Unless you daily drive a cab-over dump truck, I doubt many of you reading DirtRoadTrip use your left foot to brake your vehicle. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time and place to do it.
In off-road driving there are situations while navigating obstacles in 4-low where using left foot braking techniques can actually help you maintain better control of your acceleration, traction, and suspension articulation over rocks and other gnarly stuff. The end result is you looking as smooth as Camel Trophy driver whilst being nicer to your equipment.
When to Left-Foot Brake:
- When crawling obstacles in 4-low where you are going to need to drive up and over stuff (big rocks, logs, etc.) where you want to maintain a slow, constant speed whilst going up/over/through what you’re driving.
- When you need to prevent yourself from rolling back, usually on some steep, intimidating climb with maximum pucker factor.
- You know that herky-jerky start/stop that you experience when driving over/through technical terrain? That’s because you are alternating in a fairly binary way with throttle and brake at low speeds. When you crest an obstacle, the throttle you had to give to crest all of a sudden wants to send your truck flying. Try this instead: apply and lightly hold the brake while stopped in 4-low, and simultaneously apply enough throttle to get you moving (in the 4Runner this is about 1,000-1,500 RPM). Try to maintain your RPMs while driving the obstacle and use your left foot to regulate your speed. When you do this correctly, you should be able to clear the tough stuff in a smoother, more continuous way.
- Because you are driving smoother (see above) you are more likely to maintain traction, which is what is going to get you through whatever you are attempting to drive. Also, the same smoothness should prevent the start/stop suspension compression that can cause you to smack the chassis against the rocks.
- If you’re driving with open differentials, applying brake with throttle simultaneously may give you just enough torque transfer to a slipping wheel to keep you moving.
When not to Left Foot Brake:
- When driving a manual transmission (unless you have three legs)
- When you’re using Toyota’s Crawl Control or other very active driving aids, which are likely applying some targeted braking for you anyways.
- Most other times (if you’re not doing something technical in 4-low, go ahead and relax that left foot, cowboy)
Next time you’re up against a nasty climb, rock obstacle, or parking lot snow pile, give it a shot! But remember, while I can offer this up as some advice, it is up to you use good judgment – not my fault if you wreck your truck, break something, etc!
Ted Dinwiddie says
Very good write-up on use of the left foot for brake modulation. I would add that the left foot should also be used to modulate the brake in a manual transmission vehicle. In crawling situations, one certainly does not want to be slipping the clutch continuously. Once you have chosen the gear, based on the appropriate torque, for the particular situation/obstacle. Use the brake, with the left foot, to control the momentum of the vehicle. Use the gas, with the right foot, to control power/torque delivery and to keep the engine from stalling. As my good friend Scott says, “no touchy the clutchy”.
Ted, thanks for chiming in with some great feedback, and rightful correction. You make a very good point in the manual transmission scenario – all the same reasons to left-foot brake apply once you’ve gotten rolling and have that foot off the clutch!