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Seems like a daft question – surely anyone should know the answer? Well not really! So here goes: A normal vehicle is considered a 2-wheel drive; either front or rear wheel drive. These are also called a 4X2 vehicle, where 4 is the number of wheels the vehicle has and the 2 is the number of wheels that are able to drive under power from the engine. It can therefore mean that 4X4 means a vehicle with 4 wheels that all 4 wheels are capable of receiving power from the engine to drive. A clarification: all 4 wheels do NOT drive all the time at the same pace whilst in 4X4 mode. It depends on the surface that is being traveled on; whilst turning it operates in the same manner as a normal vehicle: with the outside wheels turning faster than the inside wheels while cornering/turning; got it?




On some 4X4 vehicles they operate off a center differential and a transfer gearbox and in this case when there’s a differential-lock it locks the front and rear drive shafts to operate with the same drive, in the front as in the rear, i.e. 50/50. On 4X4’s that have manual hub locks on the front wheels, they lock the front drive shafts. Most of the newer 4X4s in the market have automatic hub locks when 4X4 is engaged.




A ‘normal vehicle’ would get stuck if just one of the drive wheels lost traction, say, in the mud. The 4X4 on the other hand will pull/push out of this situation. It also has two sets of gears, a high and low range and when extreme off-road driving the low range is normally selected to get more power at just pedestrian speed.




The ‘H2 High Range’ means 2-wheel drive – front or rear wheels only for normal driving with one set of wheels only. H4 High Range means 4-wheel drive – both sets of wheels pulling/pushing the vehicle, for general off-road use, i.e. beach, mud, bad ‘un-tarred’ road. Normal speeds [within reasonable limits] can be obtained in H4. On the contrary L4 Low Range is for mainly rough terrain and so very slow speeds such as ‘walking speeds’ be adopted for L4, Low Range.




It is commonsense to do a ‘vehicle check’ before going on a drive, especially on a long drive. Firstly to ensure that your vehicle is SAFE and secondly that it is legal; all it takes is just 2 minutes of your time to do an external walk around check. It takes 2 minutes to check; 20 minutes to change a damaged tyre, a lifetime to get rid of guilt! Of course you also need to check condition of battery, levels of all liquids – coolant, engine oil, transmission, brake, clutch fluid, windscreen wash reservoir etc.




Snippets has time and again praised the development seen in widening and rehabilitation of roads leading to and within Jaffna. Back in late 2009 when yours truly visited Jaffna, fresh after the hostilities were over, there were only a few 1950’s & 1960’s cars – very much like Havana, Cuba! [see below] Not so now. Well not so much of the sleek Mercs & BMWs we see in Colombo but an exponential increase in motor bikes & Trishaws – scooters in particular, plus of course the ubiquitous push cycles. And these 3 & 2 wheelers appear to hail from another planet! Why? Because they just do NOT believe in, leave alone stopping, not even slowing down before entering a junction – they simply breeze on at same speed regardless of ANY oncoming traffic! Scary – seems an understatement here! So guys just watch it when approaching ANY junction in Jaffna!




Cubans have reacted with shock after foreign-made cars went on sale for the first time since the 1959 revolution at what some termed "crazy" prices. The state has a monopoly on new car sales and has set massive mark-ups. A Peugeot 508 is listed at $262,000. Peugeot's UK website puts prices from $29,000. State salaries in Cuba average about $20 a month. Freeing up car sales is the latest in a series of reforms. A permit to buy new vehicles is now no longer required. For $5,000 or $10,000 in savings, they could usually acquire a good second-hand car - seen as extra payment for service to the country.  Now those permit letters have been abolished, and whilst in theory people who had earned them, but not used them, will be given priority to buy cars on the free market, the prices have sky rocketed. Many complain that the state released very few cars for sale in recent months, meaning that those with permit letters couldn't use them. The Cuban government argues profits will be placed in a special fund to develop public transport. Correspondents say that the money is desperately needed, as there is a dire shortage of transport and what there is often in a decrepit state.


Cuban repairs car in Havana, 31 Jan


Many Cubans will continue to repair their old cars. But one Cuban resident, Daniel Rojas, asked: "At these prices, how many people can buy the cars? So where's the money to invest in public transport if no-one can buy them?" Nonetheless, some Cubans do appear to have money to spend. An attendant at one car store in Havana said it had sold six vehicles in 24 hours! He said the most expensive went for $50,000.  Until new regulations in 2011, people could only sell cars built before the 1959 revolution. For new cars, people needed a much-sought government permit - a privilege mainly bestowed on senior officials, top athletes and artists.  The permits were often traded on the black market for large sums of cash [sounds familiar isn’t it?] The latest move is part of a series of reforms driven by President Raul Castro aimed at updating the Cuban economic model.




Many have asked yours truly how I ever manage to do ‘so many’ trips to Jaffna and elsewhere and doing the driving all by myself! So here are a few tips: Always plan ahead minutely with aid of a check-list regarding the vehicle, journey, food/water, first- aid items – the works. Always keep yourself in good physical shape. Never drive if deprived of sleep or emotionally drained! If your car is new, please read and re-read ‘Owners’ Manual’. Listen to the sound that your engine & chassis make; any new noises [especially for older vehicles] will be a warning of problems ahead! Get to know your true fuel range, on and off-road; check tyres for wear, cuts and other damages; test the radiator system and have it flushed regularly. Attending to these simple ‘checks’ would mean avoiding break downs!




Remember before approaching ANY unfamiliar area/obstacle it must be correctly surveyed to determine what type of terrain lies ahead, therefore deciding on correct gear and route. Once you have chosen your line of approach stick to it. Always look for path of least resistance but with the best traction ability. Small steering compensation should be done when necessary and do NOT ’fight’ the steering when proceeding thru tracks. Keep Your Thumbs out of the Steering Wheel at all times! Never be in too much of a hurry to clear or repair a section of the track. Better to take 2 to 3 hours to make a road than 6 hours to remove a damaged vehicle! Logic, really!


Happy 4X4 Driving folks! Cheers! Dyan [dyans@sltnet.lk]