It’s fair to say that the vast majority of Australians are currently ‘feeling the pinch’. According to recent commentary, the living standards of middle Australians have stagnated, our children are facing a world of shrinking opportunity, and they’re likelier to slip into poverty than the middle classes of all other advanced nations, bar Greece and Latvia (Uren, The Australian, 18 Apr 2019). That’s all fairly depressing stuff. And it helps explain why consumers are reacting by shutting their wallets (Wright, SMH, 6 Feb 2019).
As a family that spends a lot of time on the road with a camper and 4WD, we’re often faced with decisions about what constitutes ‘discretionary’ expenditure and what outlay is essential on our rigs. While fuel costs are a ‘given’, the range of aftermarket vehicle accessories offer far more scope for spending cash than our modest budget can sustain. So we make choices. Distinctions between those things we know we have to buy now if we plan to head bush – and those things that are ‘nice to have’.
When we bought our Toyota Hilux ten years ago, we knew that the initial purchase price was just the start. While a dual-cab ute has a lot of capability off the showroom floor, the factory specifications were never going to be adequate for the kind of travelling we expected to do. So we spent time, prior to purchase, working out what modifications we needed to do immediately – and which could wait. And we added the cost of these essential modifications to our budget, from the get-go, to ensure that we didn’t sell ourselves short. If we couldn’t afford the necessary modifications – then we couldn’t afford the vehicle.
PICTURE CREDIT FOR KANGAROO IMAGE: Andrew Bertuleit/Getty Images
Looking back over the last decade, these modifications have kept us safe on many occasions. Whether it’s been the extra traction from our All Terrain tyres, the additional stopping power of the tow tug’s upgraded braking system, or the onboard combo GPS CB radio that provided guaranteed comms (and location designation) when I was eight months pregnant maintaining a base station while my husband hunted the back country. Other accessories include a full body bashplate, Flexitank 50 litre water tank, dual battery system, winch and long range fuel tank. This list goes on.
And then there’s the bull bar and side-rails. Purchased as a vehicle accessory at point of sale, these were the first modifications we made to our rig. And their existence is probably the reason that I’m still here to write about them.
You see, on our last road trip, just after dusk on a sweeping curve, the largest grey kangaroo in existence had taken up residence in the middle of our lane. Travelling at 95 kilometres an hour with our camper in tow, and with another vehicle travelling so close behind that his headlights weren’t visible, there was nowhere to go when the roo suddenly appeared around the bend, closer than 30 metres away and standing upright so his head was level with ours. A military-trained and experienced driver, my husband Scott applied a few quick pumps of the brakes to begin slowing our trajectory, and to warn the driver behind. And then we made contact – directly with the heaviest and most muscle-bound part of the kangaroo’s body: his hindquarters. As we struck the roo, Scott made the slightest alteration to the vehicle’s line to help deflect the furry roadblock away from our vehicle, assisted by the curvature of the bull bar. And then we were through.
The bull bar and side-rails fitted to our Hilux retail at around $3,500. A hefty sum in these cash-strapped times. But their worth was priceless the other night. After all, our vehicle held the most precious cargo we possess – our eight year old daughter. And if you asked me what I’d pay to keep her safe, I couldn’t give you a figure. I’d give my own life.
Which brings me back to economics – and the issue of wallets. Specifically, when to open them – and when to close them. I reckon that, when it comes to issues of vehicle safety, there’s no room for compromise. The 4WD vehicle accessory market is not just there for poseurs – those people who put slim line alloys and a three inch lift on city runabouts. It’s there for those of us who go bush and who take our responsibilities to ourselves and our families seriously. Which probably helps explain why a significant part of the five billion dollar (plus) parts manufacturing market is wrapped up in the 4WD and tow tug sector.
Making a vehicle safe for long distance driving, or remote area travel, costs money. And acquiring the skills to deal with the unexpected takes time and training.