How To Drive Off-Road

So the salesman told you your new 4 wheel drive vehicle is capable of charging through streams, driving over mountains, carving a path through thick forests, and ripping through the desert without even raising a sweat…

There’s just one problem, while your new pick up truck or SUV looks great, you’ve never been off-roading before! While this guide is no substitute for enrolling in an accredited 4WD course, it will help you get more out of your new 4WD vehicle.

Ridin' Dirty: How to Go Off Roading

Tame The Terrain

Mud and Sand: The trick to getting through mud and sand is to use steady momentum (keep even pressure on the throttle, don’t jerk your foot on and off). When driving in mud, don’t select too low a gear as this will cause your tires to spin rather than grip. Second or even third gear is the way to go. In sand, a lower gear is usually best.

Snow: Use steady momentum when going through deep snow, and don’t select too low a gear, as it will cause tires to spin. If the wheels do spin, ease off the throttle and let the spinning slow to regain traction. Select the highest gear possible for the conditions at hand.

Water: Make sure the river’s safe for you to cross and NEVER attempt to cross a river during a flood. Accelerate as you enter the water slowly to create a bow wave, and then drive at a nice even (slow) pace to avoid overtaking your bow wave (this should sit about one meter off your bumper). Choose a place where the river is wider to cross; while the narrow portions might look more favorable, they are likely deeper than the wider sections, making it more likely that you get stuck!

Hills: Always try and walk the hill, mainly so that you know what’s on the other side of it. Always drive straight-ahead at a hill, never approach from an angle (which could cause your car to rollover), and choose the highest gear the vehicle will ‘pull’ in. On your way down a hill, make sure you’ve stopped and assessed the ground. Pick out a rough path and then, choosing first-gear low range, or 1 in an automatic-equipped 4WD (this will provide the maximum amount of engine braking) set off. If you have hill descent control, use that on your way down.

Airing Down: Means dropping your tire pressures to increase their footprint, which improves traction in soft sand. It’s also worth airing down on rocky terrain as it allows the now soft tire a chance to roll over an obstacle. Make sure you carry an air compressor to re-inflate your tire once you get back to regular terrain.

More Off-Roading Tips

Know exactly how big your vehicle is – that also means knowing its approach and departure angle, ground clearance and ramp over.

Where possible walk the ground you’ll be driving over. A preliminary survey could save you from getting stuck later!

If the hill is too steep, the track too narrow, or the water looks too deep then turn around and find another way to go. Swallowing your pride before you have to get towed is much easier (as well as easier on the wallet).

Keep both hands on the wheel, but never lock your thumbs inside the rim of the steering wheel (kickback could lead to injury).

Tell someone where you are headed, which route you will take, and when you plan to be back (or when they can expect you to check in). You never know what might happen off road.

Check your tires and gear for cuts and pump them back up if necessary.

Don’t set out to go Off-Roading without these items:

  • Tow rope
  • Shovel
  • 2-way radio or a comparable communication device. If relying on your cell phone, make sure it is charged and you get reception where you are going.
  • Clothing that is appropriate for the climate, should you get stuck outside.
  • Footwear that is appropriate for the terrain.
  • GPS navigation and maps
  • Food and water. Keep a big bottle of water and a stash of power bars, beef jerky, or whatever high energy food you prefer on hand just in case.
  • Extra fuel
  • Did we forget anything? What do you always bring on your off-roading adventures?

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    How to Sell a Used Vehicle (legally, with the correct paperwork)

    While many Canadians enjoy the convenience of trading in their used cars at the dealer, selling privately is still the best way to maximise profit. After you’ve familiarised yourself with prepping a car for private sale, there are various governmental procedures that you have to keep in mind when transferring ownership to someone else.


    Selling A Used Car with Proper Documentation

    Before you begin, make sure that all of your current documentation is in order. Make sure the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) on the vehicle and on your permits match. These can be found on the driver’s side of the windshield in the bottom corner looking at it from the outside. If the car hasn’t been insured for a while, make sure you have the documentation from when it still was.

    While provinces vary to certain degrees, the most common factor you’ll find is requiring valid mechanical inspections. Some provinces choose to impose mandatory inspections on most (if not all) used private vehicle sales, but many simply require that the vehicle has passed inspection previously and is still within specified time constraints. It’s always fun to gripe about having to pay out-of-pocket for sometimes-unnecessary mechanical inspections, but remember, most of these inspections go towards keeping vehicles on the road safe for the occupants and everyone else on the road. When selling your vehicle, make sure you have all the proper documentation of the vehicle’s past inspection(s) to give to the buyer and to show at the motor vehicle agency at signing. Some provinces even make it easier by slapping a windshield sticker on the car so you don’t need to worry about this step (Québec, for instance).

