Get off my lawn.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Mud Run

I have a 2001 Toyota 4Runner. It's a pretty decent vehicle. It seems to be very well-built, having over 100K miles on it now with no squeaks or rattles, and being totally reliable. I actually took it to my mechanic once to see if there was any maintenance to be performed on it, since it had been so long since I had been there. He cleaned some dust off of the engine, and put a new set of spark plugs in it. That was all it needed.

However: As good a vehicle as it is, it is not what one might call "fun." There's something stodgy about the way it moves around. It has stability and traction control, and it won't let you slide around corners, peel out, or anything that might be viewed by others as irresponsible behavior. (or "fun.") It's probably a good thing it has these features, because it seems like it might slide out of control and crash without them. Since it's my wife's car, I'm happy to have those features on it, but it would be nice if you could turn them off.

Non-defeatable traction control is probably the stupidest imaginable feature you could possibly add to a 4WD vehicle. It's outfitted like an "off-road" machine, with body-on-frame construction, big tires, beefy axles, a low-range transfer case, and a locking center differential. You're supposed to be able to get anywhere you want to go in the thing. But the fact that you can't turn the traction control off makes it next to useless in situations where the only way you can move is to spin the tires. You can lock the center diff and at least defeat the stability control, but that's it. All that does is prevents it from minding too much if you put it into a slide. You still can't spin the tires. It's like having a really strict mom embedded in your car.

On the way back from my daughter's basketball game today, my son suggested we turn off on a road he was familiar with and take a look at a "4-wheeling" area he'd been told about. I was game, and followed his directions to a muddy little road with a big puddle in the middle of it. I put it in 4WD, locked the center differential, and charged ahead. As soon as we hit the mud, the tires started to spin. Immediately, the 4Runner throttled back, put on the brakes, and stopped right in the middle of the mud hole. As it happens, locking the center differential takes a few minutes of screwing around to actually turn on. It wasn't actually on yet, so the stability control decided it was time to stop before someone did something crazy (like spinning a tire).

Anyway, we got really stuck, and I was pretty sure I was going to be getting out and stepping into a foot of mud. I finally got the center diff locked, and was able to spin the tires. The trick to doing that is apparently to just floor it, and let the brakes try to stop you. The brakes have a hard time doing their job when they're submerged in mud, so you're able to move forward. We shot mud at least 20 ft. in the air, so I know we were spinning. At one point, we got a little bit inside the car when it rained in through the sunroof (which was barely open).

Eventually, we got out of the mud hole and made it to the end of the road. The only way out was up a really steep rutted hill that was (thankfully) dry. I did find that my 4Runner is pretty good at climbing. It just doesn't like mud.

I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning the mud and crap out of it. It had so much mud packed into the wheel wells, it was squeezing out under the headlights.

That's my first experience 4-wheeling in the mud, and I'm pretty sure that's the must destructive thing you can do to a car, short of blowing it up with dynamite. I think it would be a lot better if the traction control could be turned off. What a stupid "feature."


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