Absolute Newbie Instruction

A starter Guide for Newbies

The intention of this Absolute Newbie Instruction is not to make off road experts but shall give you a good overview of some off road basics. We all want to enjoy off roading and the desert, obeying some basic rules and behaviour ensures undisturbed fun and safe returns.


E n v i r o n m e n t

We all share responsibility for caring for the environment. The basic steps to making a difference are simple. In the UAE, off roaders have currently the freedom to travel almost anywhere in the
countryside - but this level of access very much depends on off road enthusiasts being cautious, respectful and responsible!

  • Wherever possible, travel on existing tracks. It’s not just the visible flora and fauna that needs protection, but also the sensitive seeds, bulbs and wildlife that lie on or just below the surface. The delicate ecosystem lies dormant for long periods, springing into life after sufficient rain and providing much-needed food for inhabitants of harsh environments.
  • In the desert, avoid what little plant life there is (this is better for your 4x4 anyway). Desert plants often have roots that extend extremely deep into the ground in search of water, and as a result they are fixed very firmly in place. There is lots of sand but only a few plants, so you should have no trouble picking a route that avoids any damage to ground vegetation.


    Never throw litter from your vehicle or leave rubbish behind you – when you are packing up after a picnic or a camping trip make sure you pack all your rubbish as well. Apart from the harm it can do to the wildlife, nobody wants to arrive at their favourite spots to find it covered with litter left behind by previous inhabitants.
  • Remember that excessive noise is offensive and it scares wildlife, so keep it down!


    Graded tracks should be used with caution and at slow speeds. Bumpy, gravel surfaces and unexpected twists and turns make it dangerous to drive at high speeds. Slow down for oncoming vehicles to minimise the risk of loose stones flying up and shattering windscreens. Slow down for hikers and cyclists, who won’t be too pleased when they are showered with stones and dust as you race past. And to avoid surprises, always assume that a wayward camel or goat is standing in the middle of the road around the next corner!
Use existing tracks.
Desert Environment
Desert Wilde Life

E s s e n t i a l   E q u i p m e n t  –  V e h i c l e

  1. Ensure you have proper recovery points on you car! 
  2. Good tyres – including a serviceable spare wheel
  3. Jack and Wheel brace
  4. Base Plate (Jacking board) for jacking in soft ground (Sand)
  5. Basic tool kit
  6. Tyre Pressure Gauge / Deflators
  7. Fire Extinguisher
  8. First Aid Kit
  9. Air Compressor
  10. Jumper Cables 

R e c o v e r y   G e a r

  1. Tow and Snatch Strap or Rope. Don’t buy one from Carrefour or ADNOC/ENOC, best is the one from ARB or ACE. Get a proper rated one for your 4x4.
  2. Shackles (2 pcs) Again rated from specialised shop.
  3. Shovel.
  4. Industrial gloves. Your car can get very HOT!

P r e p a r i n g    f o r    O f f R o a d    D r i v i n g    C h e c k l i s t

  1. Make sure you have all necessary essential vehicle and recovery equipment.
  2. Radio (Motorola) Take spare batteries with you.
  3. Mobile Phone Battery fully charged.
  4. Flagstick / Fishing Rod Flagstick.
  5. Cargo Net / Luggage Straps for securing everything.
  6. Sufficient bottled (drinking) water.
  7. Spare Water Survival 20 litre Jerry Can.
  8. Global Positioning System Receiver (GPS)
  9. Rubbish Bags Don’t leave any rubbish behind – only wheel tracks.
  10. Swiss Army Knife or equivalent.
  11. Torch When returning after sunset is anticipated
  12. Contact Telephone Number of your Group Leader/Marshal.
  13. Full petrol in your car Fill up petrol before arriving at the meeting point.

V e h i c l e   R e c o v e r y

Personal safety and the protection of property are paramount when considering 4x4 recovery.

  • Never attempt to recover a vehicle without all the necessary equipment.
  • Only use equipment that is properly rated and in serviceable condition. If in doubt, don’t use it.


    Ensure that only the people required for the recovery are present. All spectators should be kept at a safe distance.
  • Ensure that there are good communications maintained between participants and bystanders at all times. This is best achieved by use of a radio.

N O T E:    Synthetic recovery straps require rest periods between use to return to their original length and capacity. Be aware that excessive pulls on a recovery strap over a short period of time can cause build up of heat and possible failure.

R e c o v e r y   P o i n t s

It is important to ensure that only correctly mounted and rated recovery points are used for vehicle recovery. Check you 4x4 manufacturer’s hand book for recovery point locations. Tie-down points are not suitable for vehicle recovery.