    Another piece of documentation that is necessary for most provinces is a Transfer of Ownership (tax) form that is available from each respective government agency’s website. Make sure to fill out this form accurately and ask the buyer to do the same as it can cause problems the day you go to transfer the car and because tax forms. These official forms should not be confused with a Bill of Sale, which is something else you should prepare for the transaction.

    On the Bill of Sale, which can be on something as crude as a piece of loose leaf paper, make sure to record the buyer and seller names, the date of sale, the description of the vehicle including colour, mileage, etc., price, and signatures all round. This is something else that you may be asked to present at the motor vehicle agency.

    Lastly, licence plates are typically associated with the owner of a vehicle and not to the vehicle itself. This means that you must ensure that you take your plates off the car before handing it over to the new driver. If you no longer need the plates for another vehicle – and assuming you don’t hang them up on your garage walls like me – you can often apply for a refund for the remaining period before your plates expire and then surrender them to the motor vehicle agency.

    More information can always be found on your province’s motor vehicle association’s website and it is strongly recommended that you follow all steps listed there before completing any private car sale.

    Happy selling!

    Thinking of Purchasing a $500 Beater Car?

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    Wouldn’t you love to drive a car that you can push shopping carts around with in an empty parking lot at night? Wouldn’t you love to drive a car that you can plough into a snow bank with and then park at home just like any other day? Need a ride for school and don’t have much cash to spare? Sounds like you want the $500 beater!

    Most enthusiasts use the $500 beater to supplement their driving needs when it’s too harsh out for their precious garage babies. But, there aren’t any rules in the used car world and that doesn’t mean that you can’t drive one to supplement public transportation, or worse, your bicycle. Owning a car cheaper than a video gaming rig can be fun and joyous despite how terrible it sounds at first.

    The first thing you have to remember when buying the $500 beater is that you are buying a complex and very heavy piece of machinery for the same price as the tires on said complex piece of machinery, in some cases less. Your standards should start low. The seats won’t be factory fresh and the paint won’t gleam in the Sun. This is what makes the $500 so good. Want to get into wrenching but didn’t want to muck up your Audi? Here’s your chance. Want something that accommodates your posterior for the amount of time it takes to get somewhere else and no more? You’re in luck! Just make sure to consider a few things first:

    Buying the $500 beater means you will most likely have to fix some things. A car is only worth $500 when it is either A: not running, B: the seller is in a rush to move and needs it gone, or C: in great shape! (but needs a new alternator, battery, water pump, transmission, exhaust system, air conditioner, and wheels). For the purposes of this article, we will avoid situation A since that is pretty much useless to us. If you find yourself in situation B, that’s great because all you need to do is fix a few small items and you’re on your way. Situation C is a bit more complicated, however.

    When you are buying the situation C $500 beater, you are going to want to check for two things and two things only, the powertrain and the wheels. If the engine idles roughly or varies RPMs randomly, that might be a simple fix like a new airflow sensor or maybe a new throttle body. But if it is spewing black smoke and takes a few days to get to speed, there are other cheap cars out there. If the tires are a bit worn, but the wheels are otherwise straight and vibration-free, then slap on some new rubber and get rolling. But if the car goes left when the steering wheel is pointed straight and if one of the wheels wobbles like a drunken otter, there are other $500 beaters out there. Air conditioning not working, radio not working, cigarette lighter not working, doesn’t matter. This is the compromise-mobile! You have to pay to play for such luxuries as working airbags and door locks.


    Your $500 beater broke down and it’s going to cost you thousands to repair? No problem! Sell it to some other chap for $500 or scrap it and get at least a fifth of your investment back. Not a bad deal if your alternative is back to what you were doing before. Put a grand or two of parts and hard work into the $500 beater, and it can last you until that big promotion. Get fed up with one $500 beater, sell it, move on to another one, rinse, and repeat. There simply is no losing!

    Just don’t buy the $400 beater, that’s a whole other ballgame.


    Guide to Buying Used Car Parts

    When many people think of car parts, they automatically think that they must be bought new or else there is little point. However, that isn’t always the case. There are many people who want to keep their wheels running well on the cheap or modify that project car on a low budget. Buying slightly used car parts may just be their ticket in.

