Safety Tips: Vehicles


Vehicle Precautions:

Have a full tank of gas and refuel if possible just before you go off-road.

Vehicle should be in good running condition. This sounds so obvious, but it is amazing how many people have engine warning lights flashing on their dash before they even leave the payment. This could easily be a recipe for disaster.

Good tires are a must, desert roads can tear up tires in no time.

When living in the desert, the batteries in your vehicle are only good for about 2 years. Don’t get stuck because of a dead battery.

Have a good spare tire and extra gas. Traveling back roads drops your gas mileage dramatically.


Vehicle Security:

The days of “all off-road people” being good guys are long gone. There are enough not-so-nice guys running around on the back roads that you need to be aware of what is going on around you. Thieves are targeting trail heads for vehicle break-ins and thefts. At a trail head there are usually other people around to assist you in case of an emergency, but when you are 20 miles from the nearest road, up a dry wash, in the middle of nowhere, you are usually on your own. A few things that might be of help:

  • Locking lug nuts: vehicles will not move very far or fast with no tires.
  • Locking gas cap: a full tank of gas is no help if someone siphons it all out.
  • Locking hood latch: vehicles are hard to start with no batteries.

Obviously, if someone is intent on doing damage to your vehicle, there is nothing you can do to stop them, but at least you can slow down or deter the average thief.


Vehicle Supplies:

Some of the things you might want to keep in your vehicle in case of emergencies:

  • Spare gas
  • Spare water
  • Hi-lift jack
  • Spare tire with keys for locking lug nuts
  • Spare keys
  • Shovel
  • Tow strap
  • Jumper cables
  • Flashlights with spare batteries
  • Emergency flares
  • Tool kit
  • Duct tape
  • Trash bags
  • Change of clothes
  • First Aid kit (take a basic First Aid course)


Stuck and Thinking about Walking Out?

Before you do anything, sit down, relax, and think about your situation for a bit and consider all your options.

  • How far are you from the nearest paved road or people?
  • Do you know for certain that the road and safety are in “that direction” and only a couple of miles away?
  • Did you GPS your route coming in? Hint: as soon as you are ready to leave the pavement “reset” your GPS mileage and track to zero. That way you will know the exact distance from where you started to go off road and how far you may need to walk back. What seemed like a 5-mile trip may be more or less than that depending on the condition of the road.  We have all been on jeep trails that took three hours to get to where we going because of the condition of the trail and it turns out that it was really only a few miles.
  • Try to retrace your footprints or the vehicle tracks. If you are going to be guessing about the way out, it is better to STAY PUT.
  • Time of day? – Early morning or mid-day
  • Time of year? – Spring or summer
  • Are you in good enough physical condition to walk the distance?

If you end up spending the night on the trail, remember that nights on the desert can be 40 to 50 degrees cooler than daytime temperatures.

  • Do you have the supplies and water?

Keep hydrated. If water is in short supply, breathe through your nose (to help reduce moisture loss) and do not eat, drink alcohol, or smoke. All dehydrate the body.

  • Are you or someone in your party injured?
  • Are you sure that you know the way out?

Do not take short cuts just because it looks like a shorter distance.

If you are thinking about cutting across country instead of following the road out because it looks like a shorter distance to where you are going, you may want to rethink that decision. Terrain that looks flat is often a convoluted mess of dry washes and it could make your trip out much longer. Plus you have a better chance of meeting up with help on a dirt road than in a dry wash in the middle of “nowhere”.

If absolutely no one knows where you are because you did not establish a contact person, chances are no one is going to miss you within a reasonable length of time. If your vehicle is beyond repair, you are going to have to make some difficult decisions as to what to do:  Do you walk out or stay put?

If you are in a deep or narrow canyon, you may need to get to a ridge line to be spotted, providing that you are able.

We highly recommend that you STAY PUT as it will be easier to locate you. Keep in mind that a vehicle will be spotted easier from the air than a hiker will be.

Your vehicle can provide shelter and warmth, if necessary.

Set up distress signals. Raise the hood and open up the doors, and spread out materials around the vehicle. This will make you more visible from the air.

Use a mirror or shiny object for signaling.

Flares or bright fires can be seen for miles at night.

Burning a tire or oil from the vehicle will create a smoky fire that can be seen during the day.

Place a large X, three large marks, or the word “HELP” made of rocks or vegetation on the ground to be seen from the air.

Usually things in groups of three are determined to be distress signals. Such as three blasts on a horn or whistle, three marks on the ground, three gun shots.

If you leave your vehicle, leave a note for rescuers. Let them know the time, date, and direction that you are traveling, and anything else that may be of importance.

Once again, we highly recommend you STAY PUT as it will be easier to locate you.