Get a grip.

Get a grip. The pros and cons of traction control.

With a fleet of Land Rovers firmly rooted in the tax exempt era, my knowledge and experience of all the new gizmos to aid progress is naturally limited.  I have sat through many new car presentations listening to how good the myriad aids to traction are, but rarely have I ever had the chance to use them.  With decades of off road driving in my 80 inch behind me and fifteen years of adventure in my Carawagon, I am pretty confident that if I do get stuck in mud, a couple of big blokes pushing will usually see me on my way and I have rarely needed anything other than a pair of sand ladders in the desert.  However, it is always good to keep an open mind on these things and not dismiss the huge investment in research that has gone into these as mere humbug!


My first real life experience of traction control was on a P38 Range Rover back in 1995.  I was following the route across Turkey taken by Alexander the Great as he conquered the Persian Empire.  One of the hilltop cities Alexander attacked was Termessos, now surrounded by areas of farmland linked by rutted tracks.  It had been raining and these were very muddy and churned up by tractors.  I was making steady progress up one such track, admiring the view and wondering if Alexander had ridden his horse, Bucephalus, along this very route.  I failed to notice the ruts getting deeper and when the first signs of wheel spin occurred I was too far in to change my mind.  I drove faster, but the Range Rover was soon struggling, whereupon the traction control clicked away furiously, but I ground to a halt, not one wheel actually in contact with the track.  It was clearly my own fault and luckily a nearby tractor towed me out, much to his amusement!


Moving forward 15 years I was having great fun at the launch of the new BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain tyre at an off road site in Warwickshire.  On hand were a basic 110 and a Discovery 3, both fitted with the new tyres.  There was a part of the course that was flat, but very muddy, leading to a short steep incline, by now covered in very wet mud.  The 110 cleared it easily with a bit of momentum introduced at the bottom, but as an experiment I thought I would try a standing start at the bottom in the Disco.  To my amazement it just drove straight up with the minimum of wheel spin.  This was interesting, as I know the 110 could not have achieved that.  Traction control had proved itself in those conditions.



A Discovery 3 with BF Goodrich Mud Terrain’s fitted, made light work of a hill start,

thanks to excellent Traction Control.


Later that year, at one of the Summer shows, I was chatting to a Cornish couple I know who guide organised tours across Morocco and Tunisia. I mentioned the Disco incident and wondered how they found the traction control on their new Puma engined Defender.  Their reply was rather worrying. It was fine in conditions that I had experienced in Warwickshire, but in soft sand, where as much momentum as possible is needed, any act of braking is bad news.  What happened was that the spinning wheel braked and slowed the Land Rover, then the opposite wheel spun and was subsequently also braked.  Quite soon the Land Rover stopped due to too much braking!  It was possible to remove a fuse and disable the system, but if done more that five times (I think he said) the engine management went into ‘limp home’ mode.


Last month I had the good fortune to be driving a V8, Series 2, Discovery along some very muddy tracks.  The old girl had clocked up a galactic mileage, but the engine was sweet and everything seemed to work.  It sat on flat old coil springs and had well worn road tyres at each corner, so the odds on it making a clear run through one particular steep bit of track looked slim.  But, with the smooth delivery of power from the V8 and the traction control, the big car made fairly light work of it, despite the fact that it must have been bottoming out for much of the way.  



The Discovery Series 2 V8 impressed all, in the way it cleared a very muddy track.


So. It looks as though it works very well if there is a firm base below whatever surface you are struggling to gain traction on, but in soft sand it may not be the answer.  Taking an overview of the process, it would seem illogical to apply any form of braking, when trying to cross an area of minimum grip. The greater power of both the V8 petrol and the TD6 Discovery seem to have overridden this, but weighing all things up, I think I’ll go for a pair of locking diffs!


Copyright Toby Savage