While car maintenance is always useful, many drivers often overlook the factors presented by their basic driving environment. For example, how often do you consider the quality of road surface or variety of weather conditions?
The more you pay attention to these conditions, adjusting your car accordingly, the better your vehicle will perform as a result. Everyone knows how to adjust their car seasonally, such as swapping in summer tyres or stocking up on anti-freeze, but driving environments are more complex than this.
On smooth well tarmaced roads, the need for a quality suspension system is arguably not as high, although it still comes into play when turning, for instance. This is why many city drivers often forget about it, until they travel through smaller towns that are resurfaced less frequently.
Here, the rough terrain (even when on tarmac, yet alone off-road) plays havoc with your wheels and suspension. As such, you should maintain and service your suspension more often if you drive on this sort of road. Shock absorbers also need to be in prime condition for bumps, dips and the unexpected pothole.
The Car Tyres
As the only area that makes contact with the ground, the right tyres make a big difference. Most drivers already switch between summer and winter tyres, but that sometimes isn’t it enough.
Most summer tyres, for instance, focus on low rolling resistance for better fuel economy. Yet the cost of this often comes in the form of reduced grip. If you’re driving in rural conditions, a thick tread with strong grip is arguably more preferably. This might use a little more fuel, but being able to brake effectively is more important.
A car body that is low to the ground helps to improve speed, streamlining the performance. Yet, in reality, there are many other factors to consider. Even in the city, your car should be high enough to handle speed bumps and pavement with ease.
If you’re driving in the countryside, however, a high ground clearance is preferable. This gives your suspension and wheels more space, as well as keeping the undercarriage away from loose rocks, stones and other items capable of chipping away and causing damage. Installing extra skid plates will also help.
Of course, there is only so much you can do to improve your ground clearance until you’re modifying the vehicle too much. Sometimes, this is a case of knowing the limits of your car. If you don’t drive a 4×4, it’s often best to avoid off-road situations entirely.
Approach and Departure Angles
On a similar note, the approach and departure angles will limit what kind of inclines your vehicle can handle. These slopes are the highest angles you can draw from the wheel without interfering from the vehicle itself. As such, vehicles with a long profile, going over and past the wheels, can handle shallow inclines at the best.
Low and extended bumpers, obviously, prevent any sort of incline as they are too low to the ground. Even in a city, the roads need to be relatively flat, as a flush bumper will struggle getting up even the shallowest of car park ramps.
Torque and Gears
In off-road environments with various slopes and inclines, many drivers prefer a low torque with low gears. This low torque enables vehicles to get over obstacles without over revving or exhausting the engine, but it also needs the right gears to support it.
Whereas city and highway environments make use of high gears for efficient speed, a low gear is suitable for uneven terrain. This is because it often offers a better output ratio, getting the most out of the generated torque.
Coping With Water
If you’re planning to drive through large puddles, it helps to consider your air intake, as this can flood the engine if its too low to the ground. This occurs more often than people think, even stopping dedicated off-road vehicles in their tracks due to a small oversight.
Similarly, the snipes and grooves along the sides of tyres help resist aquaplaning on wet roads, but this lessens as the tyre is used. If it is going to rain a lot, or you’re driving in conditions where water gathers on the ground easily, than consider how worn down your existing tyres are before you drive.
Finally, one area a lot of drivers fail to compensate for is traffic. If you drive in a high traffic area, modifying your car for quick acceleration and high speed isn’t going to offer too many benefits. On the other hand, reliable brake pads will be useful if you’re often stopping and starting.
Likewise, why not make the experience easier for you as a driver? Cruise control, automating braking and sensors and other modern luxuries are great for crowded driving environments, yet offer little benefit in the wild.
At the end of the day, cars are built with specific environments in mind. This is the reason why 4x4s use all wheel steering to shorten their turning arcs, or why estate cars favour large storage spaces rather than improving their departure angle. Yet, there are often times when we take our cars outside of these comfort zones and, if this is a regular occurrence, drivers should do what they can to adapt their car accordingly.