4×4 Clubs in SA Contents:
So you are thinking of taking up 4×4 driving as a hobby, but don’t know where, and how to start? One way to do it would off course be to do extensive internet research on what vehicle to buy, how to accessorize it, what tyres to use, etc., but the problem with this approach is that there is just too much information that is conflicting, partisan, incomplete, or just plain wrong. However, there is another way, and that is to join a club. Why a 4×4 club, you may ask? You may well ask, so read on, and we will tell you why joining a club is the smartest thing you can do.
Clubs have pooled experience – lots of it
Regardless of how much experience you have as an off-road driver, you can never know it all. Off-road driving is a highly technical affair, and while some experience may get you out of a tight spot, you will probably remain stuck if you have no off-road driving experience, which is where off-road clubs enter the picture.
Many 4×4 clubs are open to everyone who wants to join, which is a good thing because even if you do not own a 4×4 vehicle yet, joining such a club will present the perfect opportunity to learn about which vehicles are best for any particular purpose. This is vitally important if you are planning on purchasing a vehicle, since some trails require vehicles to have very specific accessories, driver assist systems, and means to protect the engine, transmission(s), and suspensions.
The luxury SUV you have been eyeing in the showroom on your home way from work may just not cut it on most trails, since it does not have a low range gear set, diff locks, or skid plates to protect the engine against rocks, stumps, or other obstacles. So that being the case, exactly how can a 4×4 club help you decide which vehicle would be best for you?
We have mentioned that clubs have the pooled experience of all its members, which in some cases, can amount to several hundred years of off-road driving experience. So if you were smart, you would make a list of questions to ask when you attend your first 4WD club meet, and we suggest you ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I know how to drive a 4×4 vehicle without causing injury to myself, everybody else, or the environment?
- Do I know how the make the best use of gear ratios to be able to overcome obstacles such as steep hills and declines?
- Di know how to negotiate deep sand and mud obstacles, and how to maintain traction and momentum at all times when crossing a river?
- Do I know what accessories are required, superfluous, illegal, helpful, or just a plain waste of money?
- Do I know if I need a winch, and if so, what capacity?
- Do I know which tyres are best for any given situation, terrain, or load?
- Do I know what suspension modifications are supposed to achieve, and if they are needed, required, or just a nice-to-have?
- Do I know what the term “Trail etiquette means”?
Clubs have the answers
Knowing the answers to the above questions is vitally important if you plan to make the most of your new hobby. However, these questions apply to most, if not all off-road driving disciplines, so the thing to do is to decide what you want to do, and how far you want to go.
Do you want to specialize in rock crawling that requires a highly adapted, and specialized vehicle, or do you want to go on extended cross country trips, which does not always require a vehicle with axle-bending torque, but reliability, good fuel economy, a reasonable carrying capacity, and a certain level of comfort instead? Everything else falls between these two reference points, and if you join the correct 4×4 club, you will get all the answers you need.
Some clubs have divisions, or “sub-clubs” geared towards certain activities, or even specific vehicles, and vehicle types, but what is important is that all the members were once novices as well. So if they blind you with their wisdom on say, tyres, or suspension modifications, it is because they have learnt from more experienced drivers, and often in ways that destroyed their vehicles, or during mistakes that caused serious personal injury to themselves, their passengers, and/or innocent bystanders.
By tapping into the collective wisdom and experience of club members, you can avoid most, if not all of these mistakes. All it takes is the willingness to listen to their experiences, and to see what they have done, or carry on their vehicles. Some of the most common mistakes novice 4×4 drivers make is to overload their vehicles with accessories that serve no useful purpose, or to make it look good by fitting tyre/rim combinations that won’t survive ten minutes on a grade 5 trail.
Experienced club members have seen it all, and some have made the same mistakes, which is why it is imperative that the advice they offer on which vehicle to buy, how to prepare it, and how to drive it, should always take precedence over personal preferences. Which brings us to how a club can teach you drive your 4×4 vehicle.
Learn how to drive
The very last thing the South African, or for that matter, any other 4×4 community needs is another off-road cowboy that goes around making trails where none were before, digging holes by spinning his wheels, and generally behaving like an idiot. While we are certain that you, who are now reading this, will never do these things on purpose, you might do so unintentionally, simply because might not know how to drive your 4×4 in a safe and responsible manner.
Authorities worldwide are continually introducing new, and ever more strict rules and regulations to limit and prevent the uncontrolled use of natural resources by off-road drivers, which why the very reason for the existence of many off-road driving clubs revolve around the training of drivers to preserve both the environment, and the available resources, routes, and trails.
To accomplish this, many 4×4 clubs host dedicated training days, or even weekends, during which participants are taught everything from basic to advanced driving techniques, but more importantly, techniques and skills to recover a stuck vehicle in ways that do not harm the environment. It is universally known that 4×4 driving is banned on South Africa beaches, but what is not so widely known is that drivers need to be in possession of a Government approved Certificate of Competence before they can enter some ecologically sensitive areas, particularly wetlands. Many clubs can, and do offer the required training and certification, so enquire from the clubs in your area.
If you do not have such a certificate, you need to be accompanied by a qualified and certified guide, and failure on either count can result in confiscation of your vehicle, equipment, a hefty fine, or imprisonment. The emphasis on the benefits of driver training offered by clubs cannot be stressed enough, and although driver certification is not required for most off-road driving activities, the dumbest thing anybody can do is to venture off-road without the benefit of at least some training by a qualified, certified, and accredited instructor, some of whom are employed by off-road driving clubs on a permanent basis. But there is more…
4×4 Clubs are family friendly
Most, if not all 4×4 clubs are family oriented, and offer activities that are built around families. It is said that families that do 4×4 driving together, stay together, which is certainly true in the case of the 4×4 community. It is rare to find a club sponsored event that does not in some way involve, or accommodate the entire family, and even long, cross-country excursions are conducted in such a way that entire families can participate.
While off-road driving cannot take the place of marriage counselling, regular club-organised family outings to far-off, exotic destinations can go a long way towards obviating the need for marriage counselling in the first place. Nonetheless, off-road driving is not only about keeping families together- enjoying the company of like-minded people around a camp fire is one of the main reasons why people join 4×4 clubs, even if they have to share recovery equipment, tools, and supplies on occasion.
Hardship, toil, sweat and tears are as much part of the off-road lifestyle as sharing good times, magnificent sunsets, and the unparalleled scenic beauty of Southern Africa, which is why joining a 4×4 club is always a GOOD idea.
It is important to remember that in the case of 4×4 clubs, bigger is not always better. When you look for a club, you need to be clear in your own mind about the reasons why you want to join a club. Only then should you start contacting clubs in your area; visit them, and ask to join some of their activities before you make up your mind on which club to join.
One of the most important things to bear in mind is that you should not only be comfortable with the people you meet there- you should also be happy with what they offer, and how it is managed, even if it has only a few dozen members, as opposed to the several thousand members of the biggest club.
The club should fulfil all your needs on all levels, and if it cannot do that, find another. Clubs are as much a reflection of the people that constitute it as it is a means to an end, so take care to join the 4×4 club that is right for you, and let them help you enjoy the great outdoors!