Auto GN fun drive
The 2020 Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive begins this weekend! Image Credit: GN archive

While a sizeable number of vehicles on UAE roads are highly capable 4x4s that can take on the harshest of terrain, a good percentage of owners don’t venture further than the sand parking lot, or at a push, the beach.

But this weekend (17th-18th Jan), over 750 of these vehicles and approximately 2,000 participants will be put to the ultimate test as they participate in the 39th edition of the Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive! Here are 10 basic tips to help you prepare for and make the most of the mega, annual off-road event!

1 - Make sure your car is ready for action!

Always have your car serviced before venturing into the desert, as the oils get very hot under strain (especially diff coolers and transmission fluid) and your filter will be caked with sand. Top up all fluids, including your windscreen washer, and ensure you have a working spare and a jack (don’t forget the wheel lock key if you have security lug nuts). Oh, and a wooden plank will be useful so that the jack doesn’t sink into the sand.

2 - Deflate tyres

Auto GN fun drive
Don't forget to deflate your tyres! Image Credit: GN archive

Once on location, mark your entry point on the GPS. It’s also good to write down a landmark which is easy to spot. Deflate your tyres down to 12-15 psi to give your wheels more surface area. An inflated tyre is hard and it will simply sink in the sand. Leaving it around 15 psi also gives you leeway if you get bogged down — you can deflate down to 5 psi if it’s really sticky, but don’t go too low, because your tyre might pop off the rim.

3 - Steer, not brake

Never brake hard, you will sink, and never stop flat — always on an incline or decline. Keep the steering wheel moving to give you more traction, but don’t go wild, as that will lead to tyres popping off the rim.

4 - Avoid bushes

Avoid large bushes as they may cause the vehicle to roll if you hit them sideways. Also, it’s simply not cool to just drive over wildlife.

5 - Use throttle wisely

Auto GN fun drive
Even the most experienced of off-roaders can struggle so if you do get stuck, don't panic - help will be on the way! Image Credit: GN archive

If you start slowing down or getting stuck, don’t pile on the throttle. Stop (without applying the brakes), get out and assess the situation. Dig the tyres out of the sand, select the direction you want to move and get the passengers to push your vehicle. If you are getting stuck and you continue to apply the throttle, you will simply sink. An exception is if you are on the side of a hill. In that case, you turn the steering down and apply throttle. You must not hesitate in such a situation.

6 - Choose the right mode

A proper off-road vehicle will have different transmission modes: 4-low is generally used to climb hills, traverse rocks and for pulling large boats or loads. It gives a lot of torque to the wheels, allowing your vehicle to pull large loads. This may consequently dig your tyres into the sand, so it’s not advisable. You will find that for most situations in the desert, regular four-wheel drive is fine.

7- Carry the essentials

Auto GN fun drive
Don't leave home without the essentials! Image Credit: GN archive

There are a few essential items you should have with you. Of course, this list can go on and on, but for a beginner session just bring along a tow rope rated to the weight of your vehicle, shackles, a shovel, a GPS, a fully charged mobile phone and plenty of water.

8- Tow it right

Auto GN fun drive
If you cannot push yourself out, then you will need to be towed out... Image Credit: GN archive

Now, if you’re so deep in trouble that you can’t push yourself out, you will need to get towed out. First, select the direction you want to be pulled out, because the towing vehicle should pull you straight out, not sideways. This is to avoid damage to your axles. The towing vehicle should preferably be driving on a decline and not an incline.

9 - Read the sand

OK, easy now. Go slowly at first and try to read the sand. Small ripples mean the sand is compact and easy to traverse, but changing colours mean softer sands. Bottoms of dunes are usually hard, tops are soft. Keep both hands on the wheel, always. If you find yourself slowing down when going up a steep dune, turn away from it and let gravity get you back down for another try.

10 – Lose weight!

It might be too late for you to ditch a few pounds between now and the start of the action this weekend but there’s no point in both you and your vehicle carrying extra timber! The more a vehicle weighs, the more stress it puts on the components; everything from the chassis, suspension, and wheel bearings to the motor. Excessive weight on a vehicle being driven off-road will impact its performance and can make the difference between climbing out of a deep rut or sliding backward. So, while it is vitally important to carry the essentials, you can probably leave the washing machine and fridge behind…