8 4X4 myths debunked

By Unsealed 4X4 8 Min Read

If you hang around the off-road scene for long enough, you’ll hear a lot of opinion and conjecture on what works and what doesn’t regarding 4X4s. A lot of folks are damn sure that their way is the only way to get stuff done, but the thing is, they’re not always exactly right. We thought we’d put together a list of eight common campfire statements that a lot of people accept as true, but are about as factually accurate as the sun rising in the west.


Front auto lockers result in no steering

Auto lockers have long been a favourite among the budget conscious, however there’s a bit of a stigma surrounding them that they rob you of your steering ability when negotiating tight tracks. While it is true to a degree, it can be gotten around with a slight alteration to driving style.

Auto lockers work when they’re under load, or in other words, when you’re depressing the accelerator pedal. By accelerating into a corner and coasting through it, you allow the diff to operate as it’s meant to (usually with the clank and bang that goes with auto lockers) and you can negotiate even the tightest tracks without having to back up and try again.

IFS is no good off-road

When you’re talking rock crawling, sure, IFS is more difficult to make work over a solid front axle. The truth of the matter is though, for most of us, crawling takes up very little of the time we spend in the bush. When driving over corrugations or high-speed dirt sections, IFS is generally a lot comfier and even if you do manage to lift a wheel when navigating a particularly hairy section of track, modern traction control or a good old-fashioned front locker will solve all of your problems. IFS is the way of the present, and even competition-level four-wheel drives are embracing its many advantages. Move with the times and realise that IFS is much better than a solid axle in most situations.


Alloy radiators run cooler than copper one

This one comes down to thermal efficiency. Put simply, for equal-sized radiators – one made from alloy, the other from copper – the copper one will disperse heat better and allow your engine to run cooler. Of course, you could always fit a larger surface area aftermarket alloy radiator which will result in better cooling, but again, that’s because the larger size makes it more thermally efficient, not because alloy is better than copper.

Colder thermostats equals more power

This one is an old trick, but the myth still seems to be prevalent on modern motors. By running a colder thermostat (that is, it opens more quickly as the engine warms up) your motor will make more power. The theory is that a cooler engine runs more efficiently and can make more power, but the truth is that every engine is designed to warm up to an optimum operating temperature before the thermostat opens.

There’s a whole bunch of good reasons the factory engineers designed it this way, and messing with your engine’s operating temperature is usually a recipe for disaster.

Taller suspension results in more travel

Longer springs and shock absorbers means there’s more room for your wheels to travel up and down within the guards right? Er, not exactly, no. On a leaf-sprung rig, taller leaves are actually stiffer than flat ones and will decrease your suspension’s ability to move. On coil-sprung 4X4s the travel is determined only up to a point by the length of the coils and shocks. The rest of the available articulation comes down to the geometry of the trailing and control arms. If your suspension arm bushes are binding, the travel will be severely limited and the bush-life radically decreased. A 2-3in lift is more than enough for anyone who’s not a competition driver, and will easily allow you to fit taller tyres without unnecessarily raising your centre of gravity.


Wire winch cable is stronger

You can kinda see the logic here. A spiralled wire cable would seem a lot stronger than some super-lightweight synthetic rope right?

Actually, synthetic rope is just as strong, if not stronger than the much more dangerous wire cable. I won’t pretend to understand the science behind it but some chemical engineer who’s way smarter than I am has put in the hard yards and made it happen. When you consider that synthetic rope takes a whole lot of danger out of winch recoveries, there’s really very little reason not to be running it I reckon.

AWD is the same things as 4WD

This is usually rolled out by those who drive All-Wheel Drive SUVs (not that there’s anything wrong with that). In the real world, AWD may function in a similar fashion to 4WD, but unless you can lock the centre diff it’ll never do the job nearly as well when the going gets rough. Sorry all you Forester guys, but there’s just no getting around that fact.

Most AWD vehicles have an centre diff (just like full-time 4WD vehicles like Range Rovers and LandCruisers), but this centre diff is often not able to be manually locked (whereas Rangies and ‘Cruisers can). What does this mean in the real world? Just like with unlocked diffs everywhere, the rotational force put out by the engine-gearbox-transfer case will follow the path of least resistance, so despite having an AWD badge on your tailgate, there’s a good chance that when you’re in the rough stuff, you’re actually not going to be getting drive to the wheel with the most traction.

Mud terrain tyres are the only way to go

This may have been true twenty years ago, but tyre technology has come a hell of a long way in that time and these days All-Terrain tyres are pretty hard to beat as all-rounders. Even if you’re chasing something a little more aggressive, you can still latch onto some AT/MT hybrid tyres to get highway smoothness and excellent wear characteristics but still plenty of traction when the going gets slippery. It’s a great time to be a four-wheel driver – the options are limitless.

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