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Why Women Should Go Off-Roading in Their Own 4x4

A late morning off-road jaunt above the tree-line turns into severe angst. Your friend, and driver of his 4x4 vehicle, gets sick with a stomach bug and is in writhing pain. He’s unable to drive back down the mountain in his current condition. There’s no way down unless you drive him down.

Colorado's San Juan Mountains

Suddenly, eye-popping streaks of lightning zoom across the sky. Earth-shaking booms of thunder surround you and rumble underneath your feet. Echoes of an impending storm are bouncing off of nearby mountainsides. You quiver at the thought of driving off-road, especially since you’ve never done it before. You don’t have any guidance from your buddy. There’s no cell reception and a storm is quickly rolling in. You don’t know what to do. He’s in severe pain yet you don’t know how to drive his rig—you don’t know even how to put it into four-wheel-drive (or how 4WD changes vehicle dynamics). Getting off the mountain is your top priority, but you’re stuck. A challenging situation doubles up to an emergency one. What would you do in this scenario?

Hey ladies, imagine if that was a true story. Imagine if you get stuck in a precarious situation, or you’re presented with a more mainstream circumstance where a driver is impaired and the roads are trash. You’re the only one to help them to safety—while using the vehicle’s 4WD system. Knowing how to drive a 4x4 rig is important, but owning one is even better.

Stock 1991 SWB RHD Mitsubishi Pajero

Nothing is going to teach you more about this than owning your own 4WD rig. We all learn by doing, and taking the wheel from time to time is great. But if you really want to progress as a driver and mechanic, nothing beats driving and wrenching on your own rig. By the way, this goes for men, too.

Why Should Women Own and Build Their Own Rig?

“It. Opens. Doors.” Amber Turner, a Suzuki Samurai owner and off-road enthusiast, now turned welder, was serious when she said that. “Learning to wrench, wheel and weld are three skills most women don’t have, and women who have this knowledge are in demand, especially in the skilled trades,” says Turner. Because of her interest in the sport and building up her Samurai, she learned to weld, and has been a welder by trade for the last four years.

Amber Turner and her 1988 Suzuki Samurai

“In 2011, I just graduated high school, and my dad took our whole family (of six) to the Marlin Crawler Roundup in his mildly-built 1983 Toyota single cab pick-up. Since that day I was hooked. I bought my Samurai the next year and started building it with my then-fiancé, now husband, Matt.” Turner picked up a welding class in community college in order to fabricate her first set of rock sliders for her Samurai, which in turn evolved into a career in welding. In the beginning, she worked for a shop that was a part of the off-road industry, so all her interests complimented each other. “My [interests] kind of bounced off each other and snowballed together as time went on.”

1988 Suzuki Samurai with Warn Provantage 4500 winch

Most people (both men and women) don’t necessarily realize the pride that comes with creating something from nothing and saying, “I built that” or “it was broken, so I fixed it.” Learning how to weld and work on her own 4x4 gives Turner piece of mind. Having this type of knowledge affords her security to fix issues, no matter if on the side of the road or the middle of nowhere. She knows she can get herself out.

Why I Built My Own Rig

For me, I was an off-road passenger for multiple years. I loved venturing to places that many people cannot see. The journey is just as fantastic—to me—as the end destination.

Mitsubishi Pajero, second day venturing home with it

On a quick whim, but with careful consideration, I signed up for and competed in the 2018 Rebelle Rally, a 1,600 mile traditional navigational women’s off-road rally. After completing the rally and finishing strong, I was hooked. I wanted my own rig (in addition to two off-road rigs my husband and I already own together). Shortly thereafter, we sourced a right-hand-drive Mitsubishi Pajero (now we own two of them), and purchased it virtually sight unseen. I have big plans for this rig, with parts already on order.

Washing road salt off Mitsubishi Pajero

Owning your own 4x4 as a woman is both confidence-boosting and liberating. As Turner mentioned, knowing how your rig works can empower you to fix it (or at least diagnose it) as problems arise. You can also help others in need, if the situation warrants it.

Knowing how a 4x4 system works is key; that, along with knowing how to drive one, can give you enough ammunition to drive out of a precarious place successfully. Owning your own 4x4 will enable you to understand how vehicles respond in certain types of conditions, especially if you’re in two-wheel-drive, four-wheel-high or four-low. Working on your own rig can provide a whole new skillset, too.

