DRIVING/TOWING - 4WD DRIVING SKILLS
There’s always some 4WD maintenance that we just don’t get around to; or perhaps by the time we do, it’s because a funny noise — or worse — has made it impossible to ignore.
As the NRMA knows only too well, the problem with ignoring essential maintenance in any vehicle, whether it’s a car, 4WD, or a van, is that it can cost you a lot of money in the long run and can even lead to an accident. If you want to avoid the horrors that a lack of maintenance can potentially lead to, follow this advice:
- Learn what your warning lights mean
Warning lights are there for a reason and they all have specific meanings. As such, you need to know what the most important lights in your 4WD indicate. In some cases, ignoring these lights can do serious damage to your 4WD and a bush stranding can be potentially fatal.
- Check your oil regularly
A quick way to cause engine damage is low oil levels. Modern 4WDs have good warning systems for low oil levels, but it’s always a good idea to inspect the levels on a weekly basis.
- Watch your fuel economy
High fuel consumption is bad for your wallet and the environment and it can also indicate that something isn’t right with your vehicle. It could be anything from the wheels being misaligned to the engine not working correctly.
- Use the best fuel for your 4WD
Speaking of fuel, making sure you use the right grade for your 4WD will help to keep the engine in better working order for longer. Be sure to consult your user manual for what the manufacturer recommends.
- Check tyre pressure
Incorrect tyre pressure can cause a host of issues, including poor handling and bad fuel consumption. Under or over inflated tires can also lead to punctures or flats, or possibly even blow outs at high speeds, which are very dangerous.
- Inspect tyres regularly
Aside from pressure, you need to check the condition of your tyres regularly. Look for tread wear, as well as nicks, dents, or foreign bodies embedded in them. If you’re off-roading regularly, check your tyres after every drive.
- Ensure all your lights are working
Regularly check that your brake lights and indicators are working. It’s also important to ensure that your headlights are at the right height for dipped and high-beam settings.
- Watch the wipers
As windshield wipers get old, their ability to remove water deteriorates. This can be dangerous in heavy rain or very dusty conditions. Check your wiper blades regularly so you don’t get caught off guard.
- Rotate your tyres
To get longer life out of your tyres, make sure you have a schedule for rotating them. You can check with the manufacturer about the kind of distance you should do before rotation.
- Balancing and alignment
You can quickly check if your wheels are out of alignment by watching your steering wheel on a straight road. If it pulls to the side, your wheel alignment is off. You should check the alignment at least twice a year — more if you regularly go off-roading – as corrugations, ruts and rocks can affect the balance.
- Check your brakes
Dirt on your brakes can cause them to overheat or not work as intended. Even if the pads are new, you need to make a habit of checking for dirt, oil and wear and tear.
- Keep coolant levels at their optimum
An overheating 4WD will leave you stranded on the side of the road in no time. You need to check on your vehicle’s coolant level on a weekly basis and top it up with the correct coolant if the level is down.
- Replace the air filter
The air filter on the engine helps to keep the internal workings clean. However, when the filter becomes clogged, it can do damage to your 4WD by not letting enough air through.
- Replace the internal filter
This one may not damage the 4WD when it’s clogged up with dirt or insects, but it can be detrimental to you. This filter cleans the air that’s pulled from outside the 4WD into the cabin where you’re sitting.
- Check the belts
A damaged fan, aircon, power steering or water pump belt will make quite a sharp, squealing sound while you’re driving. Any belt slippage will stop the 4WD from operating efficiently. Check on these belts monthly to make sure they’re clean, unfrayed and adjusted properly.
- Monitor the engine on starting
If you’re having trouble starting your 4WD, you may battery or spark plug issues. Take note of how well your 4WD starts when it’s cold.
- Keep the battery healthy
There are a few things to check when it comes to a 4WD’s battery. These include the battery terminals for corrosion or build-up and the fluid levels within the battery. You should also monitor the shape of the battery: if the casing warps or swells, you need a new one in a hurry.
- Learn how to charge the battery
If your 4WD isn’t being used regularly, you may want to keep it on a trickle charger. It’s important to learn how to do this safely to keep the battery in good health.
- Clean the interior and exterior
Keeping your 4WD clean will help you see if there’s any physical damage. Plus, a clean interior can be safer than a cluttered one. If there’s rubbish on the driver’s side or under the seat, you run the risk of it rolling forward and getting stuck under the pedals, hindering your ability to hit the brakes or accelerate.
- Don’t ignore sticky messes
On the topic of cleaning, don’t ignore bird droppings or tree sap that land on your 4WD. These start to eat into the paint and can damage the paintwork permanently if not cleaned off quickly.
- Check the airbags
Your airbags can save your life. Get them checked when you have your vehicle serviced, to ensure they are in proper working condition. If the airbag warning light flashes, address the situation as soon as possible.
- Use high-quality parts
Manufacturer-approved parts might cost more, but they’re likely to last a lot longer. In some cases, fitting pirate parts can lead to your 4WD insurance company refusing to pay out in the event of an accident. It’s best to avoid the risk of using pirated parts, as they could have far-reaching consequences.
- Don’t DIY
If you don’t know how to fix your 4WD or have the right tools to do so, it’s better if you get a professional to do the job instead. You don’t want an oil change to go wrong or the brakes to malfunction just because you didn’t know what you were doing.
- Stick to the recommended maintenance schedule
If you miss out on regular services, you could miss spotting a potential problem. This could lead to a bigger, more expensive issue, a complete breakdown, or an accident. Also, your 4WD warranty becomes void if you don’t have a service record.
- Read the user manual
Finally, keep your user manual handy. You don’t need to learn it word for word, but it will always be helpful to know how to find critical information quickly.
There you have it. These 25 maintenance essentials are quick and easy, don’t you think?