There is nothing more important when wheeling than maintaining traction. Traction keeps you going, traction allows you to maintain control, and traction can be the difference between conquering an obstacle or failing at your goal. Traction is the whole point of what we do and without it, there wouldn’t be much to our sport. So here is a list, in no particular order, of 10 ways to increase your traction and keep your rig moving on the trail.
1 By far, the easiest and cheapest way to increase your traction is to air down your tires. Airing down increases the size of your tire’s contact patch and allows the tire to better conform to the surface they are in contact with. This increases the ability of the tire to grasp even the smoothest surfaces. Another benefit to airing down is the increase in floatation, which is especially important in terrains that feature deep, soft sand. If you plan on going below 10 psi, it is best to have beadlock wheels.
2 So you think you have a four-wheel drive, do ya? Well, if you are sporting open diffs, it is actually a two-wheel drive. Because open differentials route power to the wheel with the least resistance, lifting a tire can result in a loss of traction and forward momentum. The only way to remedy this and have a vehicle that is guaranteed to actually drive four wheels is to equip your rig with a traction-adding device, such as a locker. A locking differential ensures that both axleshafts are locked together and each wheel is getting the same amount of power no matter what the conditions are. Limited slips are another alternative, but still allows slip and are not as effective as lockers.
3 Designed in Australia, the Maxtrax (www.maxtrax.com.au/) portable recovery systems are perfect for those who venture out alone. Whether you’ve gotten stuck in soft sand, or are losing traction in mud, Maxtrax are a great way to self-extract by creating traction where you don’t have it. They can even be linked together for those really sticky situations
4 Identifying and taking good lines is as important as anything else residing on this list. We have seen open-diffed rigs get up obstacles that gave locked-up vehicles fits, all because of the line chosen by the driver. Other important techniques to master are knowing when to start out in a higher gear to prevent wheelspin, or when to increase your ground clearance by using your tires to get on top of obstacles, rather than straddling them.
5 You don’t want to take a knife to a gunfight, so why would you take street tires to the mud hole? Having the proper tire for the terrain you are traversing can be as much of an improvement to traction as adding lockers. Choose appropriately for the terrain you are likely to see and you’ll be rewarded with a nearly unstoppable 4x4.
6 Ever wonder why highly flexible suspensions are all the rage in the wheeling world? The greater the articulation you have, the higher the likelihood that all four of your tires will be in contact with the ground. With all four tires touching the ground, you will be able to make the most out of the traction available to you.
7 While tires are one of the most highly engineered components on a vehicle, they are often a compromise in design. If you have a specific use for you 4x4 that requires more traction, the power of tire grooving should not be underestimated. Tire grooving used to be something only seen on racing rigs, but with do-it-yourself grooving tools, this can now be done at home. Tire grooving increases traction by increasing the number of biting edges and can make the carcass more flexible, increasing the tire’s ability to make traction.
Sway Bar Disconnects
8 Designed to make the vehicle more stable on the street by tightening up chassis motions, sway bars, by nature, are an impediment to flex. Having a sway bar disconnecting system will optimize the flex of any suspension by allowing the suspension to use its full range of motion.
9 Studded tires, which are popular in snowy climates for everything from on-road use to ice racing, have started making some inroads at off-roading events. Adding bolts to your tires can add huge gains in traction in the right environment, but it is best to check and see if your local wheeling spot allows it before heading to the hardware store.
Don’t Fear the Winch
10 Okay, so we know that this one isn’t exactly about making traction, but sometimes all you need is a little nudge to get going again. When all else fails, there is nothing wrong with using your winch to regain your forward momentum and reclaim the trail.