Why Rivian and Mercedes’ ‘Tank Turn’ Is Horrible for Trails
Party-trick tank-turns and wheel-locks are fun and all, but they’re bad for trails, nature, and other drivers.
Another electric, overland-focused SUV is announced, and yet another cool party trick comes with it. Mercedes last week showed off a camo-wrapped EQG electric G-Wagen ripping what are commonly known as "tank turns," spinning the SUV in place sort of like a tank.
It's a flashy move (one that seems more useful in a parking lot than in the middle of a mountain range) but Mercedes is far from the only manufacturer to offer it; Rivian has the same feature on its electric R1T pickup truck. It's something I expect to see more of as electric all-wheel-drive vehicles, which can spin their wheels in opposing directions simultaneously, are more available. And, as ever-more-rugged marketing inevitably accompanies those vehicles. However, the unfortunate truth is that using these party-trick features on any real-world trails is absolutely terrible for the environment and for other overlanders. So, I'm begging owners: Don't use 'em.
To contextualize the issue, it's worth understanding that responsible use of public land became an immediately pressing issue at the height of pandemic lockdowns and closures, as people flocked to COVID-free, always-open outdoor spaces to cure cabin fever. Unfortunately, with that came a lot of campers who used the magnificence of nature as a dumpster; a similar problem is now hitting overlanding trails, as our friends at Donut Media helpfully explain in the video below. This damage was already a well-understood problem before the pandemic, with studies showing that off-roading on the Jeep-namesake Rubicon trail had the potential to do massive damage to native ecosystems there, even before the widespread adoption of dirt-excavating tech such as tank-turns or single-wheel-locking technology like the Ford Bronco uses to navigate tight turns. Now, with more people turning to the solace of nature with ever-larger vehicles, complete with party-trick capabilities that kick up hazardous airborne particulates as part and parcel of their functionality, it only stands to intensify existing problems.
The damage that tank-turning and wheel-lock features can do extends even beyond ecological impact. Using these party tricks digs up existing trails and makes once-smooth dirt riddled with deep tracks, which makes it progressively harder for future drivers to navigate through and rapidly wears out infrequently maintained paths. While every vehicle that goes offroad is going to impact the terrain in some way, it substantially worsens overlanding's impact if drivers are constantly locking tires to make tight turns, or ripping donuts instead of waiting for a wider space to perform a U-turn.
As someone who deeply enjoys the beauty of America's public lands and would like to continue visiting them, I have one request: Even if automakers give you these cool tricks, don't use them unless you have a backyard you don't mind tearing up. We have a duty to preserve the land we love, and it doesn't mean we have to stop having fun; the Rebelle Rally, an off-road weeklong navigational RAID competition, enforces trail-specific speed limits and has partnered with Tread Lightly in the past to minimize its impact, and I can attest firsthand that it's still a riot to participate in. Responsible overlanding, while still enjoying both nature and our vehicles can be done. It's up to us to make both a reality.