It's a sad truth that the vast majority of SUVs never live up to their true potential: Going off road. That's because most people buy SUVs as either minivan replacements (because they have big families and want the space) or they like driving up high and having four-wheel drive for snow.
But if you ever get that itch to take your vehicle out into the mud, there's a couple of things you need to know.
1. First, learn if your vehicle actually go off road. This is a crucial question to have answered. Jeep says all of their vehicle can go off road, but some are better at handling rocks and sand than others. Those ones have a circular badge on the side and say "Trail Rated." Many SUVs, like the Ford Explorer, Land Rover Range Rover, Toyota Land Cruiser, Volkswagen Touareg, and the Toyota FJ Cruiser are perfectly capable of going off the pavement (as well as a host of others we haven't listed here.) That's because they all come with 4 wheel drive -- not all-wheel drive, which isn't as capable in sticky situations.
Read your manual and poke around on Google to see if your car was meant for the great outdoors. If it wasn't, you're out of luck.
2. Find a partner. You need to follow the buddy system when you're out on the trails. It is very easy to go further than you think when you're driving through the wilderness. And the last think you want to do is get stuck, miles from the paved roads, with no way out. And even the best off-roaders get stuck in the muck sometimes.
Luckily, there are a lot of clubs aimed at organizing group offroading outings. Offroaders.com has a list of clubs broken down by state. Jeep offers outings through its Camp Jeep program, where beginners to experts converge with Jeep staffers who help teach you the rules of the wild. And Land Rover also hosts driving schools throughout the year.
3. Bring a tow rope. You'll need a 20- to 30-foot tow rope, in case you get stuck. You can buy specialty ropes, like this one, for emergencies. You should not get a rope with hooks -- the ends should be sewn into loops. And always use the tow hooks on your vehicle to attach the rope. Don't tie it around your bumper -- unless you're trying to make a video for American's Funniest Home Videos and you want to watch your bumper get pulled straight off.
4. Go slow, cowboy. This is the most fun you'll have in a car going less than 5 mph. Watching someone offroading is like watching someone play a videogame -- prety dull. It moves pretty slow. But getting behind the wheel and making the vehicle do crazy things, like climbing over a pile of downed logs, is a total adrenaline rush. No need to go fast.
5. Don't straddle rocks. One sure way to ruin the underside of your truck is to straddle major obstacles. The best way to go over rocks and other objects in your way is to put one of your tires on it and drive over. If you try to pass the rock between the tires, it could get caught and leave you stranded.
There are more tips and tricks you'll learn along the way, but this should be enough to get you started. Have fun!
For an in-depth look at the 2013 Jeep Wrangler Sahara featured in the video below, check out this gallery:
Gallery: 2013 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Review