4WD Safety Tips
38 Aggressive steering may get you into a tangle.
If you’ve ever paid attention to the all too frequent skid marks on many of the nation’s highways you will have noticed probably the end of someone’s journey and maybe even their lives. Fatigue induced inattention results in a driver drifting off the bitumen and onto the road’s dirt shoulder, the change in the tyres rhythm awakens the driver in panic and they yank the steering wheel to correct the pathway. That panicked response will invariably start the fishtail to disaster as one steering correction after another sees the vehicle slew across the roadspace and flip. In road safety parlance this incident is referred to as a “trip-over”, and it is possible to prevent. Gentle steering inputs will get the vehicle back on the road with a minimum of discomfort and if you’re lucky enough to have a new vehicle with VSC (Vehicle Stability Control) the car itself has the ability to assist with corrective braking and engine deceleration. You should practice this on a deserted road, deliberately driving off the bitumen at modest speeds to get an idea of what goes on. Better to have some idea than none!
37 Use your A/C regularly!
Air-conditioning is seen more often than not as purely a comfort aid whilst driving, but it’s a whole lot more, especially in the safety stakes. Right through winter the combination of variable temperatures and higher humidity means windscreens fog up easily. Add to that a windscreen that hasn’t been cleaned in ages and you’ve got a major safety issue brewing. Get used to using the a/c at the first hint of a windscreen that’s fogging up. Set the vents to demist, dial in some temperature to keep things cozy and with a low fan speed the windscreen should demist in moments.
36 Layers of communication
Depending on where you intend to go, you’ll need communications that are up to the job. As a starting point you’ll have a mobile phone, but bad luck if you’re using someone other than Telstra. Ask your service provider for a coverage map of the country and you’ll likely discover that there are big chunks without network reception, the dead zones. Telstra’s Next-G coverage isn’t complete, or far from perfect, but it’s better than everyone else’s. The next layer is a quality UHF CB (Ultra-High Frequency Citizens Band) radio. With these if you want some distance and clarity you need power and a good antenna. Hand-held units are good for light-duty personal work, but a decent in-car set will punch out a stronger signal, distance enhanced by nearby repeater towers. UHF is great for convoy work, but it’s line-of-sight only, interference comes from hills, buildings, forests and anything else that might be in the way between you and your UHF buddy. For ease of usage and making sure you remain in total contact, nothing beats an Iridium Satphone. We hire Motorola 9555s for as little as $20/day for the first week (+ call charges) and it gets cheaper after that, but they are a cinch to operate and work nearly everywhere around the world. Lastly an EPIRB (Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon) offers the ultimate backup when all else has failed. All it will do though is advise Search and Rescue where the distress signal has been triggered, not the nature of the incident and what response is required.
35 Fog lights are for foggy conditions
Rear mounted fog lights have been a mandatory ADR (Australian Design Rule) inclusion on vehicles for ages now, but not too many people know they exist or how or when to operate them? They are a high-intensity red light at the rear, accompanied by low mounted white lights in the bumper at the front. Most can deal with the approach of a vehicle from the front, but the annoyance of the rear red light when you’re following the offending vehicle on a perfectly clear night is a potential source of road rage.
34 Beware making your fourbie into a banana
In these last couple of months before summer you might be tempted to do a desert trek. Every 4WD owner should do the Simpson at least once in their life as it’s an amazing experience of over 1,100 parallel sand ridges running north-south against a track running east-west. Between Mt Dare and Birdsville there’s no services and an average trip across will take you 3-5 days depending on how quick you want to be. If you’re running a ute in particular be wary of taking everything and the kitchen sink with you because weight is a penalty you can do without. Plenty of well-reasoned owners have thought about fuel range and installed either bathtubs underneath or crafted clever jerry can holders suspended from the towbar. The further to the rear these are installed the more likely you’ll end up with a chassis that breaks in half, something to avoid when help is a long-time coming. Isuzu DMAX is our choice of 4WD utes with big strong chassis designed to cope with Aussie loads.
