Four-Wheeling Fears

Concerned about damage to a new vehicle?

Over the years of off-road instructing, I have heard many concerns “ indeed, fears “ from newer drivers. (Even experienced four-wheelers have doubts from time to time.)

The dozens of thoughts expressed by my students can be grouped into seven categories. Here are those top seven concerns, and how you can master them.

1. Damaging a new vehicle. This seems to be the number one concern. With just a few thousand miles on the odometer “ and having just spent $30,000, $45,000 or $75,000 on a new vehicle “ it is naturally a concern. I can assure you the first few bumps, bruises, and dents will be traumatic.

Most of the time, the small scratches, bruises, and dents creep up on you gradually. By the time you dent the fender, door, or bumper, you are not that upset. Most of us pass it off as an opportunity to upgrade that item.

The only true solution is to keep the new vehicle at home. Buy a use pre-bruised, older model for your off-road rig. But what if the new vehicle is your only option? On top of that, you want all the new goodies.

Start with a set of rock sliders. Mounted on either side of the frame, they protect the rocker panels and outside edges of the car body.

It is expensive, but you can find pre-cut magnetic panels to cover most of the body exposed to overgrown trail side brush and weeds. It is vegetation close to the trail that causes pinstriping, those thin scratches in the paint. I understand, the latest offering will actually stay on at freeway speeds for the trip home and the front edges do not need to be taped down keep the wind from lifting them off. was at the vendor show at Easter Jeep Safari in Moab this year. MEK makes magnetic panels only for Jeeps.

Perhaps you can add this additional selling point when making your pitch to the Chief Financial Officer: They are available with a selection of graphic designs.

Buried to the axles in sand – no trees or rocks in sight and no room to side a jack underneath!

2. Stuck Forever. Are you envisioning driving into a canyon? One that keeps getting narrower and narrower until you are wedged in? The key is to recon, recon, and recon! Really know the terrain and trails. Maybe someone can think of a case when someone was stuck forever. But it has to be a very rare situation, because I can’t. You can of course lose a vehicle. It can become submerged in or swept away by a river, buried under a mud slide, or burned by a wildfire. Stay on more popular trails, as there is a higher likelihood of someone coming along who can help you. This is another reason not to travel alone. The other driver(s) can help you out of a bind. Even if you have to abandon the vehicle temporarily, you can get home safely.

3. Breakdowns, especially in remote areas. Minor breakdowns are a part of four-wheeling. The more difficult the terrain, the more likely something will break. We have discussed before the concept of mechanical sympathy. We are vehicle dependent. The vehicle allows us to explore, and it gets us back. Take care of your vehicle, and it will take care of you. Don’t abuse it. Stock vehicles were not designed to jump off sand dunes. Be rigorous in your maintenance program, too. Don’t start out with known problems.

Tire problems are unquestionably the number one vehicle problem. If you are just starting in the sport, acquire the necessary tools. Then learn how to plug a tire, set a bead, break a bead, and replace a valve stem.

Buy a set of Colby valves stems at These unique valve stems allow a quick replacement from the outside of the tire without breaking the bead.

Very close to the edge.

4. Rolling over. This isn’t as common as you might think. What makes good YouTube fodder is the extreme stuff with above-average risk. When it does occur, the driver is often in an extreme situation or driving recklessly. If anything, your vehicle may flop over on its side, but even that’s rare. These tend to occur while driving slowly, so damage to the vehicle is limited. Most vehicles can pitch sideways as much as 30 degrees without tipping over. Just go slowly.

Drive carefully while on steep terrain. Ask a buddy to get out and spot a line if you are uncomfortable, the risk is higher, or it is difficult.

5. Lack of driving skills and knowledge of the area. Four-wheeling, like public speaking, is a learned skill. Take classes and go off-road as often as you can. It’s only through training and driving that you become more confident and comfortable.

Trail guides, websites, government agencies, and 4WD clubs are great resources for finding those fun and manageable trails. Check out the series of trail guides by Charles Wells and Matt Peterson at

I, of course, offer classes designed just for beginners. Check out my list here.

6. Don’t know what to buy. All the ads sound fantastic! You can’t afford to upgrade everything at once. You wonder, What should I buy first? Does this sound familiar?

A typical owner can’t afford to upgrade the vehicle fully and, quite frankly, doesn’t know what gear to install first. Four wheeling, like many hobbies, can entail significant investments. But it can be spaced out and controlled to just what is needed. Keep in mind that your vehicle does not have to be all decked out for you to enjoy the hobby.

The rock rails mentioned above are a must first buy. A roof top carrier referenced below in #7, though a tad pricey, is really useful. Large and versatile, it can hold a lot of gear and supplies.

Strong aftermarket bumpers are a wise investment. Buy a front bumper designed for a winch. You can add the winch later as resources improve.

Buy what is most useful now, and add later as you see fit. Other drivers in the group may have extra gear you need to back you up.

7. Hauling Extra Fuel. Do I really need extra fuel? How can I transport it? The owner of a new 4WD vehicle asked me these questions while signing up for an overland trip.

You should always carry a minimum of five extra gallons. Ten is better. You literally can’t go anywhere without gas.

New vehicles have good range “ as much as 250 plus miles. In four low they will use a bit more gas. But stuff happens “ you encounter a trail detour, closed campsite, last-minute change in destination, etc. An extra five gallons, if nothing else, gives peace of mind when the warning light comes on and you are still 10 miles from a gas station.

A roof rack can be an easy solution to carry gas cans. They are less expensive than bumper solutions and are useful long term to carry all other gear.

Don’t scrimp on this. Buy at least one 5-gallon gas container.

Four-wheeling, like most hobbies, can seem intimidating at first. However, over time you become more acclimated to the nuances of the hobby. Don’t try to do everything at once. Take modest steps. Feel your confidence grow as your vehicle evolves into a true off-road machine.

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Did you miss the previous article?

June 2019
June 15 Starting Rock Crawling
June 21 Outdoor Adventures Field Day

July 2019

July 13 Starting Rock Crawling
July 20 Getting Started Off-Road “ LA area
July 21 Day 2 Getting Started Off-Road “ LA area

August 2019

August 03 Getting Started Off-Road “ LA area
August 04 Day 2 Getting Started Off-Road “ LA area
August 12 Rubicon Trip & Adventure
August 24 Sand & Dunes – Pismo

September 2019

September 14 Getting Started Off-Road “ LA area
September 15 Day 2 Getting Started Off-Road “ LA area
September 21 Winching: Basic to Advanced – Mojave
September 28 Tire Repair & Hi-lift Mini Clinic – Hawthorne, CA


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I hope to see you on the trails!
Tom Severin, President Badlands Off Road Adventures, Inc.
4-Wheel Drive School
Make it Fun. Keep it Safe. 

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Copyright 2019, Badlands Off-Road Adventures, Inc.


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