The soft roaders guide to four-wheel driving and touring.

Draft Edition Last Updated 31/05/2022

Chapter 1: Picking the right vehicle.

This is aimed towards people who already own a soft roader and weather or not you achive the objectives you want with the vehicle you have or do you simply need to sell up and buy a four-wheel drive.

Often it’s asked should I get a soft roader or four-wheel drive? We hear this question come up often and really what matters, is what you want in a vehicle and what your adventures objectives will be like. For touring and going just off the highway, most soft roaders/crossovers today manage just fine as long as you have the clearance to pass obstacles and are always on a track where all four wheel will be in contact with the terrain. If you’re looking to travel long distance and to places that are considered remote and far from help then a four-wheel drive is going to be the better choice for many reasons.

So if your not sure where to begin or need to reasons to sell up your soft roader/crossover to get into a four-wheel drive let me share my life experience with you.


Soft roaders and crossovers are vehicles generally will be an all wheel drive system with a front, rear and center open differential which can come in both full time all wheel drive or part time all wheel drive controlled by a computer in the car. Usually, these vehicles come with increased ground clearance, more robust suspension and drivetrains, and protection plates to protect the undercarriage of the car. Most soft roaders are all wheel drive and even some heaver duty soft roaders may have an ability to lock the center differential making it a slightly more capable off road car.

They are primarily designed for those people who want to go a little further than a traditional road car will take them and have been designed to handle considerably tougher terrain. They are not however a true four wheel drive vehicle and will quite often have limitations when it comes to terrain that may cause any single wheel to be almost or totally off the ground and limitation in climbing or descent steep climbs efficiently. The thing that lets most soft roaders down is they are not traditionally designed with a gearbox that has a low gear range, or a four-wheel drive system that will continue to function after one wheel has lost traction to the terrain. This is where the term crossover comes from as they are not as limited as road car but not as capable as a true four-wheel drive either.

There are however some advantages


Four-wheel drive vehicles are designed with the idea that rather than allowing a computer to decide what needs to happen the driver is often required to provide input to the vehicle such as which differentials to lock in particular situations. Still even in the four-wheel drive world there is some vehicles that are part time and full time four wheel drives and both styles require the driver to make physical action in order to enter true four-wheel drive state in the vehicle.

In full time four-wheel drives on the highway they are essentially an all-wheel drive in this normal driving mode if one wheel has no traction all other three remaining wheels will not receive any power unless the drive has locked the center differential entering true four-wheel drive mode.

In part time four-wheel drives when you are on the high way your vehicle is only either a rear wheel drive only and until you engage four-wheel drive only power will go to the rear wheels only, still though if one of the two rear wheels comes off the ground the other rear wheel will not drive and there is where rear locking differentials come into play we will explain locking rear and front differentials more later in this.

The other advantage from having a dedicated four-wheel drive is that in almost every case your suspension, steering, transmission and body will be more heavy duty than a soft roader and they would likely have more duty cycles than a soft roader meaning they would last longer.

Another advantage is the ability to having a dual range gearbox, the term low range meaning that you can tell you gearbox to use a more better set of gears to increase your vehicles torque this is good for when you might be in first gear in high range and you’re climbing a hill but its struggling you will find by going into low range and picking a lower ratio gear you will just gain a multiplication in torque simply from the high to low gear range change.

Another advantage is body clearance (not to be confused with chassis and differential clearance) vehicles body’s in four-wheel drives often are way higher than the chassis meaning less likely to do body damage but when it comes to chassis/differential clearance you might be surprised to learn some soft roaders will do better here when comparing to standard four wheel drive, or in some cases even 2inch lifted four wheel drives.

The final advantage is widely available after market mods and community support since four-wheel driving has been common over the last decade there are plenty of people who can provide advice and support you when you’re looking for help in gearing up your off roader.


Well, here’s it what it ultimately boils down to. What is it you want to do? Both options have their pros and cons. For those that want to have a car they can use for the weekday bustle and still go out on the weekends with the family, then a soft roader is most likely going to be the best choice. If you want to get right off the beaten path or tow a large caravan around Australia, a 4×4 vehicle is going to be the winner overall. Ultimately you need to decide what you want to get out of the vehicle and what your preferences are when it comes to the vehicle you drive. Our recommendation is to have a few options in mind before going and buying one, do some test drives and do some additional research into the vehicle you wish to purchase. Find out if it will do what you want it to, and how much additional money you’re going to need to spend to get it there.

