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    • Start the off-road season right

      While we are already more than a month into 2014, the true off-road driving season has yet to begin. Although you may be eagerly anticipating its arrival, there is some value in waiting around for better weather: it leaves plenty of time plan and prepare for future adventures. 

      According to, there are a few things that any driver can do to make sure they get to enjoy tons of off-road driving excursions in the coming months. Here are three of the simplest ideas to keep in mind as you lay out your schedule for the year: 

      Start planning now
      It may be early in the year, but it's never too soon to begin organizing your trips for the spring, summer or fall. There are a number of sites that require campgrounds to be booked in advance, so it is smart to make these plans ahead of time to ensure you have space to sleep during overnight trips. Even something as simple as blocking off certain weekends or holidays can be beneficial. If you know you want to get behind the wheel of your off-road vehicle on a certain date, you'll be able to plan the rest of your life - appointments, parties and the like - around that commitment. 

      Additionally, now may be the perfect time to figure out which off-roading events you want to attend. For example, some drivers might find that 2014 is the year to finally register for a Jeep Jamboree, while others could be eager to check out the competition at a mudding event. Regardless of what you choose, there's a good chance you'll be able to check out some of the latest accessories on the market, as well as gain inspiration for future auto alterations. These gatherings are also a great opportunity to expose yourself to far-off locations or different brands of driving that you may not have considered otherwise. 

      Try something new
      Everyone has a few trails or locations that are their absolute favorites, and it's only natural to want to return to those spots year after year. However, you would be remiss to ignore new destinations. Choosing an off-road event is a good way to expose yourself to unexplored places, but even getting insight from friends or fellow drivers can be a big help. Another option is to switch up the type of driving you'll be doing. For example, if you love mudding and normally devote most of your time to it, you may want to organize at least one outing in 2014 where you test your skills at dune bashing. 

      Finish truck modifications early
      Deciding where you want to go and what you want to do has another benefit - you'll know what changes should be made to a vehicle. If you choose to go rock crawling for the first time, for instance, you may want to invest in skid plates and body armor that will prevent harm from coming to your automobile. 

      Tinkering around in your garage now also gives you something to do during the long winter months - and opens up more time for pure driving once the weather warms up. You'll also have the added advantage of extra time to fiddle with and perfect your upgrades. Anyone making major changes, such as installing a lift kit, may need to adjust to a slightly different way of driving, and it's best to get that done before you head out on a long expedition in the wilderness. 

    • Can your off-road vehicle handle ice?

      As an off-road driver, you probably think you and your vehicle are ready for any kind of inclement weather. After all, when you've equipped your ride with truck modifications ranging from lift kits to specialty tires, those features can make a big difference when snow and ice are coating the ground. However, even those drivers with the most advanced winter amenities should be sure their vehicles are prepared to handle seasonal surprises. 

      "When unforeseen events occur, like severe weather or a major accident, your car could become your home for hours," said Rich White, the executive director of the Car Care Council. "By reviewing a quick checklist, you'll be better prepared to handle unpredictable winter weather conditions that can leave you stranded." 

      Check the lighting
      The days may be getting longer, but there's still months to go before sunshine fills the majority of your waking hours. To prepare for darkness, be sure to periodically inspect the headlights and taillights. Not only should they be working well, but they need to be aimed correctly, and adjusting them to improve your visibility is key. A good option is to invest in LED lights, which have a longer life span than traditional options, or lighting racks, which sit on top of the vehicle to light the way. 

      Don't put off maintenance
      If you're a big fan of off-road driving, there is a good chance you are keeping up with the right vehicle maintenance throughout the year. However, it can't hurt to add in a few extra examinations in the winter. 

      "It's never a good time to gamble with safety when it comes to your vehicle, so if you haven't had your vehicle checked recently, now is the time to be car care aware and get a thorough vehicle inspection including a brake inspection, battery check and tune up," White said. 

      Examine the HVAC system
      If you do find yourself stuck in heavy traffic or sidelined due to winter weather, you'll be thankful for a functional heater and defroster. These are essential to have throughout the cold-weather months regardless of whether you're off-roading or cruising on the pavement. Not only are they key for preventing portions of the vehicle from freezing, which impacts functionality, but they keep you comfortable and alert behind the wheel. 

