Four Wheeler’s Bible. Click image to enlarge
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By Russell Purcell
Like many motor heads I enjoy spending much of my recreational time exploring the limits of a four-wheel-drive vehicle (as well as my own driving skills) off-road. But without proper training or knowledge, taking a vehicle off the beaten path can quickly become a treacherous and foolhardy proposition. Luckily, four-wheel-drive expert Jim Allen has updated his best-selling book, The Four-Wheeler’s Bible, so that more of us will benefit from his huge wealth of experience (now spanning three decades).
This soft-cover book is the latest addition to the Motorbooks Workshop series, and at the very reasonable price of $32.95, you won’t fret too much if a little mud splashes on its cover should you keep it in your rig. By following Allen’s tips you will leave the pavement much better prepared to make the most of your off-road experience, and hopefully, return with both your vehicle and person intact.
Allen does an excellent job of dissecting the various features of a four-wheel-drive vehicle. If you aren’t an engineer or professional mechanic, Allen’s explanation of the differences between the various types of four-wheel-drive systems and how they work is worth the cost of this book alone. Vehicle dynamics such as weight transfer and traction are examined, as are the mysteries of differentials and lockers.
If you are in the market for a new vehicle, you will definitely dog-ear Chapter 3, as the author evaluates almost every “true” 4X4 vehicle offered in the United States (most of which are also readily available on our side of the border) between 1960 and 2008. Using a five-point rating system each vehicle is rated in four categories – On Road Performance; Off-Highway Performance; Modification Potential; Aftermarket Support. You would be wise to consult this guide before making a buying decision, as it will help you select the best vehicle for your individual needs.
Chapter 4 will help novice wheelers make sense of all the extra controls and levers associated with four-wheel-drive vehicles, but with some of the new electronic and traction systems fitted to newer models, even experienced drivers will appreciate the refresher course.
Exploring off-road requires you to adopt a much different driving style than you may be used to employing on the road so the author explains how to adapt your skills to suit the trail. He seeks to give the reader a solid foundation by tacking items such as proper hand placement on the steering wheel, gear selection, brake use, and even use of the foot pedals.
He points out that it is important to learn the layout of your vehicle before you head out, so that you are better able to navigate through tight places with a thorough understanding of its external dimensions. Sounds like good advice to me. It is also suggested that once out on the trail, you learn to instinctively memorize the road ahead so that if your view becomes obstructed (for example while cresting a hill) you know what you are faced with.