12 things to remember before you head off on your next off-roading trip!
1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT VEHICLE FOR THE JOB
A light-duty SUV may cope with a smaller trailer, but in general a separate-chassis 4WD (wagon or ute) with a beam/live rear axle will cope with conditions better when towing off-bitumen.
2. BUY GOOD TYRES
Just about every new 4WD rolls from the showroom with road-going tyres. Highway-grade tyres are built with a lightweight tread and sidewalls to enhance around-town grip, comfort and noise levels, and to reduce fuel consumption.
3. GET YOUR RIG SERVICED
Heavy loads and towing makes engines and driveline components work extra-hard, so be extra-nice to them with fresh oil before you leave town. Check your trailer too — many new trailers are assembled with inexperienced labour, so are light on the wheel bearing grease.
4. PRACTICE A TYRE CHANGE BEFORE YOU LEAVE
Travellers will often have issues changing tyres, aftermarket alloy wheels are the culprit. New wheel nuts may not fit the wheel-brace, the wheel-brace may not fit inside the wheel-nuts’ bores, or the nuts may have been rattle-gunned too tight. Your just-bought second-hand 4WD may have the wrong jack… or none at all.
5. PACK LIGHT
The founder of sports car maker Lotus, Colin Chapman, had a motto: "Weight is the enemy of performance". Every kilo your vehicle — and trailer — carries is costing you fuel and working insidiously to smash tyres, suspension and driveline components.
So be mindful of weight when you are equipping your vehicle too: Use a public weighbridge to weigh your ready-to-travel rig… you may be shocked!
6. DON’T PUNISH TYRES AND TERRAIN
On the road, hard-working tyres like higher pressures to reduce heat build-up and rolling resistance, but on gravel and dirt, tyres like to flex a little, reducing the chance of a sharp rock penetrating an unyielding tread.
Keep in mind, no matter what, you’re likely to get a puncture, so carry a tyre repair kit, a compressor and heed the advice in above.
7. KEEP YOUR SPEED SAFE
Off-bitumen, keep your speeds sensible — more than 80km/h on a well-maintained gravel road is foolish, even without the additional tonne or two of tucker, tackers, tools and a trailer on the tail. To reduce stone damage, slow to a walking pace when approaching and passing oncoming traffic.
*Always yield to trucks and other working vehicles.
8. GET YOUR EXTRA FUEL DOWN EARLY
Get your fuel down into the vehicle’s main tank as soon as you can. Petrol or diesel, this lowers the centre of gravity. Don’t over-fill and always carry full jerry cans upright.
Keep in mind the risk from campfires and other ignition sources when refilling — fuel vapour can flow long distances over ground.
9. DO A FEW SHORT PRACTICE RUNS
If you’re new to camping and remote-area travelling, or have significant new equipment, such as vehicle or trailer, do a weekend trek or two (or three — it’s fun!) to make sure everything fits and functions the way it should. Knowing how your trailer packs up, and how long it takes, can help save your marriage!
10. HAVE A PLAN… BUT BE FLEXIBLE
Bush and outback travel can throw up all sorts of schedule-scattering situations: anything from a leaky fuel tank, to a rain-closed road, to a sick kid, or a broken windscreen. So it helps to have a relatively loose schedule. It’s also nice to have two consecutive nights in one place at least once per week, to allow a good sleep-in and a stress-free washing/restocking day.
11. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Anyone travelling in remote areas should know current first aid. Do a course. Carry a kit. Carry a fire extinguisher and fire blanket. Choose emergency communications equipment appropriate to the conditions and regions in which you will be travelling — mobile phones won’t always work. Have sufficient insurance for all your contents, and important paperwork such as credit cards. Carry some emergency cash.
12. STAY WITHIN YOUR LIMITS
If you’re new to off-bitumen driving, do an offroad/4WD course before you take your practice treks. Even with good equipment, training, practice and planning, don’t risk your safety (or sanity) by over-driving your rig, or yourself.
*Be realistic with each day’s travel, you want your trek to be terrific, not torture!
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