If you’re new to 4×4 driving and going off-road, you will definitely be tempted to climb hills with all that torque at your command. There’s good ways of going about it – and disastrous ways. To make sure you’re prepared to go hill climbing with your 4×4, read up here before you hit the inclines.
Before the climb
First of all, you should know your 4×4 well, and know if it’s suitable for the hill you’re about to climb. (e.g., does your 4×4 have a dedicated “hill mode?”) Don’t “hope for the best,” know the approximate inclines and what your 4×4 can handle to prevent roll-overs. You need to figure out if the route can be approached from straight ahead, as sideways climbs can result in roll-overs. You must also know whether your hill will provide adequate traction, footing, and if it will maintain momentum to keep you and your occupants safe. You also need to stow your luggage in a way that will not affect the centre of gravity of your ascent and descent – packing too heavy to the right or left could cause a sideways roll-over when under normal circumstances it would climb or descend without trouble. You should also have the right 4×4 accessories, to make sure you can recover from any potentially dangerous situations.
The hill ascent
This requires all your concentration and situational awareness. You need to keep a balanced approach with good forward momentum – not a “dash” to the summit. You should engage 2nd or 3rd gear, maintaining RPM. This gives you extra range if you need it. Note that 4x4s using diesel is usually better for hill ascents as they usually have better low RPM torque compared to petrol engines. If you feel your wheels are slipping, slow down to maintain traction. As you approach the top, slow down to prevent lifting the front wheels.
The hill descent
Just like the climb, approach from a perpendicular angle – sideways driving can result in roll-overs. You should engage low range in 1st gear – hills get steeper as they are nearer to flat ground, and altering gears at any time is inadvisable. Avoid using the clutch or changing gears; likewise with heavy braking, as it may cause the wheels to lock up and lose traction. Feathering or “tapping” the brakes to avoid high speed is a better alternative. In most cases, your engine will slow your vehicle in 1st, using compression braking.
Other aspects of 4×4 hill climbing to consider
In sandy, muddy or other softer terrain, a weight transfer to the downhill wheels will cause them to sink, increasing the angle of decline. What looks like an approachable angle on firmer terrain may lead to a roll-over on softer terrain. You should pack any heavy gear (that requires effort to load in and out) low inside the vehicle – only affix lightweight gear to your roof racks. Remember to use adequate 4×4 accessories for hill climbing, especially accessories that assist with recovery.
Pictured: MSA Rear Drawer Systems
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