33 I want more traction!!!
There are days when you might mistakenly bite off more than you can chew and the track space is more demanding than the car can handle. With axles diagonally crossed and rooster tails of dirt flying through the air, you’ll likely be going nowhere. Its moments like these you need an axle diff-lock. Centre diff-locks are something else, working on the transfer gearbox of a Constant 4WD. An axle diff-lock eliminates the “differential” action between a pairing of axles and effectively joins them as one. For slow speed manoeuvring over broken or boggy ground it doesn’t matter if one wheel is a metre off the ground, that wheel can only rotate as fast as its opposite number. No torque is lost and positive forward motion is maintained, albeit in a straight line. ARB’s legendary AIR LOCKER might be for you! It is for us!
32 Got ABS? Practice using it on dirt and bitumen!
Plenty of folk have no clue as to what to expect when you jump on your brakes really hard! If you’re fortunate enough to have ABS you’ll notice on hard stops a subtle pulsing underfoot on the brake pedal as the electronics massage the brakes and keep those wheels turning under maximum braking force. You’ll probably also hear a RRRRRRRRRRRRRR sound in the background confirming the pulsing effect. Don’t panic, that’s all normal. By keeping those wheels turning you’ll retain that all-important steering ability and you might with care be able to manouevre around the impending object instead of crashing into it. Try and find a deserted bit of road and put the brake pedal to the test, starting slow (say at 50-60kph) and build up the speed with successive tests until you feel confident.
31 No ABS… bugger! Use the threshold technique instead
Not everyone enjoys the benefits of ABS fitted to their vehicle as standard. That being the case if you’re too heavy with the brake pedal, you’ll likely lock-up your front wheels (maybe back too) and lose all steering ability. With the front wheels skidding across the surface you’ll simply plough into that vehicle or object you’re trying to avoid no matter how hard you swing the steering wheel. You need to get off the brakes, only marginally, to regain control. Try this. When an emergency unfolds, stomp on that brake pedal. If you hear the telltale screech of the tyres in a skid, back off the brake pedal pressure minutely. The skidding sound should vanish instantly, which tells us the wheels are now turning again and steering control should have returned. Maintain strong brake pedal pressure, ready to further modify (soften) your pedal push if the road space becomes less grippy and the lock-up returns. With wheels turning you should be able to subtly guide your vehicle around the obstacle and diminish or even miss having a crash. Some people say pump the brake pedal repeatedly (that’s crap). Each time you come off the pedal you’ll pick up speed, that’s no good and a human can’t replicate the speed, efficiency or finesse of an ABS system, which is what this technique attempts to emulate. Threshold braking should be an instinctive thing for you to do on bitumen and dirt in a non-ABS equipped vehicle!!!
30 I don’t use 4WD until I get bogged… Are you kidding???
There’s 4WD owners out there who’ll only engage 4WD once they’re bogged (sorry but it’s now too late). Remember the old Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared”? Baden Powell must have been imagining himself driving in a Series 1 Land Rover when he conjured that one up because he obviously believed, like me that prevention is better than cure. Getting into HIGH range 4WD the moment you get on a dirt road is capital S for SMART, as you’ll enjoy hugely increased levels of grip. As the track further degenerates and becomes steep or slippery, stop and get the vehicle into LOW range. Do this along with some tyre pressure reduction and getting bogged will be a thing of the past.
29 But aren’t alloys wheels a liability in the bush?
It is true that if you clobber a rock with an alloy wheel its likely ruined, as the dent can’t be knocked back into shape like a steel wheel can. That’s unfortunate, but in the forty years I’ve had an association with 4WDs I’ve avoided rocks at speed and have never injured a wheel. I think it’s a combination of careful piloting and picking a robust tyre. CSA make the best 4WD alloy wheels and Toyo make the best 4WD tyres! That combination will prevent suspension fatigue and the likelihood of wheel damage.
28 Wheels Alloy or Steel; that is the question?
Weight is a hindrance on a 4WD. Wheels form a very important part of the GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) of a 4WD and shouldn’t be overlooked. On Toyota’s 70 series range split-rims have always been a feature, supposedly so the operator can perform quick tyre dismounts in the bush. That wheel assembly really should be consigned to the scrap heap of history as it’s heavy, has five separate components (locking ring, rim, gaiter, tube, tyre) and because mud, moisture and grit can sneak into the wheel, the supposed advantages of quick disassembly are lost with a rusted-on locking ring and a tube chafed beyond repair. For most of us an alloy wheel is a much better bet. Being aluminium its lighter and it’s that weight that makes such a big difference in the handling department. Un-sprung suspension mass causes all sorts of problems on a 4WD. It can contribute to the potential for a rollover, causes suspension overheating and premature failure, and increases axle tramp and loss of traction. Heavy steel wheels do all of that, whereas alloy reduces the worst excesses of troublesome suspension mass.