    There are certain parts that are very easy and stress-free to buy used. Mufflers, for instance, can easily be visually inspected for rust or holes. Body panels are as good as they look to the naked eye. Interior pieces likewise. Bigger ticket items are sometimes more complicated, however.

    If you are looking to upgrade your car with a supercharger kit, for example, it may be very difficult to verify if the unit is in good working order without taking it apart or seeing it run on another car. There are enthusiasts who get tired of a modification and simply take it off and sell it as like new, but people with that much consideration are sometimes difficult to find. It’s important that you don’t take any complex parts for their face value. Get some verification of some sort.

    Wheels and tires are big items that can be bought used. Certain makes of wheels can be very costly if bought new, thousands of dollars in some cases. Buying used wheels is a great way to get genuine wheels that you want that may just be a little dirty or perhaps scratched a tiny bit (often fixable). Tires are a little more difficult since it is difficult to judge the condition of a tire completely until it is on the car. The belts in the tire could be broken leading to a continuous noise and reduced grip, they could be poorly balanced leading to shaking in the steering wheel, or they could be unevenly worn by the previous car they were on. Taking used tires to a mechanic with tire mounting hardware is usually a good move, especially if you are going to be saving a lot of money.

    Another thing to keep in mind is those that modify their cars likely are looking to get rid of the stock parts that came off the car. In many cases, these modifications are done early in the ownership of the seller’s car and the stock parts that come off are relatively new. You can save more than half the original part’s price by looking out for these deals. Similarly, people with beat-up cars may look to ‘part out’ their cars as opposed to selling the entire car as-is. This means that they sell the individual parts off the car that are still in decent condition. Look around for cars that are the same make and model as yours and bring a list of the parts that you will need. Good deals can be had with part outs.

    Lastly, try not to buy consumable parts used. Tires can often be viewed as an exception, but things like serpentine belts and oil filters are a big no-no to buy used as the whole point of changing these parts out is so that they are new. Other consumables not to buy used include spark plugs, batteries, radiators, clutches, and any brake components.

    Buyer’s Guide: 2004-2009 Mazda3

    Mazda3 Sport

    I’ve been trotting around in a first generation Mazda3 for long enough to know that I needed to make this guide. A review of the very same car can be found here. Just as well, some Canadians outside of Quebec and Ontario don’t even know what this car is – looking at you, Vancouver. If you want an incredibly fun-to-drive, economical, practical, and well-built car for a great price, look no further.

    The 2004-2009 Mazda3, much like the current model, came with a choice of two body styles and two engines: a 4-door sedan and a 5-door hatchback and a 2.0L MZR 4-cylinder and the 2.3L variant, respectively. The 2.0L was only available in the sedan until 2008 when it became available on both models. Transmissions included a delightful 5-speed manual and a piggish but smooth 4-speed automatic (a 5-speed auto was later made available on the 2.3L models). Unlike much of its competition at the time, the Mazda3 was offered with such luxuries as xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and automatic climate control, options you should look out for when shopping for this car. They are worth the extra coin. Air conditioning, however, was not standard, so make sure to check that the car is equipped with it if you want it.

    If you stick to later models, namely 2007 and up, common issues are few and far in between. Earlier models suffer from notorious rust issues and weak paint. The paint is so thin, that an extended highway drive would leave the car littered with paint chips. If you live in a snowy climate where road salt is used, make sure to go over the body and suspension pieces with a visual fine-toothed comb before committing.

    Mazda3 Sedan
    Other potential issues include engine mounts that can crack or break prematurely. Make sure the engine is running smoothly at idle and at speed when testing. These engines are extremely smooth at idle, don’t accept any worse. Some owners also have had complaints about excessive rear brake wear on the factory setup, but most used copies will have had their brakes changed to something else by now.

    Things that you shouldn’t be too worried about: the interior was almost designed to be scratched. It’s no secret that some of the interior materials are a bit cheap, and with cheapness comes scratching and scuffing. Don’t let what seems to be major interior wear deter you from an otherwise clean copy. If the seats are still in good shape, chances are the rest of the interior is as good as it’s going to get. Also, the 4-speed automatic suffers from the same “lurch into 1st” problem that most econoboxes of yesteryear have. This is simply characteristic of the transmission, and should not usually indicate trouble.

    If your prospective 3 has survived the scrutiny of the items on this list, chances are you will be in for a very enjoyable ownership experience, both from a driving standpoint and a value one. The first generation Mazda3 was built in Japan and oozes of build quality no matter how much some of the interior materials might suggest otherwise.