Top 10 Fears of New 4WD Owners

by Tom Severin

Results of Stuck forever.

Results of Stuck forever.

Driving off road presents a host of challenges for any driver. Four wheeling can be especially intimidating for new drivers. Those initial concerns are understandable. It takes off-road experience to build skillset and confidence.

If you’ve considered going off road but are reluctant to do so, relax. The following information should convince you take up the hobby.

While you are reading this remember: in town, you can be in a pile-up as the result of other driver’s errors and actions. Off-road, in almost every instance, the driver made the decision and judgment that led to his predicament.

After years of talking with new 4-wheel drive owners, here is my perception of the Top 10 Fears of newer drivers, and what to do about them.

1. Damage to a new vehicle: This is mostly cosmetic damage, and includes minor pin-striping and scrapes to bumpers. On occasion an air dam gets torn off or a license plate is bent out of shape. The skid plate will protect the undercarriage if you bottom out.

I recommend you add rock sliders on the sides of the vehicle as one of your first upgrades in armor even if you only plan to do forest service roads. The first little dents “hurt” you more than the vehicle. On the bright side, you can now justify an aftermarket bumper!

It is a toss-up as to which of these next two is the bigger concern. I picked rolling over as the number 2 concern.

2. Rolling over: Normally another rare issue. What makes good YouTube fodder is the extreme stuff with above average risk. When it does occur, the driver is often in an extreme situation or driving recklessly.

Take your time going through rough terrain and around obstacles. And avoid high risk situations. Perhaps not a comfort to you, if you do make a mistake and “roll over” – most times, the vehicle will only tip over onto a side (what we call a flop). These tend to occur while driving slowly, so damage to the vehicle is limited.

3. Stuck forever: Rarely happens. Sure you are going to get stuck sometimes. Most stuck situations are what we call shallowly stuck – lightly hung up on a rock or mud just up to the side walls.

Your buddies will help you out of a jam. A quick pull a few feet by another vehicle and you are out.

But if you go by yourself, a winch will get you out of most situations. Of course you will avoid situations that are right on the edge of being doable.

But remember to always go out with at least one other vehicle.

4. Breakdowns: They occur, but the more common issues are resolved with proper training and tools. Remember, too, that you’re likely to be with other drivers.

Read some of our other articles to prepare for and deal with breakdowns. Tires are the number one problem in my opinion. Focus on learning the skills to fix tires (they are not hard) and acquire the necessary tools.

Bottom line: a breakdown need not end your four wheeling trip.

5. Not knowing where to go and not knowing other drivers: The Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) produces maps that show open trails in western states. Since 2011, they provide “Off-Highway Vehicle Route Supplement” maps by Field Office sub regions. All open trails (with trail numbers) are identified. These maps do not have contour lines or other details and should be used with other maps like the BLM Surface Management Status maps.

All national forests are required to publish a “Motor Vehicle Use Map” (MVUM). The maps are little more than line drawings of the trails with trail numbers. They show the major paved road to help orient you. In California, the California Trail Users Coalition publishes maps with the MVUM over laid on more fully featured maps for $3.00. Obtain several maps so you know where to find legal trails.

Another good resource are trail guides. You can find a list of publishers on my web site

Look for events that are open to the public. Stop by and introduce yourself. In the process, you’re likely to meet other drivers willing to hit the trails with you.

Lost a bead

Lost a bead

6. Breaking a bead: Also called losing a bead, this is common. This concern is warranted but easily mitigated.

Four wheelers air down nearly every time they go off road. If you turn too sharp, too fast in soft stuff or against a rock, the deflated tire is likely to lose its bead. The issue sounds worse than it is, though. As you’ll learn in another article, Tire Problems Shouldn’t Deflate Your Day, the problem is easily corrected with an air compressor and jack.

7. Embarrassing yourself in front of others: Understand that everyone has to start sometime. Heck, I can recall some of my boneheaded newbie mistakes. The hope is that your fellow drivers are patient and understanding.

