Offroading

  • Off-roading in an unusual setting at Virginia's Oak Ridge Estate

    Some off-road drivers may be all about the need for speed, but others appreciate the scenery and challenges of a setting a bit more. In these instances, drivers may want to seek out special areas that boast a nice blend of obstacles and interesting sites. Luckily for off-roading enthusiasts in the Virginia area, there is one easily accessible property that offers all of this and more. Automobile magazine recently spotlighted this location, but for many fans of off-road driving, the locale has been a hot spot for years. 

    About Oak Ridge Estate
    The history of Oak Ridge Estate can trace its history back centuries. Nestled in Nelson County, Va., which is about halfway between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, the property dates back more than 250 years. Its centerpiece is the more than 200-year-old main building. Once housing a prominent Virginia merchant, the dwelling features dozens of rooms and classic architecture. It is surrounded by manicured gardens and several outbuildings, all of which made up a large portion of this estate. 

    However, with more than 5,000 acres of land present as part of the Oak Ridge Estate, there is plenty of excess room away from the houses. This includes a large section of land that is reserved for off-road driving. Made up of steep rock grades, gentle streams, rolling hills and dense forests, there is a ton of room to roam on this site.

    In total, the property boasts about 47 miles of trails. With the sheer number of obstacles and challenges, it's likely you'll only be able to conquer a small section in a day - especially if you need to be helped out of a bind - but a visit that spans several days will undoubtedly keep you entertained. 

    Off-road events
    Oak Ridge Estate is home to several off-roading events, and each of these special gatherings brings together fans of off-road driving in a unique way. In 2010, it acted as host for the first annual Wheeling for Hope charity event, which raises money for the American Cancer Society fundraiser Relay for Life. Modified vehicles are welcome to participate in this multiday event, which encompasses everything from driving and prize raffles to live entertainment and general camaraderie. 

    Another notable celebration is Camp Jeep. Although this event moves locations, it has brought its action to Oak Ridge Estate several times, and each occurrence gets bigger and better than the one before it. This all-Jeep event brings together more than 6,000 people driving 2,000 Jeeps, offering drivers to take part in everything from off-roading to kayaking and mountain biking. 

    One of the highlights of this event is the engineering roundtables, where experts provide insight to top-of-the-line modifications that can allow drivers to get the most out of their vehicles. 

    What a vehicle needs
    To conquer the land that makes up Oak Ridge Estate, an off-road vehicle will need to be equipped with a few alterations. Tow hooks are mandatory to drive on the course, and it is a good idea to be ready to utilize front hooks, as there are quite a few slippery sections that may be difficult to climb. Winches may also be a smart investment, as the soft red clay can easily trap a vehicle and its driver, requiring lots of effort to get out of the jam. 

    Skid plates and armor may also be a welcome addition. These Jeep modifications can make a big difference in how confidently you can approach the course, as they can protect a vehicle from some of the most common nicks and scrapes that come about from off-roading. 

  • Chevy Silverado wins truck of the year award

    We may be in the beginning stages of 2014, but several organizations are just now wrapping up the end-of-year awards from 2013. Four Wheeler magazine was one of the latest publications to do just that, and the recreational journal took a look at some of the most popular off-road vehicle options from the past year.

    According to the magazine, the Pickup Truck of the Year contest was decided after a week-long testing period. All of the driving took place in Fullerton, Calif., where the models were exposed to a wide range of landscapes. Winding rounds, mountains, desert settings and sandy trails were all included in the tests, providing a comprehensive look at the capabilities of the trucks.

    The winner
    After all of the testing was said and done, the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ Z71 Crew Cab came out on top. It has been dramatically upgraded from past years, with changes made to the frame, suspension and interior. Those alterations have made a big difference, and the end result is a vehicle that is comfortable, capable and fun to drive. 