    • Off-road driving heads to outer space

      Have you ever wondered how space vessels handle off-road driving on other planets? It's probably not something that comes to the front of your mind very often, but it is actually an important aspect of off-roading. Although procedures on planets such as Mars are undoubtedly different than those on Earth, there are a number of similarities between how vehicles drive on both planets. 

      For scientists to create and prepare rovers and other machines for life on Mars, they had to first test them in similar conditions on Earth. This may seem like a tall order, but it was made easy when researchers found a similar environment to the one in space - in Utah. 

      Mimicking Mars
      The first thing experts had to do to was find a property that could act as Mars' rough surface during testing. They found the perfect stand-in at Utah's Mars Desert Research Station, located in Hanksville, which is just southeast of the state's center. 

      At the facility, scientists, engineers, volunteers and plenty of curious minds get the chance to see what it's like to drive on Mars, reported. Much the land surrounding the research station is filled with dust and rocks, so driving on the land is reminiscent of dune bashing. In some areas however, it can be more similar to mudding, especially during damp seasons when the ground becomes a sprawling segment of mud in all directions. 

      Teams who utilize the facility have preplanned "missions" they can take part in, getting as close to an outer space experience as they're likely to find.

      "The idea was a small crew on these kind of preplanned set of missions that would allow astronauts to get there and have a functioning habitat in place," MDRS Director Shannon Rupert told "We approached it from the idea that it's there and ready to go, and they [the crew] just have to land." 

      While many real-life astronauts and NASA workers get to spend time at the center, it is also open to those who simply have a curiosity for what outer space may be like.

      About the Mars Rover
      Curiosity, the Mars Rover, is currently exploring the Red Planet, and it is doing so with the help of a number of features that allow the vessel to handle the difficult terrain. With the head rising 6.9 feet above the ground and an arm extending another 7 feet outward, in addition to an array of technological features that can accomplish a number of scientific feats, Curiosity is certain capable of completing tasks on Mars. However, the only way it could successfully reach its locations is with the right off-roading tools. 

      According to NASA, the rover has six wheels stemming off its legs, and its tires are able to get through the sand, dirt and rocks present on Mars. The rocker-bogie design enables the machine to keep all of its wheels on the ground at all times, no matter how rocky the terrain is, which is a huge advantage. Its technology has been optimized to have tilt limits, so the rover can smartly avoid any inclines that may cause it to tip over or harm one of its exterior features. 

      With four-wheel steering, the ability to swerve and curve, and the potential to go over obstacles or across holes, Curiosity is able to handle many types of terrain it encounters on Mars. Add in cleats installed on the wheels, which provide added grip for going through sand and across rocks, and the end result is a tremendous machine that draws from many standard off-road vehicles. 

    • Is your emergency kit stocked for winter?

      Winter adventures are particularly alluring, especially for off-road drivers, but you have to make sure you have all of the right equipment before setting out on a trip. It doesn't matter if you're traveling great distances on the highways or checking out off-road locations close to home - you need to have a properly stocked emergency kit. Having the right tools can be a major help in different circumstances, particularly in the cold-weather months, and some select items may be especially important.

      State Farm recently conducted a study to determine what drivers need, as well as what they have stored in their vehicles. While about 96 percent of people had at least one of the items deemed important, only about 5 percent had all of them. Instead of keeping useless junk in an off-road vehicle, consider investing in some of the most helpful articles.

      "Even on a relatively short trip, you can find yourself stranded for several hours," said John Nepomuceno, an auto safety research administrator from State Farm. "Whether it's because of a flat tire, an empty fuel tank or treacherous conditions like ice or fog, it's important to be prepared. These new findings highlight the importance of having the right emergency equipment so you can safely get back on the road sooner."

      Essential emergency items
      State Farm recommended that drivers of all kinds keep a few important tools stored in their vehicles in case of emergency. Among the most essential objects are flashlights, a spare tire, jumper cables, a first-aid kit, a windshield scraper and road salt. In the event you have to conduct some type of maintenance or repair on-the-go, you should also have things like a tarp, which can be used for sitting or kneeling on and is especially handy when driving across snow or ice, as well as a hazard triangle or road flares, which can alert others to your presence. 