27 Why you should be driving a vehicle with ABS and VSC.
You’ve probably noticed in the last 5 years an increasing amount of publicity around the technology of stability control. This electronic safety aid has the potential to reduce casualty crashes around the world by a staggering 40%!!! Fitted as a safety suite to modern 4WDs, the basic ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System) is enhanced with ETC (Electronic Traction Control) and VSC (Vehicle Stability Control). The three technologies are worth their weight in gold in preserving lives and I reckon should be of the highest priority when making a new car or 4WD selection.
26 Buggered battery
Here we are in the depths of winter and just when you least expect it you turn the key and click, click, click… then nothing. Standard issue batteries are pretty average at the best of times but mid-winter will knock the stuffing out of them if they’ve been under the bonnet for a few years. If you’ve neglected the distilled water top-ups and you can see evidence of “Frosty the Snowman” gathering atop the battery posts, look out, the battery’s likely buggered. No-maintenance or sealed batteries are best, not reliant on your memory for service and built internally to cope with corrugations and heat.
25 Are you a squirter?
You can tell a good driver by how they manage their accelerator application. If you’re one of those drivers who can seamlessly apply the go-pedal, good for you because you’ll rate as a very fuel-efficient driver. For the rest of you, on and off the gas, squirting along the road, you’ll be wasting money and accelerating wear and tear on your vehicle. With the prevalence of automatic transmissions these days drivers are losing the art of listening to their engine speed and with one less sensory perception going on in the background, losing track of how well they’re managing the vehicle’s performance.
24 Wind those windows up
There’s a few good reasons for keeping the windows up. At high speed on the highway you’ll use more fuel with the glass down. At low speed on the trails you might end up wearing the vegetation, copping a slap in the face from an errant branch. At any speed on a dusty road your dashboard will soon look like crud.
23 Seat belts save lives, no ifs, buts or maybes!
Jumping into the driver’s seat, or for that matter any seat in a vehicle, should automatically be accompanied with you plugging in your seat belt. For some really strange reason plenty of drivers don’t and especially in rural areas??? If you were ever in any doubt as to the value of its usage try these sobering facts – 1. You’re 10 times more likely to die in a crash if you’re not wearing one, 2. Wearing a belt will reduce your risk of injury or death by 50% or more, 3. An unbelted passenger in the back seat can increase the risk to the front row five-fold, 4. Blokes have a poor record compared to the girls in seat belt usage, twice as many blokes die on average and falling typically in the 17 – 39 years range, 5. Plenty of fatals (around 50%) where seat belts weren’t worn were also accompanied with alcohol consumption.
22 I want even more grunt!
More go is pretty easy these days on modern diesels if you’ve got a few bob to splash around. Start with an exhaust. Small turbo-diesels respond well to 2.5 – 3” diameter pipe with less restrictive mufflers. It won’t ever be loud because the turbo deadens a lot of exhaust noise. That could be worth 10-15% more grunt. Next might be a fuel chip. A plug-in system is best, don’t reflash the existing system, bought from a reputable supplier it’ll add maybe another 20%. But the icing on the cake is a bigger intercooler. Doing the 3 combined will make you some serious horsepower, getting the gee-gees back after adding all that heavy accessory and holiday weight. HPD in Adelaide make seriously neat intercoolers with a power advantage. Easily installed too!
21 Where’s the grunt gone?
You’ve been out playing in the mud and on that last section of track awash with red goo and a little too much speed saw slush pumped into places where the sun definitely doesn’t shine. Your intercooler is hugely important to your get-up-and-go ability and now it’s clogged with grunge, the all-important flow of air is restricted and the combustion temperatures are on the rise, making your engine way-less efficient. Don’t wash it out with high pressure water; better a gentle trickle running through it will likely do the job. Those aluminium fins are fragile, so be kind!
20 4WD’s OK on a wet bitumen road isn’t it?