    According to Four Wheeler, the overall layout of the interior is solid. A state-of-the-art touchscreen, leather front bucket seats and built-in seat temperature controls all help to customize the inside of the cab, and there were enough storage compartments to get the job done. Although the exterior appearance left a bit to be desired, the LED under-rail lighting, multiple tie-down points and an integrated step in the back bumper were all of use. Add in excellent braking and powerful engine options, and the result is a worthy winner. 

    That's not to say there weren't any areas where the Silverado could stand to improve. Judges cited the low frame and box-shaped appearance as two of the places where Chevy can make adjustments, but overall the fun driving experience and great power won out. 

    Other contenders
    While the Chevy Silverado 1500 was the winner, the other contenders involved in the contest are certainly worthy of a second look. The Toyota Tundra SR5 CrewMax and Ram 2500 Outdoorsman Crew Cab wound up in second and third place, respectively. That may come as a surprise to some drivers, as these models beat out top sellers like the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500.

    Ultimately, the Silverado edged out its competitors, but it was one of the closer contests in recent years, the magazine reported. What may be most encouraging, however, is the number of pickups that challenged for this title, as well as similar awards. So many different winners in the same model year underscore the impressive selection of trucks on the market today, and make it easier for motorists to choose an investment based on their personal needs and driving desires.

    Off-road driving tests
    All of the vehicles tested by Four Wheeler magazine were driven on- and off-road. Part of what set the Silverado apart was its impressive off-road power, and additions like the rear Gov-Lok helped to make the machine more adept in certain scenarios. According to the publication, the main drawback was the truck's low stance, but installing a lift kit could be a good way to remedy that problem and increase the truck's capabilities.

    The Tundra was also among the top picks for off-roading. Its truck suspension is among the best on the market, and it is more than capable of taking a driver across a variety of terrain. If there was one area where improvements could be made, it's likely rock crawling, as there is a lack of traction that makes this off-road driving more difficult.

  • Off-road championship speeds into Sturgis

    For years, Sturgis Buffalo Chip has been the site of some of the world's most impressive motorcycle rallies and music festivals. Although the bulk of the action throughout the past 30 years has centered on two-wheeled machines, the 2014 edition of the event will feature some four-wheeled action that is sure to get fans of off-road driving interested. 

    Sturgis Buffalo Chip recently announced that its next running will feature The Off-Road Championship Racing (TORC). The multiyear agreement will make off-roading one of the staples of the event. Sturgis is even building a new race track as part of The Buffalo Chip Powersports Complex.

    This course will provide all of the space needed for trucks with as much as 900 horsepower to show off their capabilities and truck mods. Although few details about the course has been released, the track will likely be a large one - the trucks involved with TORC frequently reach speeds of more than 100 mph and can jump as far as 200 feet in the midst of a race. Natural elevation changes and rugged elements in the land should make for an exciting environment as well. 

    "TORC's vision and approach to the sport of off-road racing is of the highest caliber," said Rod Woodruff, president of Sturgis Buffalo Chip. "For over 30 years, the Sturgis Buffalo Chip has been committed to providing our fans with the best entertainment, and we are thrilled to add TORC Racing into our schedule of events." 

    Commonly referred to as "The Chip," the annual Sturgis Rally brings more than 500,000 people to the small South Dakota town for 10 days of rides, concerts, contests, showcases and more. 

  • How to winterize an off-road vehicle

    Getting a vehicle ready for winter involves everything from investing in snow chains or special tires to brushing up on knowledge of cold-weather driving. An important part of preparing for these frigid months is winterizing the vehicle. This goes beyond strapping on new tires or throwing an ice scraper in the back - drivers must be able to complete a variety of tasks that ensure any type of automobile is ready to handle the cold weather. 

    Here are a few steps that you should strike off your to-do list as you winterize a vehicle: 

    Inspect the battery
    A vehicle's battery should be inspected at all times of the year, but it becomes particularly important during the winter. Battery capacity is reduced by colder temperatures, and this freezing environment may also be more harmful to the cables and gear associated with the device. To avoid being stranded in the cold - undoubtedly the worst-case scenario for many drivers - take the time to read the level of the battery and decide if it's time to invest in another one. It is also helpful to check and refill the fluid within the device. 

