Driving a full-time 4×4 truck has been an amazing experience for me. The 3 inch lift allows us to easily see over other vehicles and trucks. Bad weather hasn’t been a reason to not travel places. Remote and wild parks are now visitable destinations. Reliability is an assumption and not a wish.
When people think about what kind of tow car they want to have, they have many considerations. Passenger capacity, fuel consumption, reliability, looks, and longevity are some of the factors people think about.
This blog post is not about telling you what your tow car should be. This blog is about encouraging you to think about choosing a 4 wheel drive tow vehicle.
If you never have experienced off-road adventuring, choosing a gas guzzling suv may not have ever been an option on your list. After all, why have a 4×4 vehicle if you only go to work and the grocery store?
When I first bought my 1993 Land Cruiser, I was sad to discover that no places existed to drive off road in my state. None. My off road excursions mostly consisted of driving on peoples lawns and over curbs.
Let’s face it, we all have been stuck in parking lots where some ridiculous barrier is set up because some business owners are mad at people parking in their lot and then shopping somewhere else.
Many times I have driven over parking bumpers, medians, and other strange landscape dividers. These excursions are usually met with cheers from the boy and glares from the wife.
Once we started traveling, we began to see more and more opportunities for off-road, high ground clearance traveling.
As we traveled more and more off-road I began to learn and see what is most important to me. I am beginning to learn what I like to see, drive, and experience.
This weekend the boy and I drove through a large state park in Tennessee called the Chuck Swan Wildlife Preserve. Their where probably 20 people in the park, and the park is over 24,000 acres. The numbers where so low because the entire park is full of beat-up, rocky, rutty, gravel roads.
You may find it hard to believe, but many countries in the world do not have a lot of paved roads. Even here in the states, we have plenty of gravel and un-maintained roads.
When we where in Minnesota we stopped for a few days at a very small farming city. I can’t remember the name, but the biggest building in the town was a cattle auction house on a railroad spur. We drove 35 minutes to a grocery store. On the way home I saw an unmarked gravel road heading up the mountain we had driven around.
With Tracy’s blessing we drove up the gravel road. The road had a few steep switch backs to the top. The road traveled across the spine of the hills. At the end of the hill was a steep descent back down to the highway. The hill was steep enough that I needed to use 4-low to avoid riding the brakes the entire way down the crumbling road The trip home was 15 minutes shorter because we could drive across the hill instead of around the hill and river at the base.
The more I look around America, the more I see gravel and unmaintained roads.
So your little Yaris is good enough? Maybe.
Here is what I have learned from driving my antique Land Cruiser.
Most forest service roads and gravel roads in parks are groomed. The forest service keeps scrapers around to maintain the roads. I would say that a car with All-Wheel-Drive is 90% sufficient for most roads. Actually, in reality, any drive system is probably good enough for most trips.
What you really need to care about is ground clearance. Most vehicles will have their exhaust pipes ripped up if you are not careful. You don’t need to ride on 33″ mud tires, but have some ground clearance will be helpful. You can just drive slow and take your time.
You also need a vehicle with small overhangs. Overhangs are the part of your car before the front wheels or after the rear wheels. Chuck Swan State Park has quite a few steep sections. If you have a lot of bodywork outside of your wheel base, you do risk scraping it up as you cross small ditches and deep ruts.
Another thing you need to watch is wheelbase. I see a lot of pickup trucks get the midsection of their body work ripped up.
On a highway at 80mph you appreciate a long wheel base. It keeps you stable and makes your ride feel good. On a twisty curvy trail, you need a short wheel base.
I have driven across a few sections where there is a ditch or creek you have to cross. your front wheels drop in, and if your wheel base is too long, when your mid section gets stuck on the embankment. Then your sidesteps and running boards get ripped up.
It is very interesting to see how imported cars handle this. Look at Nissan, Toyota, Honday, or Range Rovers. They have short wheel bases, short overhangs, and their cars turn in tight circles.
That is because they sell vehicles internationally. Most places don’t have the great road systems we have in America.
The one thing that you may think you will need is a 4 wheel drive low. This gives your 4wd a set of gears that limit speed, but let you have more power. This is great for getting out of mud.
My favorite thing about 4-low is using it to help with steep hill descents. These gears really help you with control.
Many RVers travel and explore alone. This usually means you probably won’t be trying anything dangerous. No big river crossings, rock crawling, or dangerous off camber roads. I have one of the most highly ranked 4wd vehicles in the world, and I still won’t do anything crazy. I don’t have the experience or tools to get myself out of a dangerous situation.
I still find uses for 4-low, but if I didn’t have it I would be fine. My high ground clearance, short wheelbase, and short overhangs let me go most places I want to go with very little compromise.
As I mentioned before, this blog is not about choosing a 4wd vehicle. Its about planting the seed in your mind that you should consider having a 4wd capable vehicle.
Right now, 4wd traveling my not be on your radar, but I have to say some of the best views and experiences to be had in a car, can only be had if you have a capable 4wd automobile.
Part of RVing is getting out and experiencing new things seeing new places, and meeting new people. Most 4wd vehicles have an online community of enthusiasts to meet and get to know. If you own the vehicle you are in the club. Subarus, Jeeps, Toyotas, Nissans, etc – they all have 4wd communities where they share great places to ride and tips to do so safely.
It will take a bit of research to find the perfect car for you. 4wd vehicles can have special tow requirements. You also have lots of various driveline systems to choose from.
You don’t have to be someone who wants to get axle deep in mud, ford through deep rivers, or drive over boulders. Most of the rough roads in the United States are well kept and groomed. Trails where you need special training and special gear are usually well marked.
Don’t let your misconceptions about what 4wd travel is, make you think you just need a car. Go to a state with some nice forest roads and go exploring. Sometimes having bad gas milage is worth it!