There are risks to tackling 4WD trails beyond just breaking parts. The biggest risk, of course, is that of personal injury in the event of a rollover. Although being in a vehicle during a rollover can be frightening, it doesn't have to result in injury. By taking a number of steps before hitting the trail and during the actual rollover situation you can greatly increase your chances of emerging unscathed with a vehicle capable of continuing up the trail.
Before-The-Trail Check List
Tie It Down
Quite often, people are injured by loose gear flying about the cab during a rollover. Tying down your gear could save you a head injury and will also keep gear well contained so you'll have less to clean up should your vehicle flop over. This includes checking under the hood to make sure all items are secure.
Most of you know that it's important to wear seatbelts at all times, but when's the last time you looked at the condition of your seatbelt attachment points? Rusted floorboards or loose seatbelt bolts can result in ineffective seatbelts. Harness-type quick-release belts should be considered if you tackle hardcore trails.
Adjust the tire air pressure to suit the terrain. Lower psi will create a wider contact patch and make sidewalls more flexible so they conform to obstacles.
Always keep your hands, feet, and head inside the vehicle. Pretty easy advice, but where do you put your hands during a rollover? The driver should typically hold on to the steering wheel. The idea is to stabilize yourself within the vehicle so you don't rag-doll around as your 4x4 tumbles. Every 4x4 should have enough grab handles within easy reach of the passenger as well. You should also never grab ahold of the rollbar itself since fingers can be easily crushed by the terrain below. If your 4x4 doesn't have permanent grab handles in place, a set of strap-on handles can be added to any rollbar. Rollbar padding should also be used in areas around the bar where driver and passenger heads might make contact.
During And After
So you've done everything to prep for a rollover, but how do you avoid one? Using common sense is your best bet, but you can also avoid or get out of a potential rollover by keeping your cool and continuing to drive the vehicle. Many folks will panic and give in to a roll before it's even happened. Yes, you should protect yourself by ducking down and holding on when all else fails, but don't make a bad situation worse by letting the vehicle control how it rolls over. A slight tap on the brakes, a stab at the throttle, or even a slight turn of the steering wheel might help you regain control the vehicle. In many situations, particularly when driving off camber, you can steer the vehicle downhill to keep from tipping. During a rollover, bystanders should always be on guard. You cannot rely on the driver to know where you are at all times. Have an escape route planned if you're in the vehicle's path. This can be something as easy as diving behind a rock or tree. Once the vehicle comes to a stop after a rollover, the driver should be the first to act. If the engine is still running, shut it off; however, do not release your seatbelt until someone outside the vehicle determines that the vehicle is stable and will not continue to move uncontrollably. The vehicle should be stabilized using straps or a winch line if necessary. When it's determined that the vehicle is stable, the driver and passenger should exit the vehicle. After a rollover, the vehicle should be approached cautiously and a fire extinguisher should be on the ready. Elect one person in your group to assess the situation and divide jobs, starting with administering first aid to the vehicle's occupants as necessary. If serious injury has resulted, this will be your first priority. Don't even think about vehicle recovery until everyone's safety is established.
Rollcages come in many shapes and forms, and some provide better protection than others. It's our belief that an in-cab, weld-in rollcage provides the greatest degree of protection, but that also depends on the quality of welds applied by the builder and the quality and type of material used. A bolt-in, in-cab 'cage can offer a similar degree of protection but should be reserved for vehicles used for low-speed trail situations. An interior rollcage can also offer mounting points for shocks, seats, and restraints and other items. Another option is an exocage, or exterior rollcage, which wraps around a vehicle's exterior instead of the interior. This type of rollcage is efficient to a degree but is best paired with an interior cage so that the proper triangulation can be obtained. Without some form of interior support, there is the chance of collapse upon severe impact. An exocage can also snag a lot of obstacles such as trees and rocks and will make the vehicle higher and wider. Material, tube diameter, and thickness are all important factors dictating the strength of a rollcage. Most off-road racing organizations require use of 1.750-inch by 0.120-inch-wall seamless 4130 chrome-moly or ASTM 1018/1026 CDS/DOM tubing for vehicles up to 4,000 pounds. Heavier vehicles should use 2.000-inch by 0.120-inch-wall tubing. Rollcages should be securely fastened to the body and/or frame and gusseted and braced at all intersection points. Body-mounted rollcages should be attached to floorboards using doubler plates on both sides that are through bolted with Grade 8 hardware. Weld quality is also extremely important and should conform to the structural welding codes dictated by the American Welding Society. All of this may seem like overkill for a trail vehicle, but it all depends on the price you put on the head you're protecting (i.e. yours).
On The Trail
The best tip we can offer regarding rollover prevention is to know your vehicle and its limitations. This is where the aforementioned common sense comes into play as well. We all want to be the guy who takes on the biggest obstacle and shows everyone how it's done, but that's not going to happen on 31-inch tires your first time out. Take the time to drive your 4x4 through varied types of terrain so that you're well aware of its capabilities. You can also complete trial runs on easy obstacles in a controlled situation to determine your vehicle's approximate center of gravity and roll axis. You'll also discover your own limitations in the form of the actual scare factor you'll experience upon getting sideways. Oftentimes, the scare factor sets in well before the vehicle has reached the point of rolling over and is a great indication that you're pushing your own limits more than that of the vehicle. Even still, you can typically drive through a scare factor, but driving beyond the vehicle's center of gravity can have more detrimental effects.