Depending on what type of 4WD you own will determine whether it can run on the blacktop in 4WD or not. A constant or full-time 4WD has an on-road mode that works on bitumen without transmission damage courtesy of an unlocked centre-differential. Plenty of high-riding wagons use this system because back in Japan, Europe and the USA they have ice as part of their environment risk and a full-time system can cope on the blacktop, wet or dry. With the ability to vary drive front to rear, they avoid the wind-up seen on part-time 4WDs that loads so much tension on bitumen roads, that it can smash transmissions leaving a serious repair bill in its wake. There are precious few dual-cab utes that are full-time 4WDs, so you want to be really, really sure you know what your machine can do before you pull the transfer lever or push that button. Ouch!
19 Winter windscreen wobbles
Well it’s certainly getting colder and those grey clouds mean a likely drop of rain, but when was the last time you replaced your wiper blades??? That streaking you’re getting indicates a rubber that’s pitted or perishing and it simply won’t remove the moisture on your glass. Change your rubbers annually to ensure clear vision. A drop of detergent in the washer bottle doesn’t hurt either and an occasional wipe with a rag along the length of the rubber might remove a build-up of grunge.
18 Lights on 24/7
Looking at recent crash data and fatalities in South Australia revealed some fairly dumb traits with drivers… 26% died because they weren’t wearing a seat belt, 27% because of illicit drug usage and 20% with an illegal BAC level. That’s triple dumb, all entirely preventable. But there’s also an inescapable fact that much of our road trauma happens on rural roads. Here’s a tip that’s gold in town or out in the back blocks and it doesn’t matter what time of day or time of the year – TURN YOUR HEADLIGHTS ON!!!
17 Quality and quantity please!
I like getting my hands dirty with regular servicing of simple things that aren’t beyond the reach of an average home mechanic. With a reasonable tool kit it’s easy to change the oil, coolant, other fluids, air filter and brake pads. But oil is one of my must-do’s and regularly. Whilst modern diesel service intervals have been pushed out to 20,000kms on some vehicles since the advent of common-rail high-pressure fuel injection, an interim oil change is cheap insurance when your 4WD is used in a hostile environment. Give a turbo-diesel clean air, clean fuel and clean oil and it’ll last forever! Make sure your replacement oil is of the right viscosity and quantity. Over-filling a crankcase can have catastrophic results!!!
16 My quad tyres look flat
Don’t make the mistake of over-inflating your ATV or UTV’s tyres to what you’d expect on a 4WD. The typical road pressure for a fourbie is around 30psi/200kPa (check your placard) designed to carry the weight of a 2-3 tonne vehicle across 4 tyres. An ATV or a UTV weighs much less, try 250-400kgs and that weight spread across 4 tyres pales compared to the 4WD. Again have a look at your machine’s placard because you might learn it needs as little as 3.6psi/25kPa per tyre. That’s a massive difference. The other rookie mistake is to use a regular tyre pressure gauge. You’ll need a dedicated low-pressure gauge to be accurate, anything else will be dangerous!
15 Which driving light?
Night time driving is so easy these days with the assistance of driving lights, but the array of technologies is astounding. Traditional halogen globe styles are becoming a bit of a rarity these days but still offer economical and penetrating light when issued from a circular lens backed by a deep dish. HID is a step up, using the same reflector style but with a bulb technology that offers low current draw, longer life and high output. We’ve been using IPF lights from ARB for donkey’s years because their all metal construction is durable and the output great. Of course LED is making huge inroads into vehicular lighting as each year passes, improvements aplenty with light bars in all different shapes and sizes. ARB’s Intensity LED driving lights punch out pure white light that makes skippy spotting plain easy!
14 Keeping the air in
Those shiny new Toyos your fourbie is wearing are nothing without having decent valve caps especially with the approach of winter. Losing a plastic cap is a good thing, when replaced by shiny silver one, for you’ll have a cap that continues to thread on and off and not cross, and keep the mud and slush out of the valve core. Plenty of winter run flats have occurred when an uncapped valve has been filled with crud and starts to leak, the driver oblivious until too late. It’ll probably be the cheapest accessory you’ll buy for your 4WD.
