Make sure that you know your vehicle and all of its safety features. If you know your vehicle well you could skip this step, but if you haven’t owned it very long, take a few minutes to read up on your 4WD system, how to operate it and when to use it. It helps to know your vehicle’s abilities and limitations before you get into a tight spot. Look underneath for the spot with the highest ground clearance—knowing this in advance could come in handy as you approach a big rock. It’s also a good idea to locate the ECU (Engine Control Unit) and air intake. If your adventure includes crossing through water, you don’t want to get these wet.
Check the fluids and top off as necessary. Brake fluid, power steering fluid, engine coolant, windshield washing solution, transmission fluid, and engine oil. While you’ve got the hood open, take a few minutes to visually inspect the engine compartment for anything that looks like it could be a problem. “Spongy” coolant hoses should be replaced, as well as frayed belts.
Check the condition of your tires and make sure they’re inflated to specifications. Remember to check the spare as well, and make sure you’ve got the lug wrench and jack stowed away.
When loading your vehicle, distribute the weight evenly and as low as possible. This will decrease the chances of tipping over while you’re climbing a steep hill.
Nobody likes to imagine being stranded, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Here is a short list of some emergency supplies that you should always keep on hand, especially for an adventure trip:
- Warm blanket or sleeping bag
- Non-perishable food supplies such as crackers and energy bars
- Water. The US government recommends no less than a gallon of water per day, per person. In a pinch, household bleach can be used as an emergency disinfectant. Simply mix a few drops of bleach in a gallon, shake it up well, and wait 30 minutes.
- Emergency flares and weather radio
- Fully charged cell phone
- Flashlight and fresh batteries
- First aid kit. The larger ones are best. Look for one with a snake bite kit.
- Map and compass
- Fire starting supplies
- Tools and spare fluids. Keep a gas can handy.
- Prescription medications
Sharing the trip is always more fun than going it alone, and it’s safer too. Traveling with a companion can double your chances for getting help if one of you becomes ill or suffers an injury. As with any outdoor activity, let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return. Make sure to leave yourself plenty of time—four wheeling is much lower than driving on the freeway.