DESTINATIONS - PLANNING & PACKING
The OTA Team has been travelling Outback for many years, in different vehicles and with varying camping arrangements. Here is a list of common mistakes novice 4WDers make.
1. Buying the wrong vehicle
If you’re facing a long list of necessary modifications to your newly purchased 4WD it’s highly likely you bought the wrong vehicle. People do it all the time. Typically, they try to convert base-model utes into soft-riding wagons, or they buy a ‘softy’ and try to turn it into a bush-conquering hero: neither approach works very well.
Some degree of bush modification is necessary for any 4WD, but it shouldn’t have to break the bank. Before you buy a new or used 4WD you need a careful assessment of what you intend to do – realistically – with the machine, considering your work schedules and holiday periods.
2. Buying the wrong accessories
We’ve lost count of the number of vehicles carrying high-lift jacks, despite the fact that most modern 4WDs will sustain some body damage if a high-lift jack is used near their tender body panels. A high-lift works safely and effectively only if front, rear and side bars have inbuilt sockets for jack attachment.
This is a typical example of a wrong accessory purchase and there are others: winches on vehicles that never go off road; mud-pattern tyres on 4WDs that spend nearly all their time in the suburbs; high suspension lifts that make entry and exit difficult and compromise on-road handling; heavy roof racks that are difficult to remove and store when not being used, causing a fuel consumption penalty even when empty. The list goes on.
Do your research before you lay down your money.
3. Believing blogs
The internet is a brilliant research tool, as evidenced by the fact that you’re scrolling through this website, but not everything you read is true. Both malicious and even well-meaning people are free to put forward ideas that may or may not be true. Remember that most people believed the world was flat a few centuries ago and some still hold to that belief today.
The classic blog comment runs like this: “I’ve used Gummi-brand tyres and had nothing but trouble with them – don’t touch them.” What we don’t know is: what pressures was he running; how much load was on the vehicle; what speed was he driving at; what were the road conditions like?
We’ve tested all brands of 4WD tyres over many years and found, with very few exceptions, that all worked well, provided the test vehicles were driven sensibly in the prevailing conditions and loaded correctly, and the tyres had appropriate pressures.
4. Believing 4WD TV ads
We know several 4WD owners who drove their vehicles on beach sand and through salty shallows, just like the ad agency drivers do in TV ads, and were denied warranty when underbonnet components showed signs of corrosion and rust. The official comment was: “Driver abuse”.
Another TV epic drive was the LandCruiser ad that showed a new wagon ploughing through and deflecting large stones. It was also a classic piece on exactly what not to do in the event of snakebite, but that’s a separate issue.
Almost every frame of 4WD TV ad footage from every 4WD maker shows bad driving techniques, so don’t take any notice of them.
5. Believing mobile phone ads
“We’ve got 90+ percent of Australia’s population covered,” is the catch cry: population coverage, maybe; area coverage, definitely not. Our many years of bush travel experience using all mobile phone service providers indicates that Telstra is the best of the bunch, but there are still vast areas of Australia – by far the majority of the landmass – where there is absolutely no coverage whatsoever.
Once you’re away from the highly populated coastal strip around Australia you’ll get mobile phone coverage around some towns – not all – and then nothing.
Rely on your mobile for emergency calls in the bush and you’re headed for Big Trouble. A satellite phone or an HF radio (Flying Doctor radio network) are the only reliable forms of long-distance communications in the bush.
6. Packing too much
Most people travel overloaded and blame the vehicle, suspension and tyres for not being up to the task. Then they buy a bigger, heavier 4WD and put even more stuff in it and, guess what: they have the same complaints about the new vehicle!
If you bought everything in the camping world that appealed to you, it’d require a truck, not a hapless 4WD, to carry all the stuff. Some compromise is necessary.
The priorities for bush trips are fuel, water, food and shelter. If we’re talking about a family of four or five going bush it’s unlikely you’ll fit all your needs into a wagon or ute: it’s probably trailer-towing time for you. In contrast, a touring couple can easily pack their needs into a wagon or ute.
7. Doing too much too soon
Enthusiasm can often override common sense. For example, the middle of the Simpson Desert is not the best place to discover that only one member of the family likes 4WD travel.
If you’re getting into the 4WD scene, don’t spend a fortune on accessories and modifications before you’ve done a few short bush trips. Maybe join a 4WD club and do some weekend outings and training sessions with them.
Learn about what your vehicle and family needs are as you go along, rather than overinvesting time and money too soon. The Big Trip is best done after a year or so playing around on excursions closer to home.
8. Getting lost
It’s surprisingly easy to get lost and every year there are fresh tales of people being rescued. Sometimes rescue comes too late.
One mountain trail looks very much like another, as does a dune track. Many such trails are old logging tracks or oil exploration seismic lines that lead nowhere, despite the fact that they seem well-formed.
We have a golden rule that we never travel on any track we can’t locate on a GPS or paper map. We also never travel with only one GPS unit and we carry back-up compasses as well.
If you intend to travel in a solo 4WD off-road it’s essential that you carry a sat phone or HF radio, so you can summon help if you do get lost, sick or break down. To get help, you’ll need to know your position in latitude and longitude.
9. No bush etiquette
There are many beautiful places we can see in our minds’ eyes: we have to remember them that way, because they’ve been shut to 4WD people. Why?
Morons in 4WDs doing ‘circle work’ on pristine grazing flats; loonies making extra tracks where none were needed; fools cutting down trees to make blazes Guy Fawkes would envy; good ol’ boys getting drunk and making nuisances of themselves in camping areas. It’s a litany of inappropriate behaviour.
Other offenders are newcomers who simply don’t know bush etiquette. They’re untrained, so they cut up tracks unintentionally, drive on closed roads through ignorance, or make bonfires when a small fire will work just as well to counter the evening chill.
10. Getting separated
You see it all the time in the bush: a convoy of 4WDs pulled up on the roadside, waiting for some missing vehicles. How does this happen? It happens because novices don’t use what’s known as ‘convoy procedure’. In convoy procedure you are responsible for the vehicle behind you, not the one in front, about which you can do nothing.
If you can’t see the vehicle behind you and can’t raise the crew on the CB radio, then you stop. That way, the convoy doesn’t get stretched out over many kilometres before discovering that someone has trouble.
At any intersection you must slow down or stop, until you can see or hear on the CB that the vehicle behind has seen your direction.
Ideally, the leader and ‘tail-end-charlie’ have powerful CBs that allow them to contact each other most of the time. If convoy procedure is used throughout a vehicle convoy no-one gets separated and people aren’t frightened they’ll get left behind.
A positive – do a 4WD driving course
So, you’ve bought the 4WD and you’re itching to get it dirty. Can we suggest that before you go anywhere at all, or fork out on a stack of accessories, you sign up for a 4WD training course with an accredited operator. If you intend to tow a camper trailer or off-road caravan, make sure you do a second course on that topic, as well.
At a training course you’ll learn how to set tyre pressures and deal with flats, how to judge what your vehicle can and cannot do, convoy procedure, low range and high range gearing use, how to assess tracks, how to drive in different terrain – sand, rocky climbs, hill descents – how to prepare for deep water crossings, stall recovery (manual transmissions), bogging recovery and some advice on vehicle modifications and accessories.
Advanced courses can take your skill set further, with complicated recovery techniques, including multi-block and belaying winching, and trailer extraction.