    Treat the windshield
    Visibility is key throughout the winter, so you should take steps to make sure your windshield is ready to handle the snow and ice. Dealing with mud, snow and other obstacles means you get plenty of work from windshield wipers, but it could be a good idea to replace these tools with new ones before winter arrives. Drivers should also choose an antifreeze that will keep their windshield clear. Certain washer fluids come with antifreeze mixed in, and that option could be a wise choice for drivers. 

    Prepare the doors
    A common problem drivers encounter in the winter occurs when doors and windows freeze, causing door locks to resist keys and many of the openings to clamp shut. Many auto owners head inside to grab some warm water to loosen the ice, but this isn't feasible - or advised - for all drivers. Instead of taking any risks, consider investing in glycerine. This liquid is ideal for de-icing a section of your car. The only thing you need to be aware of is storage: Leaving a stash of glycerine in a glove compartment is useless, so an outside storage container may be a better option. 

    Switch the engine oil
    Depending on the type of vehicle you drive, you may also want to switch your engine oil. Many automakers recommend drivers change their engine oil to one with a lower viscosity, meaning that it is thinner. Cold weather usually thickens the oil naturally, so having a thinner product ensures that there will be no clogging within the engine, and it will continue operating a high level. An owner's manual will likely have more information about making a switch and the type of oil that is preferred for a given vehicle. 

    Check the HVAC system
    Inspecting the heating and ventilation of a car may seem secondary - after all, the system is more about personal comfort than anything else. However, having a functioning HVAC system is essential for the winter. For one, you need to be comfortable to focus on your off-road driving without any distractions.  Secondly, the HVAC is also responsible for defrosting windows and the windshield, and that task must be done effectively for safe winter driving. If you notice something is wrong with the HVAC system, it could also be a sign of related problems under the hood, so it should be checked out before you head to the trails.

  • Tips for winter off-road driving

    Just because the weather has cooled down doesn't mean your passion for off-roading has. In fact, the difficult conditions found throughout this season are some of the most challenging and interesting a driver can try, which makes winter driving an attractive option for many. Despite the fun and adventure involved in this activity, there are some dangers that need to be considered. 

    Here are a few tips you can take advantage of when considering off-roading in the winter: 

    Tools for tires
    The benefits of snow tires and chains have been discussed, but there are other considerations that should be made regarding this equipment. For example, carrying a spare is a must, but you should also pack an air compressor. These devices convert power into pressurized air, which can then be used to fill tires. Having one of these tools on hand allows you to air down tires for better traction and ride quality depending on the terrain. 

    Watch out for weak points 
    Investing in items like Jeep JK armor can help you protect weak points on a vehicle, but there are other sections that will always remain exposed to the elements. U-joints are particularly at risk, as they are the weakest point in the drivetrain. Harm to these parts can affect the yoke - and in turn four-wheel drive and similar handling - and they usually cannot be fixed while out on the trails. Make sure you have the proper tools to patch one of these issues up well enough to get home. 

    Brush up on vehicle features
    Trucks and Jeeps come with a variety of features that are essential to have in an off-road vehicle. Four-wheel drive is one amenity that will be used at any time of year, but you should test it out before departing on a winter trek. Additionally, you should practice steering to test the controls of a vehicle and get used to handling the machine in the snow. Battling ditches or slippery slopes can be challenging, especially if you're following in areas where plows or other large vehicles have already been, so it is important to practice dealing with these obstacles. 

    Pack a survival kit
    Off-road driving at any time of year requires an array of tools and safety equipment, and that emergency kit should be a bit more specifically catered to winter conditions when the season approaches. Food and water are a must, and it may also be beneficial to have extra layers of clothing and blankets. 