13 Don’t be an Easter Bunny!
There are only so many public holidays in a year, so you’ve got to make the most of that precious time and Easter’s a biggie. Unless you’ve got some annual leave tucked away, that 4 days is going to evaporate pretty quickly so planning is the key. If you’re going away try to limit your drive to a 3-4 hours maximum distance from home. That’ll give you plenty of time to establish camp and still have a couple of hours to do some sightseeing on day one. With 2.5 days left to kick back and relax before the return journey you’ll be suitably chilled and less likely to fall asleep at the wheel. Plan well, have fun!
12 Time for a check-up
Easter’s coming and any gear pressed into recovery service needs heaps of TLC (that’s tender loving care). Snatch-straps, winch extension straps, tree protectors are all synthetic ropes with fibres that like to be clean and dry. If you’ve just dragged your snatch strap through the mud and to add insult to injury, driven a wheel over the strap in the process of de-bogging, you need to get it clean and dried out of direct sunlight and make a visual inspection. Any signs of fraying fibres with significant chafing or cuts (more than 5mm deep) probably mean it’s time for the scrap bin. Heaven forbid if you’ve used the strap for towing? Under static load the fibres will stretch and develop a memory for extension. The result, a strap that looks like a piece of Mafaldine pasta, a ribbon with wavy edges! It’ll break next time you use it because there’s no stretch left. ARB is the place to go for all your vehicle recovery gear.
11 My brakes are squealing
Vehicle makers are interested in your safety and they put brakes on cars so they can stop. Disc brakes are better than drums (please take note those of you making 4WD utes – drum brakes on back axles are CRAP) as they are easy to service, have a greater swept area to slow you faster, are less likely to become overheated and more predictable in the wet. Eventually though their performance will suffer when the brake pad material wears to the point where the imbedded “wear indicator” contacts the brake rotor face and squeals. That’s a sure-fire sign that it’s time for new pads, but in heavy-duty applications an inspection of the rotor thickness and/or grooving might reveal that it too needs replacement. If you drive through a lot of mud and slush be prepared to replace your brakes more frequently. Remember, listen for the squeal!
10 Dust gets in my eyes!
The flipside of the wet is the dry and a sun-baked track space is going to throw up some dust especially if you‘ve got a bit of a convoy going. Try and get some separation between yourself and the vehicle in front, you need to see what’s going on and jammed up the clacker of the front truck will reward you with blinding dust and likely a shower of stones… pity the paint and glass! At the end of the day your windscreen will be smothered in crud and driving into that setting sun at day’s end will leave you struggling to see the road ahead. Make sure you get the windscreen reservoir topped up at the start of the day, a little bit of detergent added to the water makes a massive difference too!
09 Staying hydrated
The great thing about 4WDs is the ability to get to places and at this time of the year in South Australia it can still be mighty hot. Taking a late-summer trek into the Flinders is something I’ve done in the past to experience the colours and see another side to this extraordinary place. You should too, but it’s not without some risk to vehicle and person. We’ve already looked at what heat can do to a motor, how about a human? Well it’s all about fluids. It’s not necessarily what you’re drinking either, coz most drinks other than water might not satisfy a thirst that’s being summoned from way deep down. Going on a bushwalk in temperatures hovering above 35C place some big demands on the body and water and plenty of it is the key to survival. First warning might be taking a pee that’s decidedly yellow. Stay on top of it because you don’t want to suffer the same cruel death of Caroline Grossmueller at Halligan Bay in 1998.
08 Summer-soonal rains in the Outback
If you’re living in the Flinders Ranges or the pastoral lands then there’s a good chance you may have already seen some heavy rain this summer. The drift of monsoonal activity from the tropics usually dumps massive rains across the South Aussie Outback and causes more than a few surprises. In the Flinders the biggest risk is at a creek that might have started running. Keep an eye on the depth markers, anything deeper than 300mm and running quickly will likely be problematic for plenty of 4WDs. In the pastoral lands it’s the risk of an enforced stay, the sandy and clay-based tracks turning to porridge. Get stuck out there and it’ll take a while to sort out!
