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Old 09-26-2019, 02:05 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Resources for first timers

Hi All. I just bought my first off road vehicle. An 89 suzuki sidekick with a 3" lift and 30" westlake sl 366 tires. For me this is not a sport but just a way to get around. I live in Costa Rica a country with a lot of 2 things: mountains and rain. A lot of the roads here are dirt graded once or twice a year. They can be steep and quickly get rutted and washed out and small landslides are not uncommon.

Do you think this vehicle is up to the task? Recommend any modifications?

I'd love to find some resources for newbies that describe how to deal with common offroad situations, like: I need to descend a steep dirt road for the next 4 - 6 miles. Is it better to downshift and let the transmission do the work or ride the brakes? I come across a landslide. The road is now covered in 3-4 inches of mud and various sized rocks. How to get across?

I want to learn as much as I can before I get myself into a dangerous or difficult situation. Making a mistake out on a mountain could lead to a long walk to the nearest town at best and falling off a mountain at worst.
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Old 09-27-2019, 07:09 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Sounds like you are on the right track. I'm not familiar with those tires. Seems that mud terrains are what you need.

I'm not aware of any resources for offroad driving tips.
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Old 09-28-2019, 07:17 AM   #3 (permalink)
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I've been to Costa Rica several times. It's a beautiful country that someday I look forward to visiting again. For those who love off roading, Costa Rica is definitely an off roader's paradise.

So long as the Suzuki is in really good shape, it should be fine. The only concern I'd have is finding replacement parts when the time comes to maintain the truck and with that in mind, don't fall into the trap of modifying the truck because if something custom fails, you may not be able to replace it.

The Suzuki's two biggest strengths are really good fuel economy which is needed when gas stations are few and far between, outside of San Jose. And light weight. During the rain season, mud will be your biggest problem. Getting stuck will be part of the deal, but with the Suzuki, it's lighter and easier to recover. So my first suggestions are; first buy the most aggressive mud tires that will fit, and second, buy a winch with an accessory kit, -and most importantly, learn how to safely use it. A winch can be dangerous. Add some extra lights, but try to avoid driving at night. The lights will be there in the event you have no choice.

Next, your biggest resource are the local Ticos. During the rainy season, they will be the first to tell you when a road is impassable.

Driving in the Costa Rica country is usually very slow going. Ruts will slow you to a crawl in many places and it's not uncommon to find a bridge out. River crossings are often necessary and can be very dangerous. With rain, comes flash floods. If you know it's raining up a mountain and you need to cross a river, do so quickly, because even if it's not raining where you are at, the water will be coming and the rivers will get really deep, really fast. Never ever attempt to cross them when they are deep and flowing fast. Wait it out, or go another way.

The best thing to tell you about driving off road in Costa Rica is it will take time to gain the experience. Part of that will be knowing your vehicle's abilities. In your example, to descend a steep dirt road, it is better with the transmission in the lowest gear. This will allow the engine to compression brake and save the service brakes from wear and over heating and provide you with greater control. Keep in mind that a sliding tire has less traction and less control than a rolling tire. Drive really slow going downhill, if you have to apply the brakes, try to avoid stabbing the brakes which can cause the tires to slide. If the road is also muddy, you will have to make a judgement call. The mud in many parts of Costa Rica is very slippery. If there is no choice but to drive down, you'd be better off to winch.

Land slides are pretty common in Costa Rica. Usually the locals will let you know. Crossing lands slides is something you should not attempt, because the land can continue to slide. It would be better to go another way around.

With some areas being very remote, it's a good idea to carry a few things at all times;

First, carry spares of common parts. Such as fuses, extra oil, coolant. Maybe even a spare battery. Having more than one spare tire if theres room, is always a good idea too.

Have tools. Basic hand tools should be mandatory. A shovel is also good to keep with the truck and a few wooden boards, that you can shove under a tires. Don't forget to have a very good jack (and keep in mind that a jack can be dangerous too)

For yourself and passengers, carry a first aid kit. Take drinking water and some non perishable food with you. Have something to do when you are forced to wait out flooded rivers or road crews cleaning up landslides. If you're traveling with someone else, have a game that doesn't use batteries, or carry a camera. Something to help time go by.

