground parking at their local shopping centre because the “maximum height” sign is entangled in their roof rack. In my defence, I still believe that a maximum height of 1.8m is ridiculous.

Another awkward scenario that results from a 4×4’s height is the difficulty associated with leaving your office. The access-card control unit that I have to swipe my card against to exit the parking lot is about as high from the ground as Richard Hammond’s head. My colleagues get endless amusement watching me pour my entire body out my window and rappel down the side of the car to try and swipe my card. Fortunately, us 6’5’’ people have arms the same length as an Orang-utan’s, so we make do.

Parking: Finding a parking spot in a 4×4 can be a litt le problematic. It is not locati ng the parking spot that is normally the problem, but rather the diffi culty associated with parking in an available parking spot without having to exit through the car’s sun roof. It is amazing how oft en the one parking spot just outside the shop you are going to is too small for a 4×4, but the one in the corner, a short twenty minute jog away, is about as wide as a Boeing 747’s wingspan.

So yes, I know there are some frustrations associated with driving these big, beautiful cars, but, and I think you will all agree with me, they are very well worth tolerating for the amazing benefits they provide us with. Every minor flaw is easily forgotten when sitting next to a pan in the middle of Botswana with a cold drink in hand, being mesmerised by a spectacular sunset and taking in the characteristic smell of a newly-lit fire.