      Your responsibilities don't stop at simply keeping the emergency equipment in your vehicle. The items also need to be checked periodically to ensure they are in good working condition. Only about 38 percent of drivers say they inspect their emergency kit at least twice a year, but can be extremely helpful to monitor the condition throughout the year. It is also a good idea to refresh a store of batteries, water bottles, nonperishable items and extra clothing or blankets. All of these objects are beneficial to drivers who may be stranded for a prolonged period of time. 

      For off-road driving
      When you go off-roading, there's a good chance you'll need a few specialized tools in addition to the same emergency items as a standard driver. For instance, while the average driver may be able to rely on the spare tire that comes along with a vehicle, you may have to take extra steps to accommodate this need. Anyone who has installed a lift kit may have also invested in larger off-road tires, and you could need a more refined spare tire on hand. 

      You should also keep in mind that you may have to rearrange some of your storage options when placing the important tools in a vehicle. Although many might be inclined to put these items in a storage box on the bed of a truck, for example, there may be a few pieces that you'll want to have a bit closer. For example, things like de-icer or a flashlight should be placed in a glove compartment, where you can quickly access them.

    • Mopar Muscle Ram blends off-roading and monster trucks

      When it comes to off-road driving, bigger is usually better. With details like lift kits, off-road tires and suspension components all contributing to higher ground clearance and larger overall vehicles, there are many ways drivers can upgrade their rides to handle anything. 

      However, no matter how many truck modifications these owners make, their automobiles rarely touch the biggest, baddest rides out there: monster trucks. One new creation that certainly deserves some respect is the Mopar Muscle Ram. As the latest addition to the lineup from Hall Brothers Racing, this monster truck is expected to steal the spotlight at several upcoming shows around the U.S., including its grand debut Jan. 11 in Detroit.

      Fortunately for fans of off-roading, this vehicle also features several truck mods that could act as inspiration for future off-road vehicles. After all, Mopar worked with Ram Truck to develop the final model, and that teamwork may have some far-reaching effects on the industry. 

      About the partnership
      Ram has been a sponsor of the Hall Brothers Racing team since 2002. Since that time, the two companies have worked together on a variety of projects, but none on the level of this Mopar Muscle Ram. In fact, that vehicle is the first Original Equipment Manufacturer monster truck to take part in the Monster Jam series in more than a decade. 

      "We're excited to have Mopar make its first foray into the world of monster trucks by joining the Ram brand in this popular and competitive exhibition series ..." said Pietro Gorlier, president and CEO of Mopar. "So much of what Mopar does is applicable to the general consumer, but occasionally we like to show just how capable our brand is of really extreme performance. This is a great and fun opportunity for us to do that with Mopar Muscle and the Hall Brothers." 

      Inside the truck
      With a weight of 10,300 pounds and a height that stands at about 10 feet, the Mopar Muscle is an intimidating truck. It is based on the 2014 Ram HD pickup truck, and the frame of the new vehicle was even made to look like that Ram product. 

      Of course, what will likely steal the show immediately are the oversized tires included on the truck. Ram and Mopar made room for those giant wheels by installing a lift kit, which raised the truck several feet off the ground. That is necessary to maneuver around full-size cars and other obstacles, but the odds are off-road drivers won't need as much separation from the ground. Still, that doesn't mean the capability isn't appreciated, and it should help make the truck a force to be reckoned with on the course. 

      "We are very proud of our new Mopar Muscle Ram monster truck," said Tim Hall, owner and crew chief of the monster truck team. "It looks really fantastic, and I can't wait to see it run. Mopar has a long and storied history of winning across many forms of racing, so we intend on helping to make their entry into monster truck racing just as successful." 

      To match the increased size of the truck, the Ram's engine has also been upgraded. It now measures at 9.3 liters and was supercharged to reach 2,000 horsepower. That was created from the Gen II 426 HEMI motor, which is an engine that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. This latest version shows that the engine isn't slowing down anytime soon, and if it can power this large machine through the challenges of a Monster Jam, it is likely able to handle anything from mudding to dune bashing as well. 

