Technology and off-roading

Our world has been taken over by technology

Our world has been taken over by technology and in a very short space of time. Can you imagine your life without your smart phone and all the cool apps that we have become addicted to? Didn’t think so.

It is only logical that technology would find its way into the macho world of off-roading. The brand that everyone likes to mock, was for a long time, the leaders when it came to innovation on four-wheel drive vehicles. Land Rover were the first to introduce Traction Control (TRC) and Hill Decent Control (HDC) in the Freelander back in 1998. All the other manufacturers and “harde baard” 4×4 “manne” scoffed at the idea. Then we had Land Rover Discovery 2 with TRC. Once again everyone pulled up their noses.

Today you won’t find ANY brand of modern vehicle without it. With time the technology had been developed further to what it is today with terms such as Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) ABS brakes, (EBD) Electronic Brake Distribution becoming as common as Van Der Merwe. VSC is called by many different names – Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Electronic Stability Control (ESP) – It is manufacturer specific but the function remains the same.

How has this impacted on the off-road market?

All modern day 4×4’s come fitted with these systems as standard and along with that comes all the challenges such as water ingression, mud and sand. If you drive one of these modern 4×4’s it is extremely important that you know and understand what they do and what to do when these systems go wrong.

There are also so many misconceptions in the industry as to what controls what and I can’t blame consumers for feeling lost. That is why it is important that when you purchase a modern day 4×4, that you attend a familiarizing course or introductory 4×4 course with someone that knows and understands these systems so that you can learn how to use and understand them.

Without going into the technicalities if ALL of the systems, I will only focus on the ones that we will use and experience off-road. First and fore-most you need to understand that ALL these systems are triggered by the four-wheel speed sensors on each wheel of your 4×4. Should one of them be faulty or the wire connecting them damaged, the systems will not work. Your dash will light up with warning signs, the ABS, TRC and VSC lights will burn solid, sometimes even the diff lock light.

This is to tell you that there is a problem. Should you experience this, please visit your nearest dealer. We have on occasion done a “bush mechanic” fix when deep in the bundu, but then you need to know where to look.

The difference between VSC and TRC

Before I start to explain – What is the difference between VSC and TRC?

I am going to try and simplify it for you. One happens at speed (VSC) – to assist to stabilize your vehicle should you attempt to take a corner to fast and the other at low speed (TRC) – assists with traction whilst driving. Think about the oil or diesel patch at the traffic light etc.

It is extremely important to know and realize that your VSC system starts to be less affective once you exceed 120km/h. Do not be misled to believe that you can drive like a lunatic and the system will protect you – no – anything above 120km/h you are literally taking your life into your own hands. Things then happen so fast that even the computer cannot make the calculations to assist you.

TRC is the first system that will have an influence on your off-road driving. As its name says, it will control traction BUT only while you are in 4-High……the moment you engage 4-Low the system will deactivate TRC. In 4-Low when you engage the diff lock, it will also automatically deactivate ABS, the light on your dash will light up to tell you that it is disengaged. Some manufacturers have managed to manipulate the system in such a way that when you engage the rear diff lock, traction control becomes active on the two front wheels which does help a great deal. Some people are talking about an “electronic diff lock” which it is NOT, it is simply traction control. Traction control by any other name is still TRC.

VSC is a wonderful system – when it comes to on-road and off-road driving on tar and gravel. However, when venturing into sand and mud, it is best to turn this system off completely. Let me explain. The purpose of VSC is to help control a vehicle when you go into a corner to fast. It will brake individual wheels and cut engine power in order to achieve this. This should help you understand why it is wise to turn the system off in mud and sand. The system will detect wheel spin and start to brake and cut engine power – the very last thing you want happening when racing up a 120m dune in the Namib Desert! Same thing in mud, you don’t want to lose engine power when you actually need it.

How do I turn these systems off when off-roading?

Look for the button with a little car that looks like it is skidding. Make sure you are standing still – press and hold that button in for at least 7-10 sec. First you will see TRC is turned off then the little skidding car lights up on your dash. You have now turned off the systems. REMEMBER – should you turn the vehicle off, by default the systems are active again! You need to turn them off again if you have turned the car off.

HDC is a wonderful bit of technology and the only one you as human cannot replicate. It controls your rate of decent via the ABS braking system. It is especially handy when the surface is wet and slippery – it can brake and release individual wheels to stop wheels from locking up and causing you to slide and maybe lose control. HOWEVER – if you have the diff lock activated on the new Hilux, it will disengage the diff lock should you use what they call DAC (Down Hill Assist Control) A VERY scary situation. On some of the manufacturers you can adjust the speed via the cruise control, however in Hilux it is by default 3km/h and cannot be changed.

Once you understand what these systems are and what they do, you can truly start to enjoy your 4×4 to it’s fullest. Should you have ANY questions please do not hesitate to contact me bernie@oldmanemu.co.za

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Blog Author:  Bernie Wiliams