B o w   S h a c k l e s

Only bow shackles that are load rated should be used for recovery your 4x4. Load ratings are visible on the shackle. Shackles with a rating of at least 3.25 tons should be the minimum and are suitable for attaching one end of a strap.

C a u t i o n: Never over tighten the shackle pin. Forces exerted on the shackle by vehicle recovery can cause the pin to seize. The correct method is to tighten the pin until it seats, then back off the pin by approximately ½ to 1 full turn.

S n a t c h   S t r a p

Snatch Straps, as the name suggests, are used to “snatch” a vehicle that can no longer maintain forward momentum under its own power (bogged or unable to climb due to loss of traction, swamped in a water crossing, stuck on an obstacle [crest of a dune], or loss of power) 

A snatch strap is an elastic recovery device that stores kinetic energy and has the ability to stretch to a significant degree and return to it original length. This elasticity combined with the momentum of the recovery vehicle creates a “snatching” effect that can extract a vehicle from the most precarious positions without shock loading the vehicle or attachment points. 

It is important that a correctly rated snatch strap is used. If a strap with a high rating is used on a light vehicle the desired stretch may not be achieved and more stress will be placed on the recovery points.

The method for using a snatch strap is quite simple; however improper use can cause serious damage or injury.

  • The recovery vehicle should be placed within reach of the snatch strap and if possible directly in line with the direction of pull. If this is not possible due to insufficient length, two straps may be joined using the correct method. Never join snatch straps with a bow shackle, as this may become a lethal missile in the event of a strap breakage.
  • The strap should be unrolled and connected to a secure recovery point on each vehicle ensuring that the strap is not twisted or knotted. Approximately 2-3 meters of slack strap should be left between the vehicles.
  • A recovery damper should be placed approx. midway between the vehicles.
  • Clear all spectators from the recovery area to a minimum safe distance.
  • With communication maintained between both vehicles, the recovery vehicle should gently accelerate to take up the slack and proceed on, allowing the kinetic energy of the strap to 

    pull out the stranded vehicle. For best results the stranded vehicle can assist by trying to 

    drive at the same time. If the vehicle is not recovered on the first attempt, a little more speed 

    by the recovery vehicle may be needed.
  • Once free, the recovered vehicle should take care not to run over the snatch strap as 

    damage to the car and/or to the snatch strap may occur.
  • Only once both vehicles are stationary and secured should the snatch strap be removed.

C a r e   a n d   M a i n t e n a n c e

  • Never exceed the breaking strength of a strap or bow shackle.
  • Ensure attachments such as hooks, shackles, chains, cables and clevis pins have a breaking 

    strength equal or higher than the strap. 
  • Avoid twisted and kinks in the webbing, Always coil your strap during storage (can be done 

    after the trip during inflation).
  • Never allow your strap to rub against sharp or hot surfaces. 
  • Inspect the entire length of any strap for nicks and cuts before and after use. If damaged, the 

    strap may fail and should be replaced! 
  • Inspect bow shackles for damage. Pins that are hard to turn suggest that the shackle has 

    been overstressed and should be replaced.

D o ’ s  a n d   D o n ’ ts    o f    D e s e r t    D r i v i n g

  • Seat belt must be worn AT ALL TIMES BY THE DRIVER AND THE PASSENGERS (front an back seat)
  • Equipment is likely to get thrown around. It should be securely fastened in position by the 

    use of a cargo net or luggage straps. Lids on cool boxes should be taped or strapped.
  • Do not leave unsecured items on the dashboard. They present a potential risk for distraction 

    and injury when thrown around!
  • Camels, sheeps, goats and pedestrians all present a hazard when driving off-road. Be 

    continually aware of them.
  • Never assume you’re the only vehicle driving on a track in a remote part of the desert. There is always a good chance of a Bedouin driving his Land Cruiser Pick up on the other 

    side of the dune. So observe the basic rules of the road and keep to the right of the track – especially when approaching blind brows.
  • Never assume you’re the only vehicle driving on a track in a remote part of the desert. There is always a good chance of a Bedouin driving his Land Cruiser Pick up on the other side of the dune. So observe the basic rules of the road and keep to the right of the track – especially when approaching blind brows.


    Do not overload your vehicle with people and equipment to place a strain on essential working parts (e.g suspension and tyres). It will also slow you down and you may be unable driving fast enough to tackle the difficult parts of soft sand.
  • If you’re out on a long trip take a jerry can with petrol.

