Four Wheeling and the Environment

Four Wheeling and the Environment

4 Wheeling and the Environment

By: Gerald O’Brien

The words 4x4ing and environmental preservation should not always be in the same sentence together. They seem to be miles apart from each other and heading in opposite directions. This is unfortunately to a certain extent the way many may see it.

The 4×4 fraternity has not always had a squeaky clean image when it comes to the environment and the damage that has been done to the environment as a result of our 4×4’s, either intentionally or perhaps in complete ignorance. The reasons for the damaging reputation are numerous; of which a few may be caused by poor reporting by unqualified personnel, video footage of various 4×4 scenes and viewers accepting that what they are seeing is grossly harmful to the environment without being presented with the facts. There is of course, just like anything we do, a small percentage that do not align themselves with responsible 4x4ing and do cause a lot of damage – both to the environment and the 4×4 fraternity as a whole. Having said all this, I believe that as a whole, 4x4ers are a lot more environmentally aware than they used to be and, of course, our vehicles off-road abilities have improved dramatically over the last ten years or so.

Let’s first concentrate on the vehicles and how they play their role on a reduced impact to the environment.

Traction Control has been a massive positive contributor. Think of vehicles without traction control: once you lose traction your wheels begin to spin. Depending on how quickly the driver reacts to the situation, the spinning wheels begin to dig holes and damage our environment. Through sensors on the wheels, Traction Control is able to stop the spinning wheels automatically and almost immediately. By doing this, the impact to the trail being driven is minimal.

Terrain Control is another feature that, like Traction Control, makes things a lot less complicated for the driver. By choosing the correct mode on the Terrain Control, the vehicle will perform at an optimum as it is driven along the trail with an absolute minimum amount of an impact to the trail. By selecting Terrain Control, a certain amount of the necessary skill to drive a particular obstacle is taken away from the driver as the vehicle, relying on various sensors and computers, traverses the terrain the way it is designed to. Unfortunately, at the moment both of the above features are costly to incorporate into 4×4’s and at this stage only your premium range of vehicles have them. I do not believe that the day is far off when most bakkie’s and 4×4’s will feature them as a standard fitment.

Full Time 4 wheel drives are far more echo friendly than part-time 4×4’s, based on the fact that a full time 4×4 has double the number of driving wheels than the part-time has. This is true until such time that a part-time 4×4 driver selects 4 wheel drive – in which case all is equal. It stands to reason that two driving wheels on the rear axle is not quite as echo friendly as having 4 driving wheels.

Diff Locks, either centre or rear, is another feature that if used correctly will limit the amount of wheel spin whilst traversing rough terrain. If, on the other hand, the diff-locks are not operated correctly the adverse is true.

We all accept that it’s the vehicles that cause the actual damage to the environment, but the vehicle is only doing what it has been instructed to do by its operator, the driver.

Tyres too may be of concern whilst driving off-road. Tyre pressure plays such a vital role in traction, either good or bad. A softer tyre will provide for improved traction, a greater footprint and of course a reduced amount harmful wheelspinning.

The Drivers of 4×4’s are in a position to drive and operate their 4×4 as they know best or how they have been taught or learnt by themselves. Through no fault of their own, the way they handle their vehicles in off-road conditions may be well off the mark from an acceptable off-road driving technique. Why do I say “through no fault of their own”? It’s like anything in life: we are only as good as what we are shown or taught. Who is to say that the teacher or instructor was up to date in the first place?

There are many ways of becoming a responsible and proficient off-roader, it’s just a case of looking around and making the right choice.

Four Wheel Drive Clubs is a good way to start. There are numerous 4×4 clubs around these days for you to choose from. Ask for a copy of their constitution and/or code of conduct before joining a club, making sure that it’s the club for you. Most clubs have their own in-house driver training courses run by experienced members who are all willing to share their knowledge and experience. The instructors are usually passionate about what they do and that makes it just so much more worthwhile.

Commercial Training Centres are available and for a fee they would be happy to share their knowledge with you. The problem with commercial training centres is that they will of course know how to drive a 4×4, but may not know about your specific vehicle and all its traction enhancing features.

Manufacturers Training Centres are sometimes the best way to go. Their product knowledge of your specific vehicle should be up to date. An advantage of going to a vehicle specific training course is that they will specialise in their brand of vehicle. A 4×4 club may be good at what they do, but they must be forgiven for not being fully up to date with every model of every brand of vehicle. The Halfway Toyota Dealers are very good at offering excellent 4×4 Driver Training Courses at no cost and are also in a position to show one the ropes in true off-road conditions.

Accredited Training Centres sprung up a few years back just after the beach ban, a total ban on off-roading was about to follow. Through various organisations, a unit standard was put together whereby all 4×4 drivers would be trained according to the same standard. This is the only accredited training course in the country at the moment and is administered by TETA. By completion of the course to unit standard 254135, the authorities can rest in peace that a person is now a competent 4×4 driver who knows and understands the functions of their 4×4 and the demands placed on the environment.

Doing things the right way is by no means a difficult and tiresome exercise. Once a driver has the necessary skills and knowledge, things will happen automatically. By doing things the right way, we are not only helping preserve our delicate planet, but our vehicles too will benefit by lasting longer and giving us the pleasure of driving them in off-road conditions.