To build your confidence, take some introductory classes. Everyone in the class is in the same position as you, and you’ll learn together. (I offer a number of beginners’ classes.) Bear in mind that making mistakes is a part of your training.

Don’t get worked up if, for example, you pick the wrong line. You’ll quickly recover, and you’ll be a smarter four wheeler as a result.

8. Lack of skill & knowledge: with all the YouTube videos available of extreme situations there is a sense that they’d be in over their heads. There is no need to jump into high risk and difficult trails.

One trail book I have for Southern California lists over 150 trails (representing about 1500 miles). Only 19 of them are rated above a Difficulty Level of 4 (out of 10). Most of the trails take you to scenic overlooks, old ghost towns, old mines, and great camp sites. However, you need good clearance and 4-wheel drive to get there. An off-road training clinic will quickly eliminate much of the concern. There are so many trails, and such a wide variety of terrain, that you’ll easily find a path that is enjoyable and surmountable.

9. Going off camber: Official term for driving when tipped at an angle. As a newbie, being tilted over can be an unnerving experience. Even veteran drivers are uncomfortable driving off camber. Off camber isn’t a real issue until you get up around a 30-degree pitch. You’re not likely to tip over, though, unless you’re traveling fast. Go slow and control the bounce.

In my Getting Started Off-Road Driving & Safety Clinic I put students through a 30-degree pitch. They learn what it feels like and how to respond. They are less likely to freeze up while off road.

A couple of tools can help you determine your angle. One is an angle finder carpenter’s use, available in any hardware store. Another one, you can find at 4WD stores can be glued to the dash, it shows pitch and yaw.

10. Lack of immediate emergency services: Some 4WD areas as so remote, you’re outside the 2-hour window that normally defines urgent care response. Worse, you may be outside of cell range, as well. Some steps include:

A. Get basic first aid training. Learn how to stabilize an injured person. Take a basic survival course, too. You may need to camp out one or more nights while waiting for help.

B. Pack alternate forms of communication. These can include ham radio (requires a license), a satellite phone and a personal locator beacon or SPOT device.

C. Always ride with at least one other vehicle. I can’t stress that enough. Especially while still inexperienced, don’t consider going alone to anything but the easiest trails.

I hope you have a better understanding of how to address four wheeling issues. The trails await you. Get the training you need, pack your vehicle, and then get out and enjoy the ride.

Tom Severin, President
Badlands Off Road Adventures,Inc.
4-Wheel Drive School


Johnson Valley

See the beauty of Johnson Valley as few see it.

Camp Cooking

by Tom Severin.

Relaxing before preparing dinner

Relaxing before preparing dinner

Sitting around a campfire enjoying a finely prepared meal with friends is one of the most pleasurable aspects of four-wheeling. A hearty meal tastes so good after a long day on the trail.

Two previous columns, Cook Anywhere, Anytime With A Campbox and Tickle The Tastebuds With A Dutch Oven, discuss particular aspects of off-road cooking. We’ll talk in more general terms here.

Cooking for an entire group is fun, but it’s also a fair amount of work. Rotate the cooking duties among the various families participating in your ride. Each family (or person) can showcase a favorite meal, thereby putting a distinctive flavor on the trip.

Each will bring what is necessary to cook the particular meal. But plan for contingencies. If, for example, one family has to leave camp early, perhaps they can transfer their food to other vehicles. Also, each family should bring extra food in case they get separated from the group.

Consider spreading some of the cooking gear among the vehicles. Some redundancy is good – take along two stoves, for example, even if you plan to use only one. But it’s not necessary to duplicate every item. As the length and remoteness of the trip increases, the issue of limited space and weight makes a planned group distribution of gear more appealing.

Half the fun of a trip is in the planning and that includes the assignment of meals and distribution of gear. However, it’s also important that each family learn to be self-sufficient. It’s a good skill to develop, and for the more demanding trips, it’s a necessity.