D r i v i n g   H i n t s

  • Keep your thumbs out of the inside edge of your steering wheel. Most 4x4 have large wheels and tyres, which if bumped by a hidden rock or tree stump, will very quickly, pull the steering wheel out of your hands. Don’t take the chance to let it take your thumps with it! It is very painful and really spoils your fun!
  • In soft conditions, choose a gear and stay in it. The momentum loss when changing gear is phenomenal especially in sand. If you think you aren’t going to make it through the  bstacle, stop before the vehicle stops you, then reverse, pick another gear or another line of attack and try again.
  • When ascending or descending slopes, keep the wheels straight and choose the most vertical route. Never try to cross diagonally.
  • Keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you, as vehicles often stop very suddenly on such trips. 50 meters is considered a sensible distance between vehicles.
  • Before ascending or descending the steeper slopes, make sure that the vehicle in front of yours is well clear.
  • Keep right of established tracks, particularly when approaching the brow of a hill. These are public roads driven at great speed
  • With a passenger watching the vehicle ahead, you can get early warning of dangerous conditions or obstacles.
  • When stopping on soft ground, stop on a downward slope to prevent getting stuck when setting off again.
  • Engine revolutions and tyre noises are useful aids when desert driving, so avoid using your radio which will obscure these tell-tale sounds
  • Air-conditioning uses up much of the available engine power and its use should be avoided.
  • Always stay enough behind to avoid the dust and shingle thrown up by the vehicle in front, apart from the discomfort, dust dangerously reduces visibility. Dust clouds can be seen from a long way off and you can catch up easily again later.
  • Windscreens are often cracked by flying stones – so keep your distance on gravel stretches.

D r i v i n g i n   C o n v o y

The first rule of driving in convoy is that each driver is responsible for the car behind. This ensures that the convoy travels at the speed of the slowest car, and everyone returns to civilisation together. If you can’t see the car behind you, stop in a safe place 

The second rule is to leave sufficient space between you and the car ahead (driving hint 4). If you can’t always see the car in front of you – don’t worry! Especially in confined areas it may be
impossible to tailgate a car to the top of a dune. It can be useful to watch how the driver in front you you handles tricky situations, such as soft sand, ridges, bowls and dunes, before you follow them.

Don’t attemp to negotiate tricky parts of your route before the car ahead of you has cleared. If they fail and you are in hot pursuit, both vehicles can come to an aprubt stop and get stuck.

Maintain your position in the convoy and follow the route of the car in front. Do not overtake or wander off on your own.

In the event of a car geeting stuck, hold your position in the convoy unless you are asked for assistance by a Marshal. Do not wander off or play around the area. You may hamper the recovery or get stuck yourself.

If you think the driver behind you can’t see your car when clear of a dune, notify the car behind you via radio.

Stop if you’re not confident! Let your marshal/leader know allowing assistance/coaching be given or a less difficult route to be chosen. There is no shame in not being able to do something; but it may be dangerous doing anything you’re not confident with.

T y r e    P r e s s u r e

“Floating” is a term used by off roaders to describe the concept of the vehicle floating on the surface of the sand. The nature and consistency of the sand will change on a seasonal basis depending on the amount of rainfall, moisture from morning fog or humidity levels.

It is a simple but true fact that the lower the pressure the better the traction in soft sand. However there is always the danger if you reduce the pressure too much; the tyre may come off the rims (pop-out) in certain circumstances.

During summer, the sand will be at its driest, offering the minimum amount of traction. Therefore tyre pressures have to be at the lower end of the scale. During the winter month, tyre  ressure can be increased slightly.

Don’t forget that the handling of your vehicle will be totally different when driving at these low pressures. It will roll more when cornering, and steering response will be vague and slow. the braking will also be affected.

Reduction of tyre pressure to between a half and two-thirds of road pressure (12 - 18 psi) is generally recommended and is depending on the vehicle and wheel/tire combination This increases the surface area of the tyre that is in contact with the sand and spreads the weight of the vehicle, providing added traction in soft conditions.

G e a r s

4 W D   H i g h   R a n g e
Most of your off road driving will be done in this range. The torque of the engine is distributed between all wheels, front and rear.

4 W D   L o w   R a n g e
When driving in challenging terrain you may engage low range. Also use low range when stuck or bogged down. This allows for controlled and steady movement. Be aware that engine revs ar much higher and movement/progress is slow.

D i f f e r e n t i a l   L o c k 
Power from the engine is normally distributed through a number (three) of differentials (gear boxes) to all four wheels. These differentials are located in the front axle, the rear axle and on the drive shaft between the two axles (transfer gearbox). This means that if one ore more of the wheels get stuck, the differential transfer the power to the free wheels, causing them to spin aimlessly, doing nothing to get the car unstuck.

Engaging the diff-lock forces the wheel to move at the same speed. This cuts down on spinning and allows the wheels with the best traction to pull you out of trouble.

Drive in 4WD using normal gears (high range) and always check ahead to avoid large boulders or holes that can cause damage to your vehicle. Know your ground clearance and negotiate your way accordingly.

