How To Drive A 4×4 Vehicle

Last Updated: 10/04/2021

In recent years we have seen the popularity of 4×4 vehicles, as well as sport utility vehicles (SUV’s), all-wheel drives (AWD’s) and ‘cross overs’ increase.

It’s likely that any time you go out on the roads driving, you will see one of the above.

The fact is, 4x4s are popular for a reason.

Sure, they can be used for driving on tough, off-road terrain but the host of other advantages they bring to the party means that they appeal to all sorts of different people.

In recent years, 4x4s have also been slammed by critics as damaging to the environment; the hypothesis being that the heavier the car, the more energy it takes to move it.

While that may be true, newer 4x4s are often better for the environment than some cars less than half their size.

So, if you’ve decided that a 4×4 vehicle is the way to go and you’re ready to join the thousands of motorists driving one on the UK roads, what do you need to know?

Well, mastering a 4×4 is probably easier than you think.

As long as you aware of what your vehicle is capable of, was designed for and the things to keep in mind when driving, you can master driving one in no time.

As we jump in to this guide, it’s important to be aware of the following:

The Type Of 4×4 Vehicle Do You Have:

Is it permanently 4×4, or can you switch between the 4×4 mode and 2WD modes?

If you don’t know, ask the showroom who sold it to you or take it to a professional to inspect.

Where You Will Be Driving It:

Mud, hills, or through water? Or possibly just city driving from a higher vantage point?

Consider where you will be using your 4×4.

How To Engage & Disengage Your 4WD System:

If you can switch out of 4×4 mode, make sure you know how to do so before driving anywhere.

What You Will Learn

Once you’re familiar with your 4×4 and how you can turn it in and out of 4WD mode, if applicable, you’re ready to begin trying to master driving it.

Our guide is going to take you through some of the specifics of driving your 4×4 in different scenarios and conditions, as well as teaching you some other important information.

We will look at:

Driving Scenarios:

From getting stuck in thick mud to driving on ice, we will give you a step-by-step guide to each scenario, giving you some initial knowledge to help you master driving your 4×4.

Caring For Your 4×4 Vehicle:

In our ‘Useful Information’ section below, we will tell you some vital information that will help keep your 4×4 mechanics in perfect working order.

When To Use Your 4×4 Vehicle:

If you need a little guidance as to when it is recommended that you should use 4×4, we will give you these tips.

To keep things consistent, our guide will be broken down in to our usual, easy-to-follow, format, making mastering your 4×4 nice and easy.

The sections are as follows:

  • Step-By-Step Guide
  • Video Demonstration
  • Hints & Tips
  • Useful Information
  • Final Thoughts
  • Further Resources

Step-By-Step Guide

We’ve split our step-by-step guide for this one down in to bite-size guides specific to driving your 4×4 in different driving scenarios.

Driving Your 4×4 In Deep Ruts:

  • If you’re approaching a deep rut, or perhaps already in one, you should get out of the car and check the clearance. You need to ensure that you have enough clearance between the top of the rut and the underside of the car once your wheels are in the rut.
  • Once in it and driving, hold the steering wheel lightly. Allow the car to steer its way through the rut gently at a very slow speed, but be ready to take action should you need to.

Driving Your 4×4 Out Of Thick Mud:

  • If you find yourself stuck in thick mud, or having to drive through it, don’t be tempted to switch gears in to reverse and back to a forward gear.
  • Instead, slowly and gently apply pressure to the accelerator pedal. By applying and then letting off, and repeating, you can begin to rock the car which may help it to find grip to drive out.
  • Do not spin the wheels as this will not help and is only likely to make the situation worse. Instead, continue light and gentle applying of the accelerator until you begin to move forward.

Driving Your 4×4 On A Steep Hill (Hill Climbing):

  • The first thing to do is look at the hill you are going to climb. Study it, and if possible, walk up it.
  • Select the best route up – you’ll need to be looking for a path that is wide enough, has good approach angles and minimal obstacles (e.g. rocks).
  • Secure all loose belongings in your vehicle. Tie them down where possible.
  • Begin the climb with as much acceleration you need. If you begin to lose traction, release the accelerator and then re-apply gently. Repeat the process until your vehicle finds grip.

Driving Your 4×4 Through Water:

  • Before starting the drive through water, you need to check three things. The first is how deep the water is. You should be fine driving through water that is as deep as your hub caps – depending on your vehicle, possibly as deep as bringing it up to your door sills. Once you know how deep it is, check for underwater obstacles. Finally, observe any currents. Strong currents can make travelling forward difficult and may push the car sideways.
  • Enter the water at a slow and steady pace. Be aware – your tyres essentially act as floats in water, meaning there is less weight/pressure on them when driving through water. So be aware of the vehicle being pushed sideways by the currents.
  • As you drive, keep the bow wave of the car ahead of you. Do not speed through it or slow/stop to allow the water to rush back toward the engine. If your bow wave is ahead of you and your speed consistent, it should keep the water level in your engine bay lower.
  • Once you exit the water, your brakes will need drying out. You can do this by gently braking for the next couple of miles. Test you can actually slow/stop before driving away.

Driving Your 4×4 In Snow:

  • The key to driving in snow and ice is to keep a low gear that allows slow and consistent acceleration without loss of grip.
  • Avoid changing gear when driving in snow and ice. If you lose grip, simply turn the steering wheel left and right to help the vehicle search for grip again.

Video Demonstration

Please Note: Unfortunately there aren’t any 4×4 tutorial videos available for UK audiences so we decided to use this Australian video as the tips provided are still relevant. If you know of a 4×4 training video which is suitable for a UK audience, please let us know. Alternatively, stay tuned as we will be creating our own in the foreseeable future.

Hints & Tips

We’ve put some tips in the above step-by-step guides which will help in specific driving conditions but if you have a 4×4 which can be switched out of that mode and in to 2WD, for example, when should you be using the 4WD option?

Here’s a few hints and tips as to when using 4×4 is recommended:

Pulling Power:

If you need more torque for towing heavy objects, such as caravans or machinery, then a 4×4 is a great way of delivering that required power.

Driving On A Steep Grade At Slow Speed:

If you need to climb a steep hill and are doing so at a slow speed (i.e. not on motorway or other fast road), then a 4×4 can be a perfect option.

Descending Steep Hills:

Similarly, using 4×4 in a low gear can be perfect for descending steep grade hills as it gives the vehicle greater grip and control.

Useful Information

If your 4×4 has other driving modes, it can be easy to almost forget that you have the 4WD option available at your disposal.

This can create a problem though as the longer it goes unused, the mechanics are more likely to be poorly maintained.

If left for months unused, lubricant dries off on the gears, seals dry out and the hub components can seize up completely.

Therefore, it’s a case of ‘use it or lose it’.

Also, take the time to have your 4×4 serviced every 12 months by a specialist mechanic.

Final Thoughts

Driving a 4×4 can be a great fun as well as incredibly convenient.

They don’t have to be more expensive to run, more damaging to the environment or more likely to cause an accident.

The key is knowing your vehicle and taking the time to learn about its capabilities.

Taking your time to do this and then practicing driving it in each of the scenarios covered in this guide will enable you to soon master your 4×4 vehicle and enable you to have a great time behind the wheel.

Further Resources