Family fun: 5 tips for going off-roading

(BPT) – Summer’s here and it’s the perfect time for the family to hit the road … off-road, that is. From Connecticut to California, there are scenic off-road trails of all varieties – rock, sand, dirt, water and mud – that are ideal for a family off-road excursion. Call it an off-the-beaten-path vacation.

‘Leave the electronics at home, grab some supplies, engage the 4×4 system, and see where the adventure takes you. Off-roading is not only an extremely enjoyable way to appreciate the great outdoors, it offers a chance to strengthen family bonds and make memories that will last a lifetime,’ says Christian Hazel, editor of Petersen’s 4-Wheel and Off-Road.

Depending on the terrain, you can go off-roading in your daily driver – almost any four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive SUV, crossover or light truck can handle it. You’ll be out in the wilderness for several hours, so some basic tips include:

* Bring plenty of food and water.

* Pack extra clothes in case temperatures drop as the sun goes down.

* Take along a flashlight (with new batteries) and a basic safety kit with bandages, sunscreen, gloves, etc.

* Research the area/trails where you’ll be off-roading. You’ll most likely be out of cell phone/GPS range, so it’s always good to know where you’ll be driving and what the roads will be like.

* Make sure your vehicle is in tip-top shape, especially the tires.

‘Off- or on-road, tires are super important,’ says Fred Koplin, senior director of marketing and motorsports for Yokohama Tire Corporation, manufacturer of a variety of tires for SUVs, pickup trucks and passenger cars. ‘They play a vital role in braking, steering, comfort and handling. Doesn’t matter if you’re in a Jeep or family wagon, the wrong tires can result in a disappointment with the handling, ride and treadwear.’

For off-roading, Koplin says you’ll need something extremely durable with great traction. ‘It all depends on what you drive and what you plan to do, but you can either go with a top-notch all-terrain (A/T) tire, which is very versatile, or a super strong mud-terrain (M/T) tire like our new, rugged GEOLANDAR M/T G003. Both types of tires are also designed for highway use and daily driving, too.’

Maintaining your A/T or M/T tires for daily use is essential, too, says Koplin. This includes taking five minutes a month to check your tire pressure. ‘A tire that’s underinflated will affect your drive and the vehicle’s fuel efficiency. Keeping them properly inflated will give you a better ride and save you some at the gas pump,’ he says.

The U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) recommends checking the tires when they are cold – at least four hours since the vehicle was last driven. Koplin says to always use an accurate tire gauge and make sure the valve is free of debris and water. The correct tire pressure is specified by the manufacturer of the vehicle, not the tire manufacturer. The proper inflation levels can be found on a placard on the inside of the car door and/or in the owner’s manual.

Koplin offers more tire tips that will help you throughout the year:

* Check your tread depth by placing a penny upside down into a tread groove. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, your tire’s tread has worn down to the legal limit and you need to buy new tires.

* Tires must be replaced when the tread is worn down to 2/32 of an inch (the lowest legal limit). It’s best to replace them before they reach 2/32 depending on your drive (geographically and based on the type of streets).

* Rotating your tires regularly promotes even wear of the tread. Tires should be rotated every 5,000 to 8,000 miles.

* Check your alignment at least once a year or sooner, especially if the vehicle is pulling to one side. This will help avoid uneven wear on tire tread. Tire balance should also be monitored.

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