If you have a diff-lock, engage it to get trough tricky bits. Engage low range for rocky, challenging spots and steep ups and downs. Your progress is much smoother and more controlled. For a steep downhill you should let the engine do the braking, and for a very steep uphill, low range gives you the increased traction and power to reach the top. When driving in low range, you don’t need to use first gear – you can pull away in second or even third.

The key to driving on sand is maintaining controlled momentum by using higher than normal revs (engine rpm) Make sure you are in 4WD and stick to lower gears (not low range yet), usually one gear lower than you would drive on road. Try not to over or under accelerate when tackling soft sand.

G o i n g   u p   a   D u n e


  • Select the route of least resistance – get out of the car and have a look if necessary.
  • Give yourself a good run up and the momentum will carry you to the top, but remember – not too much, not too little.


    Stick to lower gears to keep your revs high.
  • If you start loosing traction move your steering wheel quickly from side to side to help the wheels find extra traction as you tackle a slope.

  • Allow your “buddy” vehicle to safely negotiate the slope before trying it yourself.
  • Make sure that no one is barrelling up the opposite side of the same dune.

D O N ’ T

  • Drive diagonally across the slope, especially in very soft sand (this predicament sometimes arises as a result of doing a U-turn). If this happens, make sure you keep your momentum going to stop the car from rolling! – if you are going too slowly, gravity will win and pull the car over whichever way is down. Make sure you have just enough forward motion to fight it.
  • Tailgate another vehicle while going up.

G o i n g   d o w n a   D u n e


  • Stay in a low gear.
  • Let the engine do the braking
  • Point car straight down the dune (not at an
  • If the run out is smooth, accelerate slightly as you exit the bottom of the dune to gain momentum for the next climb.

D O N ’ T

  • Brake sharply – this may cause the car to slur, roll or even flip over!
  • Do not deviate from your straight line, however scary the descent!
  • Freewheel.
  • Close your eyes – this is slightly unnerving for your passengers!

S t o p p i n g   S a f e l y

  • Always stop at an angle that allows you to move on, preferably forward. It the sand is hard, you can stop on level ground. If not, stop on a downward slope.
  • Small dunes – stop at the top of the dune, just over the top, to evaluate your route. The car 

    following you should stop on the top of the dune behind you.
  • Larger dunes – stop towards the bottom of the dune on the downward slope, with enough space to pick up momentum before tackling the next dune. The cars following you can either stop behind or next to you, depending on the space. If you stop on the ridge of a large dune, you risk getting stuck with no wheels touching the sand. Always try to stop just after you clear the ridge and are on the downward slope.


    Never brake abruptly, as you will force the tyres into the sand. Before you stop completely, release the brakes and roll gently to a halt.
  • Keep your eyes peeled for those little dry bushes and never park over one! – your engine will be hot after vigours of dune driving and the risk of starting a bonfire under your car is enormous.

G e t t i n g   U n s t u c k

  • When you get stuck (and for sure you will) don’t slam your foot hard on the accelerator and hope that this will move the vehicle – it will only sink you deeper into the sand.
  • Remove any sand or obstacles that have build up around the front, back or sides of the wheels.
  • Unload any excess weight, starting with your passengers and even your baggage if you are well and truly stuck (don’t forget to pick up your passengers and baggage once you are  ree).
  • Check your tire pressure and, if necessary reduce it. This may give you the extra traction you need to get you moving. It is not unusual during the hot month for tyre pressure to increase by 4-6 psi in little over an hour’s driving due to the heat of the sand.
  • Switch off the air conditioning to direct 100% of the available power to the wheels.
  • Change to low gear (low range) if the situation requires it (and use second gear), or engage the diff-lock.
  • Wiggle the steering wheel from side to side as you begin to move – this sometimes gives that crucial bit of extra traction.
  • Inch forwards and backwards, slowly clearing an area to give you a better chance of picking up momentum.
  • Release the clutch slowly (if your 4x4 is not an automatic), ensuring minimum wheel spin. Never let your wheels spin too much - you will only sink further and once you are buried up to your axles in the sand, it is pretty much certain that only a “rescue team” can get you out.

W a y s   t o   g e t   y o u   u n s t u c k

  • Pushing.
  • Jacking.
  • Rocking.
  • Towing and winching.


D r i v e   s a f e l y   a n d   e n j o y   t h e   d e s e r t

Wait but there is more!

Off-Road driving has increased tremendously in the United!Arab Emirates, whether for pleasure, work requirements or as a tourist attraction. This Handbook is meant to highlight the basic guidelines, tips and!driving techniques for general off-road driving.
The Off-Road Driving Handbook for Professionals is a supplement to the Off-Road Driving Handbook. These two books together give the professional driver a good knowledge of how to drive in off road situations in a safe and environmental friendly way.