Off-roading is a great way to spend a weekend, but it can also be dangerous. When off-roading you are driving your vehicle over rough terrains that aren't paved and have no lines. Driving on this type of trail can cause some damage to your vehicle that you would not experience in everyday driving situations. Manual transmissions have long been favored in off-road vehicles because of the control over the vehicle and speed without needing to apply the brakes very often. But it is possible to go off-roading in a vehicle that is equipped with an automatic transmission.
When driving off-road it is very easy to lose control of your vehicle when you're maneuvering up or down a steep incline. To maintain control in these driving situations it is best to keep a low steady speed while applying constant low pressure on either the gas or brake. When you're driving a vehicle with a manual transmission it is easy to downshift in order to gain control of your vehicle if it should happen to slide. In a vehicle with an automatic transmission you aren't capable of using this option so you should keep the vehicle in low gear and try not to accelerate too much when you're going up or down a steep hill in order to lessen the chances of your car sliding.
If you're accustomed to driving a manual transmission you are used to using both feet while driving. However, when driving a car with an automatic transmission you are only required to use one foot to control both your speed and your brake. But when off-roading this rule goes out the window, it is recommended that when climbing or coming down a steep hill you use both feet. Doing so will allow you better control of the vehicle. Do not apply too much pressure to either foot, instead apply slight pressure equally so that you are not braking or speeding up too fast.
Try to avoid using both pedals at the same time because this can damage to the vehicle and the transmission. Being able to successfully use both feet when off-roading to control your vehicle will allow you to make quick decisions and not hesitate when switching feet from pedal to pedal.
If you are planning to use an automatic transmission powered vehicle to go off-roading one of the first things you should do is to install a deeper transmission pan. Doing this will allow the transmission to draw fluid at steep angles. A stock transmission pan often causes the vehicle to have a difficult time drawing fluid on a steep incline because all of the fluid tends to relocate to either side of the pan. Installing a deeper transmission pan will also help keep your vehicle from locking up or slipping gears at a critical point in your climb or descent.
For those of you who thought off-roading in a Jeep with an automatic transmission was impossible, you should know by now that Jeeps are capable of anything whether automatic or manual. These are only tips to help keep your adventures safe and enjoyable no matter what type of transmission your vehicle is equipped with.
Deana "Dee" Marshall is a avid Jeep Off-Roader and loves all things Jeep. A great place to connect and learn more interesting things about Jeep off-roading, Jeep technical articles, and a great resource for all things Jeep is XtremeTerrain.com and the XtremeTerrain Blog. Happy Jeep Off-Roading! See you on the trails!