A view with breakfast

A view with breakfast

Some other items to consider:

•  It’s difficult to cook multiple dishes outdoors and make sure the food stays piping hot. Look for one-pot recipe ideas. A Dutch Oven or pressure cooker will keep your food nice and hot as it is served.
•  While shopping for items that require refrigeration after opening, look for smaller packages or jars and buy several of each. You may be able to consume an entire package or jar during one meal. If not, the smaller item will fit easier in the cooler.

Spread the extra condiments among the vehicles. If something happens to one vehicle, you will still have supplies for the group.

Avoid glass jars and bottles. There’s too great a risk of breakage while traveling on rough roads. (Plus, glass beverage bottles are prohibited on many public lands.) Look for products the come in plastic containers or squeeze bottles.

•  Consider ingredients that don’t require refrigeration (at least until opened). These include evaporated milk, Velveeta cheese, and others. It may require some ingenuity in substituting ingredients in the recipe, but that can be fun, too!
•  See if you can eliminate extra preparation equipment like bowls, pans, and such. For example, can you mix the cake batter in the same pan you are going to cook it in? Can the noodles be boiled in the same pan you are going to use to prepare the final dish?
•  Re-package items at home to eliminate bulk and trash. Measure out and take only the amount of ingredients you need for the recipes. For example, the one cup of rice you need can be stored in a ZipLoc bag. Leave the box at home.

Another example: Measure three cups of Bisquick into a Ziploc bag, put one cup of sugar in another Ziploc bag with 1 and ½ teaspoons of cinnamon and put that Ziploc inside the Bisquick Ziploc bag along with a Ziploc bag containing 6 oz. of Crisco. Now you have all the dry ingredients for a peach cobbler in one package. You can reuse any of the Ziploc bags for trash after the meal.

For each item, we take along only what’s needed during the trip. No need to pack all the containers for each ingredient.

Preparing a “home-cooked” meal outdoors is fun and very satisfying. With each family contributing a recipe, your group can look forward to feasting on a variety of great meals.

Tom Severin, President
Badlands Off Road Adventures,Inc.
4-Wheel Drive School


How to get to Tamarack Lake in the High Sierras

Tamarack LakeThere is nothing quite like the High Sierras if you really want to get away from the crowds and there are few places as beautiful as these mountains. Unfortunately, many of the most picturesque spots are inaccessible by vehicles of any sort and most require a significant hike or overnight backpacking adventure. Tamarack Lake is a spectacular place high in the Sierras that is not only beautiful but is reasonably accessible as well.

Getting to Tamarack Lake does require a four-wheel drive vehicle PLUS it does require a short hike; about 2 miles of fairly easy trail. Do not attempt this run too early in the Spring as it will be covered in snow and do not attempt too soon after a rain or if rain is threatening as the trail becomes very difficult when wet and muddy.

To get to the lake, take Highway 395 North almost to the town of Bridgeport, California. Turn off 395 onto a dirt road that leads toward Green Lake. The road is well marked but do not go to Green Lake, instead bear right at the “Y” and follow the road through the trees and up the mountain to a parking spot at a hiking trailhead. (GPS: N38 08.602 W119 18.795) From there, follow the trail up the mountain to the lake. It is almost two miles with an elevation gain of about 700’ but the trail is good and not too difficult if you take your time. There are photo opportunities all along the trail with beautiful granite mountains, wildflowers and, if you are lucky, you may even get a picture of some wildlife.

Half the fun is using the 4WD to get to a place that few others will ever see, the other half of the fun is the PLUS . . . . just being there.

Have fun and don’t forget to pack emergency gear! (See for more info)


Southern Four Wheel Drive Associations Trail Fest 2016

Adventure Off Road Park West of Chattanooga,Tennessee was the location of the 13th annual Southern Four Wheel Drive Association’s Trail Fest, a gathering of family and friends for some outrageous off-roading.