07 Wish I could say there’s safety in numbers!
Each year around this week the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety issues its data from the previous year about ATV safety. It usually makes pretty grim reading, typically 15-20 Australians dying whilst using a machine. Sadly the farming community account for a staggering 80% of the incidents and the most common occurrence is a rollover. Dig a little deeper and the most common injury is to the head which tells us… no helmet! Don’t be an ATV mug, get smart and wear a lid, preferably a full-face MX style which will offer excellent protection to brain and face. Second most deadly injury is the crush type, having 250kgs plus landing on you with no give. That’s why we use and recommend the ATV Lifeguard, distributed here in Australia by Topaz Global in WA. Awesome product and hugely safe!
06 What tyre for the beach?
What’s a good tyre for the beach I hear you say? Toyo’s OPAT 2 in a light truck construction is awesome for beach running. It’s got a handy tread pattern that won’t dig you in and self-cleans nicely, maintaining nice momentum when accompanied by pressure reduction. They steer brilliantly and the risk of punctures is just about non-existent thanks to much higher load indices than the standard passenger car tyre seen on most fourbies these days. OPAT = Open Country All-Terrain, but make sure you buy the “LT” version!
05 How low should you go?
Speaking of beaches, lower tyre pressures work every time. The Adventure 4WD rule is to keep letting out air until the wheel spin stops. Start at your placarded road pressures and head down to around 20psi/135kPa as a starting point. Still struggling? Let more air out, perhaps to 18psi/125kPa, or 15psi/100kPa. There’s still more to go, but anything less than this should be regarded as emergency pressures, for at 15psi/100kPa that’s where the minimum guarantee of keeping a tyre on a rim (tubeless) finishes, so keep your steering efforts gentle along with braking and accelerating. A tyre that’s popped-off a rim introduces a whole new hurdle
04 Ouch, that hurt!
Middle of February and my nemesis the “March Fly” Mesomyia tryphera will likely be out in force on those lazy beach days and whilst you’re playing tag with a salmon, one of those buzzbombs will be looking to take a piece out of an unprotected leg or arm, leaving you with an itchy bite. Bastards! Best fix is to be wearing loose, light coloured clothing and get the bug spray or cream out. They don’t like the taste of DEET! Suck on that Mr Tryphera!
03 Summer beachside essentials
Still on holidays? A run down the beach sounds like my kind of relaxation with my DMAX. Make sure you’ve packed some essentials though – a tyre pressure gauge, shovel, compressor and perhaps if Santa was kind you might have a set of those flash orange Maxtrax now. If there’s any chance of getting bogged seriously there’s nothing wrong with packing a couple of ARB snatch-straps and bow shackles. Who knows, with your Adventure 4WD training expertise you might be able to come to someone else’s assistance and save them from a rising tide.
02 Roof racks aren’t for heavy loads!
“We’re all going on a summer holiday” was a popular song in the 1960’s and the message it chorused still fits today, that break between Xmas and around the second week of January means a chance to escape. The temptation is to pack everything and the kitchen sink. “I’ve got my toolbox, four jerries full of fuel, a couple of gas cylinders, the family tent and a couple of bags of gear, what’s the harm in that?” At a quick guess that little lot topped the scales at around 185kgs, a bit like having two big Aussie blokes or a modest Japanese Sumo strapped to the roof. Apart from the potential of weakening the roof structure (most vehicle makers permit maximum roof loads between 50-100kgs these days) there’s the greater risk of a vehicle rollover caused the pendulum effect of that extra mass sitting in the worst possible place! Don’t do it, learn the art of “Less is More” or take a trailer. By the way who makes the best roof racks? ARB of course!
01 Hot stuff this New Year!
Happy New Year to you all! Ah its holiday time and I hope you took heed of our advice late last year to get your vehicle serviced with hot running in mind? If we haven’t mentioned it already, there’s bound to be a day or two in the coming weeks where it’s going to be a stinker… 37C, 38C, 40C, 45C or if you’re in the far-North of the State may be nearer to 50C! That’s hot, but spare a thought for your vehicle because under that bonnet with radiator, intercooler, turbocharger, there’s going to be a lot of hot air blowing around. Coolant (that’s the green stuff in the radiator) has to work pretty hard in these situations. If you’ve got a radiator that’s choked with seeds or bugs or maybe mud from that big splash you had back in winter, the cooling efficiency will be compromised and a temperature needle heading for the heavens might be the result. Key an eye on the expansion bottle and the gauge, but make sure the cooling system is clean and the coolant is fresh.