Pocket dictionary: Off-roaders

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By Jude Katende

Posted  Thursday, December 5  2013 at  02:00

Sometimes we come across words and we immediately presume, oh, that is obvious. The reason why we have this column is to disprove this notion. First, one may ask if I am on the road just when do I become off the same road. My car’s tyres are in contact with the road, then why call this situation off-road? For starters, on-road is what we refer to as driving on a “normal smooth road” and perhaps a tarmacked one at that.

Therefore, off-road is the exact opposite. That is why we may refer to such roads as “abnormal” or not smooth enough roads. So would that then mean that all off-road situations are usually outside urban areas? Not really, although most urban areas have smooth roads, there are sections with really terrible roads.

Such sections make these roads candidates for the off-road term. Even a tarmacked road with numerous potholes qualifies to be referred to as having off-road sections which may damage a car’s tyres.

All dirt roads often mistakenly referred to as “murram” in Uganda, qualify to be called off-roads because of the nature of such terrain. An online dictionary describes an off-road vehicle as any type of vehicle which is capable of driving on and off paved or gravel surface.

As a driver, you may encounter situations whereby, you are supposed to get off the main smooth road and go for a picnic or tracking down animals in a game reserve, such terrain is also off-road. That is why there are some vehicles equipped with technology that allows them to move smoothly in challenging road situations.

Such technologies include usage of the four wheel drive system. This system allows the engagement of all four wheels “to work together” and move the vehicle forward or in reverse. Vehicles without such a system are either front wheel drive (relying on the front tyres to do the hard work) or rear drive to do the same. With advancement in technology, today, there are some small vehicles that also are four wheel drive vehicles.
Soft off-roaders
However, most of them are soft off-roaders. This means, their four wheel drive system is not as good as that of bigger vehicles that would ably move through demanding terrain. An example could be of say a Land Rover Defender vehicle and a Toyota Corolla G-Touring wagon with full time four wheel drive. Even with such inscriptions as “full time four wheel drive” splashed across the car’s body, it does not mean that this car will perform exactly as the Land Rover!

Most of the small cars with four wheel drive systems can manage to overcome bad terrain but may not be as effective when it comes to really very demanding terrain. That is why they are called soft off-roaders. There are some midsize sports utility vehicles almost as big as vehicles with better four wheel drive ability but still regarded as soft off-roaders.

If your work involves going to upcountry areas where there are many off-road situations, it would be ideal to get a vehicle with a better four wheel drive system and not just a soft off-roader. Popular soft off-roaders in Uganda include Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, BMW X3 and Nissan X-Trail among others.