Like many people, my driving experience so far is limited to paved roads. Off-road driving is still an unexplored area for me, and it is also an area that I am very keen to experience. Therefore, when it came out in the office that there was an opportunity to get a traffic jam course from the experts of Learn Offroad, I readily accepted it. Learn Offroad is a professional offroad training school located about 120 kilometers from Mumbai. It covers an area of 65 acres and offers courses from level 1 to level 3 based on your experience.
My experience is very limited. I signed up for a one-on-one Level 1 course for beginners, hoping to learn more about the art of off-roading. The one who instructed me to complete the course was Dr. Tejas Kothari, who is the only cross-country instructor certified by the International Four-wheel Drive Trainers Association (I4WDTA) in Asia. To make up for my lack of experience, I brought one of the sharpest 4×4 tools in the car shed-the brand new Mahindra Thar.
Review some precautions for off-roading.
The course started with a briefing, and Tejas taught me the precautions for off-roading. He helped me understand the importance of low-speed ratio boxes and differential locks, as well as the basic principles of approach angle, departure angle and turning angle.
Then we jumped into Thar, where Tejas quickly pointed out some off-road driving habits that I must forget. For example, hold the steering wheel while keeping your thumbs outward so as not to break or dislocate when turning to “rebound”. Or do not cross your arms when turning the steering wheel, and hover your feet on the brake pedal while driving—not on the accelerator. I need some time to reconnect my brain, but I quickly figured it out.
The thumb is outward and the elbow is bent to obtain an ideal off-road driving position.
Finally, the good show is about to begin, and the first obstacle is the deep ditch. This is a basic entry barrier designed to allow participants to understand how their SUV crawls at a low speed ratio and how to recover from a failed hill climbing maneuver. However, before we enter Thar, I must walk over obstacles with Tejas, looking for any potential hazards that might hinder my progress, such as loose rocks or sand. He warned: “Before driving, you must walk through all obstacles.”
After the reconnaissance, I fastened my seat belt, opted for low-speed four-wheel drive and set off cautiously. Using Thar’s downhill control, I started slowly crawling into the deep ditch, trying my best to overcome the instinct to step on the brake pedal. Thar easily lowered himself into the ditch, but the next challenge was to climb up and out the other side. On a steep slope, I managed to stall-this is a novice mistake. Nonetheless, it gave me the opportunity to learn the “failed hill climbing” technique. This includes rolling back down a slope to a flatter surface, first driving the car in and powering it out. I tried several times, but in the end it succeeded.
The second obstacle is that the rock crawls on a small piece of land. It all has to do with low speed and precise driving, because you have to place the wheel at the correct angle to prevent the tire from cracking on the sharp rock below it. This may sound daunting, but frankly, I find this obstacle easier to resolve than the first one.
Next is the one called the Devil’s Hump, which is basically a huge hump in the middle of the trail, set at an angle. You must take a diagonal approach when crossing it to avoid stranding. “You have to take your time and be careful, because the car will throw a tire into the air,” Tejas said. I approached carefully, and lightly stepped on the accelerator when Thar started to climb the hump. When I crossed the mountain, the car suddenly dropped the front left tire on the ground, and the rear right tire swayed high in the air. This is disturbing, but very interesting.
Thar is capable of some serious wheel articulation.
After the hump, we continue to the spotted minefield, where there are lots of loose rocks and across the dry riverbed. This is an excellent environment to learn the gestures of your “observer” friend, who will guide you around obstacles. Like Deep Ditch, here we use four wheels to drive at a low speed and let the ramp descend to complete the work. And, on the way up, if you get stuck, use the failed mountain climbing. Although I was walking on a small road and deciding which places to avoid, it was Tejas’s observer signal that helped me clear this in the end.
“Things are going well,” I think, but the most serious obstacle has yet to come-the slope. This will tilt the car to the side so that you feel like you are going to tip over. But Tejas assured me that it is completely safe and Thar can do this task. Side slope can help you understand the camber capability of the vehicle. The key here is to keep the steering wheel straight, and if you think you will fall, turn in the direction of the fall. Fortunately, it never happened because Thar easily dealt with this obstacle.
Level 1 certification! Next time, level 2.
The last point is the joint barrier, which consists of several smaller humps arranged on both sides of the path in a staggered manner. This shows what happens in a “cross axle” situation and how the differential lock can help by transmitting power to the wheels on the ground. Once again, the Tahr handled the matter effortlessly.
After completion, I successfully completed my level 1 course and left the trail, and the certificate I received at the end was a good little touch. Although I am still far from perfect, it gave me a great sense of accomplishment, and I must have learned more about car control in one day than I thought. Next is the Level 2 course of Learn Offroad, I hope I can master it as soon as possible.
Tejas’ 5 novice off-road skills
You spend about 5% of vehicle costs on insurance each year, but spend less than 2% on off-road education. It is more cautious. This is a one-time cost. Knowing and understanding the abilities of you and your vehicle can go a long way in maintaining your safety and enjoying a pleasant off-road weekend. Good books, videos, and courses are all resources you can use.
Off-roading is never about self. If you are not sure about a particular obstacle, don’t be shy to exit. It’s better to be safe than to spend the night in a mud puddle, or worse, get injured. After all, off-roading is about enjoying the outdoors, not showing off some of your skills.
3. Never alone
You should never go off-road alone. Always bring at least one more car and the lowest rated off-road recovery equipment and spare parts. Make sure someone always knows where you are going. Try to bring an experienced off-road vehicle the first few times, remember that the telephone network is unreliable.
4. Modify or not
Don’t rush to modify. Today this is tempting and easy to do, but understand your vehicle because it is in inventory and is upgraded slowly and steadily at a time. In this way, you and your car progress together, and you will understand the advantages that each modification brings to you.
5. Tread lightly
Take care of the earth, don’t trample on vegetation unnecessarily, and remember that animals have the right of way. Don’t throw rubbish, take your rubbish; anyway, you brought it there. In addition, do not risk entering the village’s farmland, which may cause damage to the crops. Livestock will also be frightened by loud noises. Remember, animals and locals always have priority.