    Add in tools like antifreeze, recovery straps, winches and snow chains, and you may be ready to face winter off-roading. You should also be sure to have a small supply of gravel or sand, or road salt, which can help you get out of a rough situation when on snowy or icy surfaces. 

    Never go alone
    Perhaps the most important thing you should keep in mind as winter arrives is that you should not be driving alone, especially on a remote trail. Stick to set courses or organized trail events to ensure you are always close to safety. At the very least, you should bring a partner along to have someone who can help with sudden repairs, and each of you should have a fully charged cellphone as well as other emergency gear. 

    If you do decide to drive alone, make sure you have a backup plan. You shouldn't stray from a distinct trail, and you should always make sure you are within walking distance of shelter and help. 

  • The basics of winches for off-road vehicles

    Anyone who pushes their vehicle to the limit will find themselves in a sticky situation at one time or another. These precarious scenarios may have some drivers scrambling for help, but having the right tools and equipment can make the entire obstacle a bit more manageable. 

    One of the tools that drivers should have is a winch. Winching is a relatively common practice within the world of off-roading, and those who are new to the sport or need a refresher should brush up on some of the basics of winches and their benefits. 

    What is a winch? 
    A winch is a device that is situated on the front bumper of an off-road vehicle. It occasionally may be placed in the rear to tow boats, ATVs or other objects. Instead of acting as a tow hook, however, it features a motorized unit that uses a spool of wire or rope and typically draws power from the battery of the vehicle. When the power to the winch is connected, the spool turns, allowing an object to be pulled in or out. 

    Off-roading uses
    The most prevalent use of a winch in off-road driving is for recovery purposes. If you get stuck while mudding or dune bashing, you'll want to have the proper equipment to help you out of the jam, and a winch is one of the easiest ways to do that. You can use it to connect to another vehicle or something else that is solid, and once the switch is activated, the spinning spool of wire or rope will pull the vehicle out of trouble. 

    Things to know
    The first thing you have to know about installing a winch on your off-road vehicle is the weight of the car, plus any truck mods or equipment attached. Winches do have weight limits, and you should be adding in some leeway to allow for the unexpected surprises that may make an automobile heavier, such as the sand or mud dragging it down. Look for a winch that is 1.5 times the weight of your car. 

    Line length is another feature to consider. Although a long wire may be the best to get you out of a variety of situations, it is important to keep in mind that these devices work best when fully extended. Because the length of your cable is the length you will always have to deal with, this factor could prevent or promote tangles, obstacles and other annoyances. 

    Kits and accessories 
    Choosing the right winch will depend on the type of vehicle you have, as well as the type of driving and towing you plan on doing. No matter what you purchase, you will likely have the opportunity to consider buying several different accessories to go with the winch. Extra ropes, power cables, covers and mounts may all have to purchased. While winch kits can provide you with many of the tools you'll need for installation, repeated use might result in having to invest in one of these replacement parts. 

    You should also be wearing gloves when working with a winch and its cable. Steel wires or rope can easily burn hands that are pulling on it, and gloves will help protect you from these avoidable injuries. Additionally, when you are pulling the cable from the winch to the other object, consider placing some sort of weight in the middle. A jacket or heavy blanket will do - you are simply aiming to add some kind of resistance in case you lose your grip and the wire snaps back.

  • Range Rover Sport sets off-roading record in Arabian desert

    Many automakers claim their vehicles can handle all types of off-roading, but few back up those reports with record-breaking adventures quite like Range Rover. For its latest feat, the brand decided to show off the capabilities of its new Range Rover Sport by taking it on a trip through Arabia's Empty Quarter. Widely acknowledged as one of the most rugged locations on the planet, this desert posed the perfect challenge for the off-road vehicle - and the automobile passed with flying colors. 

    An impressive feat from Range Rover
    A Range Rover Sport was able to complete the 527-mile journey in 10 hours and 22 minutes, which was a new world record. That pace was set in a standard vehicle with no major upgrades to the engine or tires. In fact, the only modification was made to the underbody, which received an additional layer of armor to prevent sand from interfering with the systems. 

