Prepa­ra­tion, safety key to en­joy­ing wilder­ness

Head­ing to the cabin? Go­ing camp­ing? Keep these point­ers in mind be­fore hit­ting the back roads


Our great, sea­sonal weather makes for very pre­dictable travel pat­terns. Ev­ery sum­mer, we take to the roads — and of­ten back roads — of our ex­pan­sive land to de­com­press, en­joy some well-de­served rest and relaxation — and of course, make some great mem­o­ries.

But the last thing we want is some ma­jor ve­hi­cle dam­age or break­down that can quickly turn any get­away into a dis­as­ter not to be spo­ken of for many years to come.

Of course, sea­soned driv­ers know the lim­its of their ve­hi­cles and how to take care of them, but if you’re set­ting off along the roads less trav­elled in a new or new-to-you ride, keep these tips in mind to en­sure a happy end­ing.

First, know your ground clear­ance. Fa­mil­iar cot­tage and camp roads can be­come un­known risks when head­ing out in a ve­hi­cle that’s never taken that trail be­fore. Modern un­der­car­riages carry a lot of com­po­nents and parts that don’t nec­es­sar­ily like to be scrubbed by rocks, ruts, and such.

And as the def­i­ni­tion of SUV gets more and more wa­tered down each year, know­ing your ground clear­ance can save a lot of grief and ex­pense, not to men­tion keep­ing you and your pas­sen­gers safe.

Also, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that if you’re tow­ing any­thing, the hitch point will usu­ally be the low­est part of the en­sem­ble and most prone to scrap­ing over un­even roads and sur­faces.

If you’re re­ally wor­ried about tree branch scrapes, maybe you should leave the car at home. When you con­sider the ac­qui­si­tion cost of even the most ba­sic ve­hi­cle these days, ob­sess­ing over scrapes and scratches is un­der­stand­able. And it’s just as un­der­stand­able that it’s nearly im­pos­si­ble to avoid some con­tact be­tween your ride’s paint and na­ture on nar­row back roads.

If you have a few trav­ellers along for the ride, you might be able to en­list their help in keep­ing tree branches away from the paint for a few points of the trip.

But if you have to make a choice be­tween a hard un­der­car­riage scrape and a few gen­tle for­est-growth brushes, take the slight branch con­tact any­time.

A lit­tle wax or pol­ish can make small marks dis­ap­pear, but a punc­tured fuel tank is a lot more se­ri­ous.

Crit­ter-proof your wheels. Ve­hi­cles are a won­der­ful at­trac­tion to an­i­mals of ev­ery size and stripe, which find them a great place for shel­ter, heat and food.

When parked at a cabin or cot­tage, make sure to re­move all food, in­clud­ing the var­i­ous wrap­pings and empty pack­ag­ing.

If you’re ven­tur­ing into an area known to ex­pe­ri­ence an­i­mal in­tru­sions into ve­hi­cles, you might want to in­vest in a few ounces of aro­matic pep­per­mint oil. Di­luted eight-toone with warm wa­ter and put into a spray bot­tle, it makes for a great re­pel­lent when spritzed un­der the hood and in dis­creet parts of the in­te­rior — but test for fab­ric stain­ing first.

If you’ve no­ticed por­cu­pines un­der your ve­hi­cle, check very care­fully be­fore start­ing up and head­ing off, be­cause these spiky crit­ters love to gnaw through flex­i­ble brake lines and other chew­ables.


Be­fore tack­ling tough back roads on the drive to your hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion, be sure you know a few things about your ve­hi­cle, start­ing with ground clear­ance.

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