Have reliable communications. Cell service and internet service is still splotchy in most parts of the country. Consider getting a satellite phone.

Resources are available, and there are off road clubs in Costa Rica which you should try to contact and join with. They will probably help on a personal level how to gain experience with driving off road, provide experience with servicing the truck, know where to make local modifications when you're ready to go to the next level, etc.

Good luck

Ed
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Last edited by RXT; 09-28-2019 at 07:18 AM.
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Old 09-28-2019, 12:57 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Wow that sounds like potentially lifesaving advice. Thanks! I found some local offroad clubs so that should help. Regarding your suggestion to use a winch if the road is too slippery. How would that work? Most winch lines are a couple dozen feet at best.

So supposing I come to a landslide or other obstacles and can't continue, how to go back? Most moutain roads are too narrow to turn around and backing down a steep bad road with sharp turns and switchbacks seems dangerous.
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Old 09-28-2019, 02:28 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Regarding your suggestion to use a winch if the road is too slippery. How would that work? Most winch lines are a couple dozen feet at best.
Have the longest line you can use on the winch, and carry additional cable. How it works is, say you have 100' of winch line, but you need to winch over 300'. You can winch the distance of the line and re rig the line to a closer anchor, then winch again. If the road is too slippery to remove the line, use the additional cable or chain to anchor the truck to a tree, to prevent it from sliding, then re-rig your winch line.

There are usually plenty of trees to use as anchors. If you do not have a tree or other anchor, you can make an anchor by wrapping a chain around a log and bury the log, or you can bury a spare tire, or a board you bring along.

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So supposing I come to a landslide or other obstacles and can't continue, how to go back? Most moutain roads are too narrow to turn around and backing down a steep bad road with sharp turns and switchbacks seems dangerous.
Unless you're driving along two ruts in the grass, most roads are wide enough and a Sidekick is a very short truck that can turn in tight spots. Depending on the situation, you might use the winch to pull the front end around, or find a spot to turn in. But you really shouldn't have a problem. Many roads run between small towns and have a little traffic. Usually what happens is one of the Ticos will come across a landslide, double back and warn everyone else that the road is closed. And they are pretty good at clearing the roads, though it certainly will take time.

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Old 09-30-2019, 10:40 AM   #6 (permalink)
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That makes sense. When you suggested "aggressive" tires what does that mean? Larger diameter?
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Old 09-30-2019, 03:18 PM   #7 (permalink)
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No, Aggressive mud tires are those tires that usually have large lugs, sometimes placed in a chevron pattern and wide voids, such as the Super Swamper TSLs, Super Swamper Boggers, etc. Think, street legal tractor tire.

For Costa Rica, I would recommend you run the same size tires as factory, or maybe just a bit bigger, but no more. The reason is, the Sidekick is a very small truck with very light components. When bigger tires are used, they put more strain on the drivetrain and axles, including stress on the steering system and brakes. Additionally, they require more power to turn. You might be fine for awhile if you add larger tires but eventually parts begin to require more frequent service from the additional stresses imposed. Anything can be fixed, but in Costa Rica it can be harder to service and repair a truck because it isn't like here in America where every town has a well stocked Pepboys, Discount Auto, or a decent mechanic shop.

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Old 10-02-2019, 03:10 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Ok, thanks. I think I will stick with my current tires then since they are mud tires.
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Old 10-02-2019, 03:19 PM   #9 (permalink)
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No thoughts on traction aids?
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Old 10-05-2019, 03:56 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Who? Me? Can't say I know much about them.
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Old 10-08-2019, 09:59 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Traction aids are differential lockers. I recommend at least one for your purpose.

Winch with long line and some straps would be good as well.

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Old 10-10-2019, 06:04 PM   #12 (permalink)
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No thoughts on traction aids?
Thoughts?? Traction aids are always nice, the only argument against them for a vehicle in Costa Rica, maybe, if you break a part in the diff or an axle shaft, the truck can be side lined for a long time. It isn't as simple as ordering a part and expecting it to show up in a few days.

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