    Even though the Range Rover had to be outfitted with just a few key features to make it across the desert, it didn't take much for the automobile to keep up with driver Moi Torrallardona. At 47 years old, Torrallardona has competed in the last 10 runnings of the Dakar Rally, as well as a number of other off-road driving races, and is accustomed to traversing some undesirable terrain. 

    "This unique way of driving requires a vehicle which has the same skillset - it must be both incredibly fast but also agile, responsive and well planted," Torrallardona said. "The Range Rover Sport is exactly that. It is massively capable and is truly the best tool for conquering the desert."

    Arabia's Empty Quarter 
    Also known as Rub' al Khali, the Empty Quarter is a section of the Arabian Peninsula consisting of some of the world's most hostile terrain. The region boasts a few expanses that are among the hottest and driest on Earth. Although there are groups that call the desert home, it is largely unpopulated - except for a few sections that literally struck it rich with the discovery of oil. 

    In total, the Empty Quarter takes up about one-fifth of the Arabian Peninsula and covers an area of more than 225,000 square miles, according to National Geographic. Most of it is located in Saudi Arabia, but sections spread into Oman, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. Perhaps most telling is the fact that it holds half as much sand as the Sahara Desert despite the latter being about 15 times the size. That means anyone trying to get through the Empty Quarter has to contend with an insane amount of sand, which poses a problem for visibility and maneuverability, as well as the intense heat. 

    Crossing the desert
    Getting through harsh terrain like the desert is no easy feat. As anyone who has gone dune bashing can attest, sand is one of the most fickle types of land out there, so going over it requires intense focus, a capable vehicle and a driver who is up for anything. 

    "The challenge of the desert is like nothing else, it is a brutal, unforgiving and sometimes deadly environment," said Torrallardona. "Desert driving requires a unique combination of speed, finesse and technical skill. It is crucial that you tackle the dunes with precision. Knowing the right time to go full throttle and the right time to slow down takes experience and clear judgment." 

    Now that the Range Rover Sport has proven it can handle the desert, and showed it could excel at the punishing climb it took up Pikes Peak several months ago, it should move to the top of the wish-list for many off-road drivers. 

  • Make off-roading adventures safe for kids

    Off-roading with your family can be a ton of fun. After all, what's better than passing on a love of trucks, Jeeps and exploration to your kids? Unfortunately, you usually can't just pile little ones into the backseat and hit the trails. Off-road driving with a family requires some planning and investments, but once you know what needs to be done, it can be easily accomplished. 

    Educate them first
    The first thing you should do before taking your kids off-roading is educate them about the activity. Younger children can learn about the basics of off-road driving, including how to treat the environment, ways to stay safe and similar concepts. As they get older, you can start branching out into the intricacies of being behind the wheel.

    A good way to make sure your kids are informed is to educate them on the different types of environments you explore - a method that is easy if you take part in a number of different pastimes. Whether you're mudding, rock crawling or dune bashing, you can take the opportunity to tell your kids more about the unique setting you're in, as well as the different qualities a vehicle needs to handle it. Teaching them these concepts at a young age helps increase the odds they are safer later on. 

    Plan for breaks
    You may be used to driving through the wilderness for hours on end, but all of that will likely change when you bring your kids along. Young children may need frequent breaks to expend their energy or stretch their legs, and you will likely be forced to make more stops than you are used to. Plan for these in your schedule so you have enough time to safely complete a course or trail and make it back home. It could also be beneficial for you to bring along toys for kids to play with during this downtime. Although they may want to explore their surroundings, in the event something goes wrong and you have to tinker with the truck, you will be glad you have some distractions for them. 