It may take a bit of getting used to, but similar to driving a manual transmission, knowing your 4x4 will enable you to be a confident driver and sure-footed woman.

What's the Best Part of Wheeling Your Own Rig?

“The friends and great memories you’ll make along the way, hands down,” says Turner. She now has a fulfilling career in welding because of her interest in off-roading. The buddies she’s made along the way, in addition to the memories she has, are worth far more than the cost of building up her rig.

Also, having the freedom to attend events on her own has opened many doors for her, especially within the last year. Turner completed the Fordyce Creek trail in Northern California (during Sierra Trek) unscathed, even though a few intense moments came about.

AMber Turner with her 1988 Suzuki Samurai on Fordyce Creek trail

“Amber always has a smile on her face. Her rig makes it places that vehicles with more modifications and bigger tires struggle on...which is maybe why she is smiling,” says Harry Wagner, a well-known figure and freelance magazine contributor in the off-road industry.

“Coming down Winch Hill 3 (on the Fordyce Creek trail) she stuck her passenger front tire all the way at the bottom of a huge hole. I thought she was going over, but Amber kept her cool and drove out of it!” He couldn’t believe her composure. She got to the bottom, got out and shook his hand to introduce herself. Now, that's one hell of a way to meet someone!

Turner even earned second place in her first-ever rock crawling competition, at the Team Series Rock Crawl & Mud Drags, in Oroville, California! She scored second place, out of eight positions, in the “leaf springed beginner” class.

Why Did You Get Into Off-Roading?

“I got scared by my brother when in my late teens; his version of off-roading was ‘more right pedal!’” Debbie Hires exclaims. “I bought my own jeep in 1995—which was stolen from the grocery store parking lot the day I took the top off of it!” Hires proceeded to buy more Jeep Wranglers. She purchased a two-door in 2000, bought another two-door in 2014 and finally treated herself to a quartet of her own Wranglers by purchasing a 2017 Hydro Blue Rubicon.

Debbie Hires and her 2017 Hydro Blue Jeep Rubicon

Hires, an IT Project Manager hailing from Washington state, is also an avid off-roader and 4x4 owner. She, as well as her husband Jesse, both own Jeep JK Rubicons. I met them wheeling their rigs a couple years ago in Moab (hers was a Crystal Granite two-door JK and his a Gecko Green four-door JK). My husband and I owned a pint-sized Suzuki Sidekick, aka The Teal Terror, and were traversing one of Moab’s well-known trails: Fins N Things. The four of us met along the trail, hit it off and ended up off-roading together for the rest of the day.

Debbie Hires and her Crystal Jeep Granite Rubicon JK

She loves spending time with her husband and both rigs in Moab. “That was my first experience with really ‘heavy-duty wheeling,'” she says. “I must say, I was hooked! Once I started developing the confidence—in my own rig and my own driving—it was all go, go, go from there!” Hires states.

In a short time, Hires built her Rubi up. Upgrades to her 2017 Rubicon include items such as:

  • 5-inch Rubicon Express lift
  • ProComp Wheels with 35x12.50 tires
  • Omega 3 Stinger, tire carrier, jack mount and RotopaX mount
  • Trussed axles, front and back
  • Lower control mount skids on both axles
  • JE Reel Driveline driveshaft
  • Uniden CB radio
  • Tuffy security box
  • Smittybilt winch
  • Hi-Lift jack
  • Superchips tuner
  • Alpine Restyle custom head unit (GPS/DVD/CD/Radio)

Hires believes that owning, driving and upgrading your own rig not only gives you a sense of pride but power in the ability to say that you’re fully in control of your own 4x4. “While I love riding with my husband (and frequently do) there’s nothing like the feeling of being behind the wheel yourself and successfully navigating a highly technical trail—without causing damage to yourself or your rig. That rush of adrenaline and sense of accomplishment (and pride) just cannot be beat!”

Debbie and Jesse Hire's Jeep Rubicon JKs

Owning your own 4x4 gives you a sense of adventure, confidence and peace of mind. Knowing your rig in and out (if you build it up yourself or even if you leave it stock) can make all the difference in the world. Four-wheel drive vehicles can be an extension of you, offering up fantastic off-road adventures, learning opportunities and vehicular safety when you need it.

Photos supplied by Mercedes Lilienthal, Harry Wagner, Amber Turner and Debbie Hires

Learn more self-sufficiency trail tips in "How to Navigate Without GPS."

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