    • The best habits for savvy off-road drivers

      Being a good off-road driver is about more than successfully navigating a vehicle in and out of tough spots. The best and most respected drivers practice a variety of positive habits that set a good example for everyone in the wilderness and help to improve the experience for all. 

      Here are four simple ways you can practice good off-roading habits. Although these are just a few of the many potential methods, they are among the easiest, and drivers of any experience level can take advantage of these tips: 

      Be punctual and prepared
      Whether you're participating in formal races or just heading out into the wilderness for recreational purposes, you should take steps to be prepared. Complying with local or state laws and respecting the environment are incredibly important. Not only could you face steep fines - or worse - by failing to follow these rules, but you also may put yourself or others at risk. Be respectful of your surroundings and don't leave any evidence of your visit beyond some tire tracks. 

      If you are attending a formal event, make sure to be punctual. The same can be said of visiting public parks or off-roading facilities. You may have to fill out permit forms, pay entry fees or comply with other time limits, so it's probably worthwhile to do some research ahead of time. Even just a few minutes of effort can allow you to select the right time to show up for off-roading and inform you as to all of the information and gear you'll need. 

      Help others
      There will undoubtedly come a time when you find yourself - and your vehicle - stuck in a precarious situation. When that moment arises, you'll probably need some assistance, and it's always a good idea to offer to help fellow drivers when you encounter them in similar scenarios. 

      An easy way to be able to help others is to have a tool kit and emergency gear stored somewhere in your vehicle. Recovery straps and jumper cables are good basics to have, and the rest of your chosen equipment will likely depend on the type of off-road driving you are doing. Some factors will also depend on the geography of the region and the time of year. For example, in the winter, it is a good idea to have some type of sand or gravel in the winter, as it can improve traction. 

      Put safety first
      No matter what situation you are in, safety should come first. While most drivers know they should be driving the speed limit and obeying the general rules of the road, anyone participating in off-roading needs to make sure all truck or Jeep modifications are safely installed. This usually requires testing out new additions to a vehicle before you get out in the wilderness to ensure everything is functioning properly. 

      Always keep tinkering
      You may have successfully modified your truck or Jeep to create the off-road vehicle of your dreams, but that doesn't mean you're done. Lift kits and other vehicle enhancements are constantly evolving, so that means your automobile should be as well. You also have to be dedicated to providing consistent maintenance for a vehicle. After a round of intense off-road driving, some of your alterations or equipment may have been damaged, so it is important to check all of your gear before and after an experience. As technology advances and tools get safer, you may also want to consider making some new investments so you are always at the forefront.  

    • Deal struck to save off-road sites in California

      Fans of off-road driving can occasionally struggle to find a space suitable for their needs. Not only do they need expansive stretches of open land with a few challenging obstacles mixed in, but they also must make sure that the desired space is available for driving. 

      An unfortunate clash
      Recently, groups located around Johnson Valley, Calif., which is northeast of Los Angeles, clashed over the use of land. The land, which encompasses approximately 188,000 acres, has long been used for off-road driving by champions of the sport. Known for boasting a blend of trails ideal for rock crawling with large expanses of desert, this region regularly welcomes tens of thousands of off-road vehicles each year. 

      Unfortunately, the space is also utilized by the U.S. Marine Corps for live training exercises. The threat of live ammunition is a serious one, and it was impossible for the two groups to coexist - and neither was willing to budge. The Corps was also planning on expanding its control over the land, reserving more than 100,000 acres for training. After several years of conflict, the two groups finally reached a compromise, and it's one that should keep everyone involved satisfied and safe. 

      "We feel this course of action is the best balance for military and recreational use of the land," Marine spokeswoman Capt. Maureen Krebs told The Desert Sun. "Safety is a high priority for the Marine Corps and we want to ensure that both Marines and recreational users stay safe throughout the year." 

      The solution
      Luckily, the groups were able to come to an agreement on the issue. The Marine Corps will reserve more than 56,000 acres for "shared use," and it will be open for off-roading for 10 months out of the year. In total, off-roaders will be able to use about 100,000 acres of land, including this shared area, and they will still be able to host the annual events that take place in Johnson Valley. 

      "After years in which off-roaders have lived in fear of the closure of Johnson Valley, this permanently ends the threat of base expansion into off-road areas," said Rep. Paul Cook, of Yucca Valley, as quoted by The Press-Enterprise. 

