Ready to hit the dirt for the first time in your new truck or SUV? Here are some basic tips to keep you safe, secure and free of being hopelessly stuck. They even rhyme, so they’ll be easy to remember.

When in doubt, get out and scout
Assuming your vehicle can tackle a questionable stretch of terrain is a good way to get stuck. Not sure how challenging an unfamiliar bit of trail is? Take a walk to check things out first. If your intended path looks too dangerous, deep, or rocky, find another one.

Water on the trail? Let common sense prevail

Deep water can hide serious obstacles, ruts, and other nasty hazards. It can also destroy your vehicle’s engine. Most SUV’s are engineered with some degree of water fording ability—but you should never cross water if you aren’t sure of its depth or what’s beneath it.

Mark Nelson, Chrysler’s senior manager of Jeep vehicle synthesis, comments “when crossing deep water, one should always verify the water depth prior to entering. Reference your owner’s manual for water fording capability. Once you decide to enter the water, do it slowly. If at any time you feel you’ll exceed the depth originally anticipated, back out the way you came.”

When the road ends, be sure to bring friends
Off-roading alone is bad news. If you wind up hurt, stuck or lost, it’s best to have a friend or two along with a capable vehicle.

Use 4x4 as needed, when traction’s depleted
If your vehicle has a transfer case, you may be unsure of when to select two or four wheel drive, or when to engage the low-range. Nelson offers some advice.

“In general, low-range should be used when tackling steep grades so the gearing advantage can be utilized. A good rule of thumb is to not engage four wheel drive, either high or low, until you need it. Once in need of 4WD, use ‘Hi’ until the terrain dictates.”

Remember, that 4WD “Lo” setting can only be used at crawling speeds, so switch back to “Hi” when you’re finished with it.

Encountering ruts? Stay on top of the cuts!

Get your tires into a rut, and you’ll lose your ability to steer, while running the risk of getting seriously stuck.

If travelling in the same direction as the ruts, keep your tires riding the high ground on either side of them. At the very least, try and keep at least two tires out of the ruts at all times. If you’re travelling across ruts, you’re typically best to tackle them diagonally — one wheel at a time. Go slowly and be very gentle with the controls.

Obstacle ahead? Hit it with the treads!

Never assume you’ll be able to clear an obstacle you have to drive over. If you can’t get around that tree stump or rock that wants to puncture your oil pan, you’re generally best to hit it with the tires.

Have a friend spot you, or stop and check for clearance first. Line one side of your vehicle up with the obstacle, and drive over it very slowly, one tire at a time.

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