CHAPTER 2 : Safety

So, you’ve got yourself a car for touring or heading off the beaten path. The very first thing when it comes to safe travelling is never travelling alone. We always recommend travelling in a group of no less than two vehicles. If you must travel alone, then the below items are no longer optional and are a necessity. All the fun you’re going to have out there doesn’t mean a damn thing if you or your car don’t make it home to tell the story. Safety is the most important thing when going off the beaten path. Read on for a list of items that we would recommend carrying with you on your journeys.


The very first thing to consider is where you’re going on your trip. Does it have phone reception? Can I get to a hospital quickly in case of an emergency? A lot of the times the answer to these questions will be no. This is where having a comprehensive first aid kit with you at all times is an absolute must. A comprehensive first aid kit should include:

  • Bandages and dressings for wounds and sprains.
  • Creams for burns / saline for washing.
  • Splints and slings for breaks.
  • An additional snake bite kit with instructions on how to treat snake bites.

Ideally, getting a first aid kit that comes with a booklet on most major injuries is also a recommended but not necessary if someone on the trip has first aid training. On All Terrain Action our go to first aid kit is the Survival, Family First Aid Kit and Snake Bite Kit. A first aid kit is something that you should invest a bit of time and money into getting right.


When your out on track and things have gone sideways, having the right recovery gear can be the difference between driving home or calling a tow truck. Not only is it important to have the right gear, it’s also important to ensure you know how to use it correctly. Let’s go over what you need to bring with you whenever your out on a track.

  • A SET OF BOARDS – The first and in our opinion the most important piece of equipment you can bring for recovery is a set of boards. A decent set of Maxtrax is expensive but in our experience, they are well worth the cost. They have been instrumental in getting us out of trouble on more than one occasion. You can get less expensive brands but when it comes to boards, the expensive brands are of a far better quality than the cheaper brands.
  • A SHOVEL – A shovel is another good piece of equipment that you should bring with when you go offroad. This will allow you to dig out areas underneath your car and assist with track building on some of the more extreme tracks. There are plenty of winch recovery kits that have a shovel included with them.
  • A WINCH RECOVERY KIT – This is another good edition to bring along. While the full kit is not necessary, the tow ball recovery hitch is. Even if your vehicle doesn’t have a mounted winch, it is still a wise choice to get yourself a recovery kit. We would also recommend getting yourself a j-hook recovery strap and adding this to your kit.
  • A FRONT MOUNTED OR HAND WINCH – At Least one vehicle in every convoy should have a front mounted winch. Even if the group you with have a front mounted winch, it is still a good idea to bring along a hand winch as a backup option. (Maybe insert a couple of 2.5 tonne ratchet straps as an emergency option. Not sure if legally can put it.)
  • A DECENT SET OF GLOVES – Last on the list is a decent set of gloves. Winch cables will fray over time and will quite often end up with sharp pieces sticking out. Having a set of riggers gloves or any other gloves with reinforced palm areas, can stop your hands from getting torn up when dragging out a winch line.


Communication before and during a trip are also vitally important to been safe. Before leaving on a trip, we would recommend letting a friend or family member know, where you will be and when they should expect to hear from you / when you are due to return. This is helpful in case of an emergency; rescue teams will know where to look for you. If you’re going off the beaten path, it’s almost a certainty you’re going to be in an area with little to no reception. It is important to know the nearest area from your campsite where you can get reception and roughly how long it will take to get there. If your trip has you out of reception for a few days, then it is a strong recommendation that you invest in a satellite phone. With technology these days, you can get yourself a small portable satellite device that will link into an app you phone allowing you to send text message or call in an S.O.S. There are multiple options out there when it comes to plans for satellite communication so you should be able to find one that works for you.

During a trip and when on tracks, been able to communicate with other in your convoy and other people is a necessity. If you don’t already have one, consider getting a UHF Radio mounted on your vehicle. If that isn’t an option, a small handheld UHF Radio is your next best option. We highly rate and recommend the GME TX6160 5-Watt Handheld UHF Radio. We have used this line of GME for over 5 years and they have been an must have item to take with us camping whenever and wherever we go. A UHF will allow you to call out your location, communicate with others in your convoy and on the tracks and call for assistance if you get into a spot of trouble.