      Part of the reason the Marine Corps relented was because of the enormous support for the off-roading community. Organizations such as the Specialty Equipment Market Association, along with several state government officials in California, worked together to show the importance of off-roading to the area. 

      "SEMA joined with a number of other organizations representing the off-road community to support this provision that addresses the nation's military training needs while providing access for recreational activities," said Chris Kersting, president of SEMA. "We consider this ground-breaking provision a positive result for both the OHV community and the United States Marine Corps." 

      About Johnson Valley
      Now that Johnson Valley is able to welcome off-roaders for years to come, many interested parties may want to consider trekking to this adventurous locale. With dry lake beds, massive rock trails and other challenging obstacles, there is more than enough room for avid drivers to head out into the wild and try their best to conquer the terrain. 

      One of the biggest events to take place in Johnson Valley each year is King of the Hammers. Attracting thousands of people each year, this event focuses on rock crawling across trails with huge boulders and other imposing obstacles. The new compromise shouldn't affect this celebration, and the 2014 edition of King of the Hammers should go on as planned Jan. 31 through Feb. 8. 

    • New details emerge about the Range Rover Sport's record drive

      In the beginning of November, Land Rover made a splash in the world of off-roading following the announcement that one of its models would undergo an intense challenge. The 2014 Range Rover Sport, one of the newest introductions from the manufacturer, was poised to conquer Arabia's Empty Quarter. 

      Land Rover's video
      To mark the occasion, the automaker released a video chronicling some of the most impressive feats from the Range Rover Sport. Documenting the entirety of the trip across the Empty Quarter, the film focuses on the incredibly demanding landscape crossed by the vehicle. 

      The nearly six-minute video details the vast size of the Empty Quarter, as well as the dangerous terrain. Massive sand dunes dotted much of the horizon, and sand was everywhere. Although there were a few relatively flat stretches of land, the drivers had to look out for rocks, remains and other obstacles that could have potentially damaged the off-road vehicle. All of this was done at high speeds - an average of more than 51 mph - leaving little reaction time in the event things went south. 

      Security and safety reasons meant that no journalists were present during the high-speed drive. However, fans of off-roading can get a glimpse of the intense terrain conquered quite easily thanks to this video. 

      Dominate off-road driving
      Temperatures regularly surpassed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with some of the hottest days inching closer to 120 degrees. There were also no reliable water sources and hostile terrain all around, which meant both the vehicle and the driver had to be prepared for anything. Professional off-road racer Moi Torrallardona did his part, and the Range Rover Sport picked up the rest. 

      One of the most dangerous parts was going down sand dunes. These steep hills provided very little traction, especially with the loose sand making up the entire ground, but the Range Rover Sport was able to hold its own. The team also encountered a hiccup at the three-fourths mark of the journey, as they ran into a sand storm and had to slow progress. The giant drifts of sand buried the tires of the vehicle for a short time, forcing Torrallardona and his partner to dig the Range Rover out of the trap. 

      Even with these obstacles, the Range Rover Sport was able to successfully complete the journey - and all with limited enhancements. 

    • How to handle a winter driving accident

      Much has been made of the best practices for winter driving. The right maintenance and safe driving techniques can go a long way toward avoiding collisions or breakdowns, but sometimes accidents are unavoidable. 

      Document the situation
      Whenever you find yourself embroiled in an accident, one of the first things you should do is thoroughly examine the situation. Get out of the vehicle and check out the damage - as long as you are not in a dangerous or heavily trafficked area. If you are still in the middle of a road or trail, pull over to the side if possible and stay in the vehicle.

      However, if you are in a setting clear of traffic and with good visibility, get out and take a look at your automobile. Be sure to take pictures of the scene as well as any damage to your vehicle or equipment. These may be important to show later on, especially if you're off-roading and need to move the car to a safer area before it can be checked by a professional. 

      To properly document an accident, you'll need to have a functioning cellphone, camera or similar mobile device. Having a car charger can go a long way toward ensuring you are able to snap photos or even take video of the damage. It may also be a good idea to brush up on your insurance coverage before getting behind the wheel. This can give you a better idea of what to look at when you're on the scene, as well as what steps to take. 

