4WD travel is not as scary and perilous as you think.
It’s easy to view mainstream 4WD media as a bit of a 4WDing, doomsday prophecy. All the bullsh*t articles getting around about ‘Bullet-proofing’ your ‘Budget’ 4WD, rebuilding a CV trackside with a little more than a beer can ring pull, and cable-tying your $80,000 vehicle together while grinning like a proverbial idiot, would lead anyone to think that Aussie adventures go hand in hand with trashed 4WDs and an inexplicable, mid-strength beer drinking problem. Maybe for some, not for us.
For the majority of post-pubescent, responsible, non-redneck 4WDers, there’s a lot more riding on a trip away than just the mechanical repair bill. There’s your three young kids lining the backseat. The pensive Mrs that you’ve finally convinced to ride shotgun to the Cape. And let’s not forget the transit accommodation, the thousands spend in food, fuel and new camping gear and of course the year of excitement leading up to the trip. There simply isn’t the room for a lack of vehicle maintenance to blow all that out the tailpipe. Remember, your 4WD is just a tool, albeit an important one in the scheme of things, but a tool none the less. Treat it well and it’ll do the job.
So, what can you do to ensure you never have to read another ‘Bush-proof your 4WD on a beer-budget’ article? Simple. Keep reading, and save that $9.95 for a pine tree air freshener - you’ll get more out of it.
NEVER RACE AGAINST THE CLOCK
One thing we see way too often are 4WDs rolling in our door for a pre-trip inspection, a week before they embark on an 8,000km journey. You’re kidding right? Sure, if everything checks out perfectly and not a single nut needs tightening, then you’re bloody lucky. But for the vast majority of vehicles, there is work to be done and simply not enough time to do it.
Depending on your budget and ability to conduct repairs immediately, give yourself a minimum of two months before a big trip to have repairs carried out and be realistic about where you’re going to spend your coin. Replacing suspect wheel bearings, or nice new seat covers – if you had to think about that, stop reading now.
DEALER SCHEDULED SERVICING IS THE WORST MISTAKE YOU CAN MAKE
I don’t believe in dealer scheduled servicing. Why? Because it implies you can do whatever you like with your vehicle, as long as once every 10,000km the pimple-covered, teenage service advisor at the dealership takes your keys and stamps your logbook. It breeds a level of complacency within you about your 4WD and also gives way too much responsibility to mechanics that wouldn’t know where, or what, the Hay River Track is, let alone what it’s going to subject your vehicle to.
You tend to get one of two things with dealer services.
a) You’re told to replace expensive components based on time, rather than their actual condition. An honest 4WD specialist will only replace things that need to be replaced. If your 6000km old air filter is immaculate and cleanable, keep it! They aren’t eggs, they don’t ‘go bad’.
b) Dealer mechanics generally have zero understanding of what your 4WD gets used for, and therefore assume everything is good to go, simply because the ECU didn’t show any codes on their scanner and chassis isn’t snapped in half. What about those suspect cracks in your Patrol’s rear coil towers, or the known chassis weak spot behind an 80 Series’ steering box? Or how about the fatigue points in a Prado under the second battery? You know, the one that makes the whole radiator support panel fall off?
See? Take it to a specialist. Please.
LEARN, LEARN, LEARN
With proper maintenance and care, you’re constantly minimizing the chance of things going arse-up in the bush. But, as Donald Trump has taught us, no great failure is impossible and you need to know what to do when it happens. Anyone capable of learning to use a spoon can learn to use a spanner, and just because you’re not confident right now, doesn’t mean you can’t pick up the basics to carry out simple repairs in the scrub.
Talk to your mechanic; Any 4WD mechanic with an ounce of moral fibre will share their knowledge with you to help you have a safe trip. If you ask your mechanic how to complete a simple trackside repair and they flat out won’t tell you, give them the middle finger salute and find a new workshop. If, however, time doesn’t permit you to pick your mechanic’s brain, then look to resources like You-Tube. While you need to take these things with a grain of salt, it’s a great way to gain an understanding of a specific job.
BE PREPARED, BUT DON’T BE A PREPPER
If you’ve ever contemplated a GVM upgrade, simply to carry your spare parts and tools, you either drive an old Series Land Rover, or you’re over thinking things. We’re going to cover specific spares and tools next month, but for now we’ll touch on the basics.
First and foremost; Only carry parts that you actually have the ability and the knowledge to replace trackside. There is precious little point carrying a spare CV or uni joint, if no one in your party can change it. If you’re in that situation, be prepared with a sat-phone, local service numbers and make the call for help – there’s no shame in admitting you need it.
Spare tyres, belts, hoses and an assortment of nuts, bolts and hose clamps will get the majority of 4WDers out of strife. Add to this, oil and coolant, fuses and relays, a spare fuel, air and oil filter and some gasket goo and you’re pretty much set. If you know how to change them, then chuck a set of greased wheel bearings in a glad bag and throw them in too.
LEARN TO DRIVE
Sounds stupid right? Of course you can drive, but can you push your 4WD into rugged terrain while maintaining a high level of mechanical sympathy? If I told you that an experienced and mechanically sympathetic driver could peddle an X-Trail across the Simpson Desert without a breakage, would you believe it? If you said ‘Bullsh*t mate’ and spat a XXXX Gold across the screen, then odds are you need some driver training. It’s not just about tackling the deepest ruts, or wildest hill-climbs, it’s about getting you, your family and your vehicle home without damage. Look into it, we can help.
Next month we’re going to go right into the nitty-gritty about all the tools, spares and parts you’re going to need for your next great adventure, but most importantly, the tools and crap that can stay at home in the shed.
From the whole team here at Mitchell Brothers 4x4 please accept, (with no obligation, implied or implicit) our best wishes for a politically correct, non-offensive, gender-equal, environmentally conscious holiday period, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of your religious persuasions or secular choices. We look forward to seeing you in the new year, which is generally regarded as calendar year ‘2017’ (But not without regard for the calendar choices of other cultures, both current and extinct)!
(There, that should avoid us getting sued!)
Have a bloody top Chrissy guys!
- Mitchell Bros 4x4 Team.