9 essential tips to prepare for a 4WD road trip adventure

Before taking on a 4WD adventure off the beaten track, these car checks from NRMA roadside patrols are a must. 

1. Have the car looked over by a mechanic

Off-roading is very demanding of almost every component in your four-wheel drive. Before you head out on your adventure, have the vehicle checked over and serviced by a qualified mechanic or serviced three to four weeks prior. This will allow enough time for any replacements parts to be ordered and any faults with the car addressed.

2. Check all fluids are topped up and not leaking

Make sure your engine, transmission, brake, clutch, power steering, differential and radiator fluid levels are all correct before you set off. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with how to check these fluids on your particular vehicle before your trip.

If you find the level of any of these is going down quickly during your trip, it may indicate a leak. It’s a good idea to buy and carry spare fluid that meets the manufacturer’s specification to top-up as needed, and get the car to a mechanic as soon as possible.

3. Tyres: pressure, condition, tread and spare

It’s important to have the correct tyres for the terrain you are about to tackle. Off-road tyres are specifically designed for more unforgiving terrain than standard road tyres. Road based tyres may not have the integrity for off road use.

As off-road driving typically requires you to reduce tyre pressure, you will also need a way to check the pressure of and reinflate tyres before going back onto sealed roads. A recovery kit includes an air compressor and tyre pressure gauge to help with this.

Assess tyres to make sure they are not expired, damaged or worn. Tread wear indicators are located here, and should be recessed at least two to three millimetres into the tread. Discolouration and cracked, flaking rubber are signs a tyre’s best days are behind it.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to check your spare tyre as well. Make sure it is at the correct pressure, has no punctures and is ready to go in case of an emergency.

4. Get to know your vehicle’s off-road functions

Spend some time getting to know your vehicle’s off-road functions, such as how to select two- or four-wheel drive.
Features like low range gearing, giving drivers more power and precision when negotiating tricky terrain, are only intended to be used off-road, so consult your owner’s manual to see how to turn it on when you need it and off when you don’t.

5. Ensure external accessories are fastened securely

You are going to be off an adventure, so it is very important to make sure your external accessories including roof racks with luggage, surf boards, or anything else, are fastened securely. Please ensure you remain within your Gross Vehicle Mass limit. 

6. Equipment and tools to carry

Going off-road can throw up problems quickly, and you will need to be prepared of any situation that may arise. There are a few tools you can carry that will get you out of most problems. Make sure you have tow ropes, a shovel, plenty of fuel, electrical tape, a basic toolkit, jack, air pump and a first aid kit. 

These items can be bulky, so make sure to pack heavier down lower in or on the vehicle to decrease the centre of gravity – below seat height is ideal. FYI, NRMA Members get discounts on spare parts and service items at Repco.

7. What to do if you get bogged

If you are new to four-wheel driving and in doubt about a track, walk it first, assess and decide if it’s safe before proceeding. If it’s not or you’re unsure, just turn around. If you do find yourself stuck and need to unbog here are five steps to help: 

  1. Use only weight-rated recovery gear and don’t exceed the weight limits.
  2. Only use factory-fitted or approved aftermarket recovery points to tow. Never use a tow ball as a recovery point; this is an extremely dangerous practice.
  3. When winching or using a recovery strap, ensure a dampening blanket is used and all people keep a distance of at least a one-and-a-half times the length of the recovery strap or cable in case of failure.
  4. Use clear communication during any recovery and only one person giving instructions. Have the person with the most experience giving the directions
  5. For water-crossing, ensure you know the vehicle’s wading depth. If you think this may be exceeded, a snorkel is highly recommended. Allow your vehicle to cool down prior to river or creek crossings, as rapid cooling may cause some metals in the brakes and exhaust to weaken or crack. Once across, let water drain off on the bank prior to moving on then apply brakes to dry them out. Please also be mindful of the environment and the impact you are having on it. If you are doing damage, you shouldn’t be there. 

8. Check essentials and plan your route before you go

The final step to get you ready for your road trip is to plan your route with the appropriate map and checking the weather forecast, packing the essentials – such as water and first aid -- and getting your music playlist ready, of course.

9. Make sure you have the right coverage

Membership of a motoring organisation such as the NRMA or your state’s equivalent will give you a breakdown service that extends many hundreds of kilometres out of town as well as interstate too. Before you head off, ensuring your roadside assistance coverage is sufficient for your travels and also check your insurance cover. 

These tips are intended as a guide only and other checks and precautions may apply depending on the type of vehicle and the scope of your trip. NRMA Members can also call NRMA Motoring Advice to seek any more tips or advice.

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