      Don't jump to conclusions 
      Accidents, breakdowns and collisions can be intensely stressful. While it may be easy to lose control, it is important to try to keep a level head and remain calm. Any accident that involves another driver needs to be handled carefully, and it does no good to discuss blame or point fingers before the arrival of the police or insurance inspector. Be sure to exchange contact information and basic insurance info with the owner of the other vehicle, and alert all of the proper authorities as soon as possible. Getting a police report filed, if necessary, will need to be done quickly, and the sooner you can file an insurance claim the better. 

      Take preventative measures
      As previously stated, staying on top of vehicle maintenance and driving safely are two of the best ways to steer clear of problems on the roads or trails. However, there won't always be a clear-cut solution that can help you avoid problems, and if that's the case, you'll want to have the right gear that will keep a situation manageable. 

      To start, you should make sure you have the right equipment for a temporary fix of a vehicle. This includes a spare tire, tool kit, recovery straps and any other items you may find necessary for your given type of off-road driving. It is also a good idea to have some kind of reflective vest or tape, as this can make you and your automobile more visible in any space, alerting other drivers to your location. 

      Because it is the winter season, you may also want to ensure you have some accessories that are equipped to handle the cold or possible inclement weather. Gravel or salt is a good idea if you're concerned about traction, especially in situations where you may be rock crawling or handling steep inclines. Here's a tip: If you're crunched for time or money, consider pet litter instead. It has the same consistency as road gravel and can typically be found at more convenient locations. 

    • Ford to launch driver training program

      Off-roading can be a beloved pastime, but before you become dedicated to the cause, you have to put in the effort to learn the ropes. While much of this knowledge will come from experience, as well as tinkering with truck mods, there are a few ways to speed up the process.

      Ford recently got on board with this idea, and it will be taking it one step further in 2014. 

      Learning the basics of off-road driving
      Automobile magazine reported that Ford is planning to land an off-road driving course at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. This lesson will give drivers an immersive experience, enabling them to learn the basics of off-roading from professional drivers. They will also be exposed to different types of terrain and truck mods, so as to see what best fits their style.

      All of the driving will be done in the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor. While this automobile may lack some of the modifications you've made to your own off-road vehicle, it's still more than capable of handling the demanding course at Miller Motorsports Park. Ford has designated this as their prime off-road truck, so participants may even find some inspiration for future alterations with the state-of-the-art vehicle. Some of the changes made to make the Raptor more adept at the course include off-road wheels and tires, a locking rear differential, HID headlights, four-wheel drive and more. 

      Drivers who want to take advantage of this opportunity can choose from several training packages. The smallest is simply hot laps with Ford drivers, while the next level is a three-hour experience that adds rock-crawling and another form of off-roading to the agenda. The most comprehensive class is a day-long experience that focuses on hot laps as well as time on all three of the park's off-road areas, according to the news source.

      Take in the action at Miller Motorsports Park
      If you have to condense the beginning stages of off-roading into one crash course, there are few locations better than Miller Motorsports Park. There are many different surfaces on which to learn, including eight acres dedicated to rock crawling, 22 acres for high-speed off-road driving and more than 900 acres set aside for desert racing.

      The facility is frequently used for recreational purposes as well as for formal motorsports racing. The Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series returns to the park June 21, using the high-speed off-road short course as the home for the action. That event opens up the flood of happenings for the rest of the summer and fall, including motocross and motorcycle road races and even NASCAR events.

      It will also continue to host the Boss Track Attack program. Much like the off-road training course, this experience lets drivers learn the ropes of handling the Ford Mustang Boss 302 sports car in a professional setting, Automobile magazine reported. 

      "We are very excited about our 2014 schedule," said John Larson, general manager of Miller Performance. "We offer something for just about everyone with an interest in racing, from off-road trucks to motocross, road racing cars and motorcycles, and karting. We're coming off a great season in 2013, and we're looking forward to more of the same next year."

      One of the promotions that will likely catch the eyes of off-road drivers is the Wide Open Wednesday program. Between the months of April and October, certain Wednesdays will be designated as public days. This is a unique opportunity for drivers to test out their truck modifications on a professional-level road racing course at a low price. 

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