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Differences between 4x2 and 4x4

Besides from the obvious fact that all four wheels are driven and thus giving more traction, there are other important differences between a two-wheel and a four-wheel drive:

  • Low transfer gearing: Needed to take steep, difficult terrain slowly and carefully
  • Differential locks:
    • Centre differential lock: Must be locked immediately when driving through difficult terrain, because if it not locked and one wheel loses traction, all power will be distributed to this (now free-running) wheel. If the centre differential is locked, then two wheels have to lose ground contact for this to happen, and it must be one wheel from the front and one from the back.
    • Axle differential locks: Do not lock on tar (excessive tyre wear). May create difficulties on flat terrain where the surface is slippery, but traction almost the same for every wheel (e.g. sand), under-steer. The rear lock always has to be engaged before the front lock!
Rule of thumb: Engage the centre lock immediately when leaving tar, engage axle locks only to get out of difficult situations.

  • Higher clearance

Driving techniques


  • Always remember to wear a seat belt, even if driving at low speeds!
  • Make it a habit to never brace yourself with a "roll bar", in the event you overturn, you may crush or lose fingers.
  • Make sure your safety helmet has face protection. (Broken jaws are common.)
  • Do not fight against the vehicle. Let the steering wheel slip through your fingers a bit and gently guide it on the ways you want.
  • Never grip the steering wheel with your thumbs on the inside. Hitting a boulder or pothole at speed will cause the steering to turn fast and hard, resulting in a bruised, dislocated or broken thumb.


  • Gravel
  • Corrugation: On gravel roads sooner or later corrugation will build up. This will result in shaking if you drive more than about 20 km/h. At a higher speed (70 km/h) it will get better, as the car skims from wave to wave.
  • Rutting
  • River: Carefully watch other cars driving or (if safe) walk through to see how deep it is before. If the engine block is hit by the water it will be cooled down very quickly, this might result in cracks. Try to avoid water deeper than the hub of the wheel.
  • Sand: Release pressure out of the tyres before hitting a sand track, 0.8 to 1.0 bar, depending on the load of the vehicle. Do not try to steer against resistance, the car will usually search his track. Do not shift gears. Do not brake as this will build up small hills of sand in front of you tyres, making it difficult to start again. If you get stuck do not try to accelerate as this will only dig you more into the sand. Try driving backwards instead. Use high ratio because the additional momentum given by the low transfer gear will cause wheel-spin.
  • Mud
  • Snow


There are many places where one can receive advanced off-road driver training training. Most of the major off-road vehicle manufacturers offer courses on their own vehicles.

Recovery kit

It is highly recommended that you carry a recovery kit when travelling off-road. A simple kit can mean the difference between getting yourself out of a tight spot within an hour or being stuck for days waiting for help to arrive.

A basic recovery kit should contain at least the following:

  • Gloves - Most injuries occur while trying to extract a stuck vehicle.
  • Tows straps
  • Tree protector - Do not use your tow straps or winch cable directly around trees, as this might cause damage.
  • Snatch Block - To double you winching power or allow your vehicle to be pulled even when there is no space for another vehicle in front of it.
  • D-Ring Shackles - To attach things together.
  • High lift jack - In most places where you might get stuck, the standard jack will just not be high enough.
  • Torch
  • Spade

Always ensure that the equipment is from a reputable manufacturer and of good quality. When suck in the mud 100km from the nearest town, a working snatch block is worth a lot more than a broken one with a 12 month no questions asked exchange warranty.

Due to quality concerns it is generally better to build your own recovery kit by purchasing each component individually, than to buy a complete all-in-one recovery kit.

Improvised repairs


  • Repair manual
  • The normal assortment of spanners and screwdrivers. Hammer and pliers.
  • Puncture repair kit
  • Compressor - To re-inflate tires
  • Plastic sheet or tarp (2x2 meter) - Vehicles break down in the worst places and weather. A sheet will protect you from sunburn, rain or sinking away in mud while effecting repairs.
  • battery jump cable
  • a funnel
  • spark plug wrench
  • chisel
  • monkey wrench

Spare parts

  • fuses
  • engine oil, gearbox oil and brake fluid
  • fuel filters: Especially when driving in third world countries, as the fuel is often contaminated with dirt and water
  • fan belts
  • spark plugs
  • fuel hose
  • wire
  • insulation tape
  • duct tape
  • epoxy putty (to seal big holes in the radiator)
  • self tapping screws (various sizes)- used with epoxy putty to seal holes in fuel tanks, fuels lines, brake lines etc.
  • cork (larger than your oil drain plug) - situated at the lowest part of the engine the oil drain plug is a prime candidate to be ripped out by boulders in rough terrain. When this occurs the drain plug threads are normally also damaged and you will not be able to fix a replacement plug; cork and epoxy can create a very good temporary seal until you can have the problem professionally seen to.



First check the cooling water level. If it is low, refilling does not help too much, because as you have lost it during the last short period of time (you have checked it before you started your journey, haven't you?) you will probably lose it again very soon. So you have to search the leakage. Check the tubes from and to the radiator, and the radiator itself.

Bigger punctures in the radiator can be repaired with epoxy putty, smaller ones by putting egg white in the radiator. But be sure to clean this as soon as you can. If you have a leakage in the radiator hose put a (used!) chewing gum on it and fix it with some duct tape.

If the cooling water level is ok, but the engine is still running hot, something might prevent the water from being cooled. Check the fan belt, is it loose or broken? Have a look at the radiator, is grass or seeds disturbing the airflow?

Another common problem is a defective thermostat. The thermostat is responsible for by-passing the radiator as long as the engine is cold, allowing the engine to reach its optimum operation temperature quickly. But if it is broken, the cooling water will not reach the radiator and the engine heats up too much. To work around this problem without having a spare thermostat just remove it. Then the water will always flow through the radiator and your problems should be gone. Replace it soon.

Heated parts of the car might cause a wildfire.


With some practise you do not need the clutch to change gears.

Car types

Diesel or Petrol?

The availability of diesel is better in 3rd world countries.


  • Defender


  • Navara: a pickup truck
  • X-Trail: Not necessarily a 4x4, there is a 2x4 type, too.


Cars by this manufacturer have a reputation for being very reliable. They are used in many third world countries, so it is easy to get spare parts almost anywhere.

  • HiLux

The workhorse for off-road driving! Very reliable and, because it is very commonly used, spare parts are even available in Timbuktu.

  • Single Cab: Three seats, two doors
  • Xtracab: Five seats, two doors
  • Double Cab: six seats, four doors
  • Land Cruiser


  • CJ
  • Wrangler
  • Wagoneer

Hiring a car

Most companies require a minimum age to rent a car.


  • Tyres: Spare
  • Jack and wheel spanner (Check to ensure that the wheel spanner actually fit, equipment sometimes end up with the wrong vehicle at hire companies)
  • Oil
  • Water
  • Brakes

Camping gear is sometimes included in off-road rentals, this allows you to combine your transport and accommodation requirements in one.

Be sure to check on the cost of insurance and the excess payable in the event of an accident or theft of the vehicle.

Organized tours

Organized tours are becoming quite popular. It ensures that there is at least one experienced driver in the group and that there is always someone to assist in recovery if a vehicle gets stuck. Many people also prefer the social interaction of a larger group rather just one or two vehicles travelling on their own. Some tours may even be fully catered with regular meals provided.

See also

This travel topic about Offroad driving is a usable article. It touches on all the major areas of the topic. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.