High five for the big five: self-drive tours
Posted: 10 October 2017
As South Africans, we are very lucky to have the luxury of being able to jet off for mini-breaks to the bush. There is nothing like unwinding and recharging one’s batteries while viewing our plethora of spectacular wildlife against the backdrop of the breathtaking natural beauty of our country. There is also no better holiday experience to offer your overseas guests than a trip into the wild. One very important consideration when planning a trip to a local game reserve or a rugged, unspoilt country such as Namibia or Botswana is your mode of transport. Veering off the beaten track is not entirely without its challenges. Particularly for your car. Driving on gravel roads puts your vehicle at risk and exposes it to dangers it wouldn’t normally encounter on the tarred city roads. Let’s have a look at some of the reasons why it’s a good idea to leave your car behind and opt instead for a sturdy 4×4 when venturing into the wild.
- Even really well-maintained gravel roads tend to have rough sections and loose gravel. This puts you at risk of your tyres hitting large rocks in the road, or loose stones and rocks flying up and hitting your windscreen, causing cracks or chips. The chunky tread pattern of the large tyres found on 4×4 vehicles helps to clear away the looser gravel particles and grip on the harder, more stable parts of the road. The considerably wider tyres also mean an increase in the area of the contact patch improved grip, which leads to better grip and road handling.
- Uneven road surfaces can cause punctures.
- Wildlife such as impala may suddenly jump across the road and livestock such as cattle and sheep like to wander across roads at inopportune moments. You have a much better vantage point and less chance of driving into them when sitting high up in a 4×4.
- Most rural roads are not as wide as city roads. Nor do they have a centre line. This can make it difficult to judge correctly when passing or overtaking other cars. If your vehicle drifts too far to the side of a gravel road, and the tyres go off the packed surface, you are at danger of your car rolling. This risk is minimized if you are driving a 4×4.
- Because gravel is a loose surface, the wheels have much less grip than they do on a tarred road, and a resultant greater tendency to slip or skid. This causes the vehicle to become difficult to handle and affects one’s ability to safely control it. The speed at which it is safe to take a corner is reduced, braking distances are increased and it is easy to overcorrect when turning the steering wheel. If you turn your steering wheel sharply one way, your tyres won’t have enough grip to change the direction of the car. This may result in your wheels pointing one way, while the car ploughs ahead.
- A four-wheel drive system is the safest option as it lessens the effects of over- and under-steering that can occur in rear-wheel or front-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive cars also behave more predictably on gravel.