Starting Out

How to be a good passenger in a 4×4

There are no passengers when it comes to 4×4 driving.

TAGGING ALONG on an offroad trip as a passenger is a good introduction to offroading, as you get to see up close what our recreation is like – the people, the trucks, the camaraderie. But an offroad trip isn’t like going for a ride in an aeroplane where you really a just extra weight, on an offroad trip you can really be a team member, regardless of your experience. Here’s some tips for your first offroad experience:

What to do as a 4×4 passenger

  • Spot problems. Offroad driving is inherently more risky than normal driving, and the consequences can be catastrophic. Speak up if you see something that looks risky, for example a strange leak under the car, a deep hole the driver doesn’t seem to have noticed, or anything else that looks ‘wrong’. Yes, you may be inexperienced, but you’ll quickly gain experience this way even if you make the odd wrong call.
  • Help navigate. Even if it’s just holding a map that’s helpful. If you can read one, so much the better.
  • Help recover. There’s a lot of work to do in recovery, anything from rigging winches to digging. Just make sure you’re working to a the group’s plan, and not outside your knowledge base.
  • Help communicate. Handling radio comms is pretty easy and a useful way to help, especially if you’re in the lead car. Then you’re allowing the driver to focus on driving, even if you just relay their instructions.
  • Help drive. Yes, really. But not by grabbing the steering wheel or other controls. There are a few occasions when having the passenger operate auxiliary controls is useful, notably activating cross-axle differential locks if the driver is too busy, but this one is more about things like helping maneuver the vehicle in tight situations. Even if all you do is tell the driver if they’re about to hit something. There is an art to ‘spotting’ where you guide vehicles through tough sections, but you won’t be doing much of that on your first trip.
  • Just help out. Do whatever needs doing…maybe you’re stopped for a coffee break, why not volunteer to take care of the brew, maybe freeing up your driver to do something that requires more knowledge or skill than you have? Help drop tyre pressures at the start of a trip, air up at the end…it all helps.
  • Treat gear with respect. Yes, “4×4” may mean all tough and hardy, but that doesn’t mean to say you can just throw things around or drop them in mud. In recreational offroading time is not normally an issue, so take a moment to avoid needless muck or dirt, and put things away properly.
  • Keep the car clean. No eating of messy pastries or the like, or just throwing wrappers around.
  • Ask if not sure. This is a big one. The 4×4 is someone’s very personal property, so ask before you do pretty much anything.
  • Talk to others. Offroading people on a trip are friendly and welcome beginner questions, so ask about them, their cars and anything else.

The more involved you get, the more you’ll enjoy the trip, and there’s plenty of scope to get involved.

What NOT to do as a 4×4 passenger

  • Overstate your skills. Offroading involves vehicles weighing anywhere between 1500 and 3500kg, maybe more, and costing a lot of money. There is no scope for guessing, there’s too much as risk. Ask instead.
  • Distract at inopportune times. Don’t talk to the driver during tough sections, or hog the radio channels with banter when things are rough.
  • Leave things unsecured or in different places. Offroading throws unsecured items around, and that can damage things at worst, or be dangerous at worst. If you can’t put it back properly, ask.
  • Come under-prepared. Offroading may be done in cars, but it is surprising how much time is spent outside the vehicle, and that’s when things are going well. If they aren’t going well there could be very little time spent inside the comfy car, and you need to be prepared accordingly.
  • Trash talk. A bit of brand banter is fine, we all enjoy that, but don’t turn it nasty.

Work to those rules and you’ll soon see why we love offroad touring so much!

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