    Invest in the right safety gear
    Before you take your kids out off-roading, you should make sure your off-road vehicle has all of the right safety gear. For example, investing in something like a safety harness can provide your kids with additional security - and you with some peace of mind. These harnesses are capable of restraining children and other passengers even as you cross over extremely rugged terrain, and they may be exactly what you're looking for as you explore the wilderness. All of your truck modifications should also be checked to ensure they are secure and ready to handle the rigors of nature. 

    Have a first aid kit
    You should be driving with a first aid kit anyway, but having one when off-roading with kids is especially important. There is no telling when anything from a scrape to a bee sting could derail your adventures. While many of these occurrences may be unavoidable, the least you can do is have the right resources on hand. Make sure your kit is stocked with all of the essentials, plus tweezers to take care of splinters, child-sized bandages and kid-appropriate pain reliever. 

    Wait for the right age
    When you're out on the trails, surrounded by nature with not a soul in sight, it may be tempting to let adolescents take a turn behind the wheel. However, under no circumstances should you let your kids drive until they have the proper license. Similarly, there may be certain off-road courses or competitions that have age or even height requirements. It is important to stick to these rules to ensure the safety of your family and other drivers. 

  • Toyota releases the Ultimate Edition FJ Cruiser

    Amidst all of the updates about the newest concept trucks debuting at the SEMA Show, Toyota leaked out some bad news: The 2014 edition of the FJ Cruiser will be the last of its line. However, the SUV is going out with a bang. Toyota unveiled the 2014 FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Ultimate Edition, which is poised to make a dent in the world of off-roading thanks to an array of impressive new features. 

    As the most rugged FJ Cruiser ever made, this 2014 model was inspired by some of its predecessors, such as the Land Cruisers from the 1960s. Much of that retro style is still evident in the exterior of the vehicle, as a paint job using the color "Heritage Blue" is matched with a white-painted front grille and black accents. 

    The truck suspension is catered toward off-road driving and includes race shocks with better stability at all speeds. There is also a new front skid plate, which has been designed to provide extra protection for the front of the vehicle regardless of the terrain on which it is driving. More input from Toyota Racing Development has helped to revamp similar features, as well as the skid plate, to offer uniform protection to the underside of the automobile. It also outfitted the vehicle with 16-inch bead lock wheels, rock rails and a roof rack, all of which complete the rugged look while also offering plenty of additional amenities that drivers will enjoy. 

    Only 2,500 models of the Trail Teams Ultimate Edition will be produced. Between its limited availability and its range of impressive features, there should be quite a demand - and a price tag - for these vehicles. The off-road vehicle will come to showrooms beginning in February 2014. 

  • Nissan Titan undergoing mudding tests

    Automakers are always striving to make their offerings bigger and better. What is not as common is manufacturers searching for input from everyday drivers who use the vehicles in a variety of ways. Nissan is aiming to change that, however. The Japanese brand is striving to collect feedback from people all over the U.S. to figure out just what these drivers are looking for in pickup trucks. 

    To better understand what drivers want, Nissan took its trucks to Texas, where engineers observed as drivers took the trucks off-roading. Several motorists used the PRO-4X pickups to participate in some extreme mudding. According to PickipTrucks.com, locals call the event, which is hosted by Sure-Shot Game Calls, the "gumbo mud" run. Founded by James Hernandez, the event takes drivers through wet and wild conditions, and Nissan likely wanted to see how its vehicles would hold up in the rough terrain. 

    The news source reported that Nissan was also eager to get feedback on its off-roading suspension, large tires and other intense features. In the past, many off-road vehicles have gotten stuck in the mud, but the Nissan rides used this year proved to be a bit stronger. 

    "We sure enough tried to bury these things. And I mean we tried. We just couldn't do it," said Hillary Dyer, editor of Waterfowl and Retriever, a guide for outdoor recreation, as quoted by PickupTrucks.com. "We got stuck for just a second, and we were able to rock ourselves right out." 

    Mudding in a Nissan Titan isn't a new pastime by any means. The full-size pickup is a solid choice for the pastime and has a number of truck mods that can be completed to make it better suited for the wet terrain. 

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