The truth. Your stock standard 4WD from the showroom floor will get you most places in remote Australia today. No BS, that’s just the honest truth. The less you do to your 4WD the better your driving experience around Australia.
Watch Paul Maric from CarExpert take the new Landcruiser 300 series off-road, stock.
I, like most 4WD owners, love accessories. The truth. You can’t throw a bunch of accessories at a 4WD and not sacrifice things along the way. Tough pill to swallow, but it’s the truth.
The more capable you attempt to make your 4WD off-road, the less capable you make it on-road.
I honestly admire watching people on YouTube who buy their vehicle and van, off they go. They modify on the road, touring Australia. They make changes based on what they discover they need to improve their experience.
Ronny Dahl below takes his stock Hilux off-road testing. He has chosen the toughest lines each time for testing purposes, and the Hilux does it. You can see how capable a stock 4WD can be pushed.
What do you want to achieve from your vehicle?
The answer to that question, for us, changed considerably from first asking it, to a year later, then two years later. To truly answer that question, we started breaking down where we wanted to go. Where you go depicts what type of modifications you need in order to get there. Try and get where you want to go first, and if you have issues, make modifications based on that experience, not on fictional theories or marketing nonsense.
We’re driving the Dmax on tracks and attempting to reach places we want to go, completely stock standard drivetrain. I had a good idea what needed to change, but honestly, I’ve made further cuts since my perceived list of changes based on our actual experience attempting to reach places. We’ve tried and failed reaching some locations, and that factual experience is determining modifications.
I have travelled a lot of remote Australia in a past decade of my life. If you drew a line across the middle of Australia, East to West, everything above that line I have spent considerable time driving and working within remote environments, in what are the harshest Australia has to throw you (Nth Qld, NT, Nth WA). Weeks and months at a time in extremely remote situations. It was normal for me to be remote and isolated for 6 -9 months a year. Both dry and wet seasons.
Truth. Beside a set of direct replacement all terrain tyres (size for size), a standard Toyota Landcruiser troop carrier with factory bar, factory scrub bars and winch did everything in those remote regions. Technique and recovery gear trumps everything else. Sometimes you just say NO and find another way. Mountains, beaches, bulldust, muddy roads, mud flats and dry lakes.
An air compressor will allow you to get your vehicle further than larger / fancier tyres.
Tyre Choice Truths
What terrain is your intended target? Are you a “big lap” person with lots of beach driving on the agenda? If so, a highway terrain is your best choice. HT’s will run better on the beach than AT or MT tyres. You can get load rated HT tyres that comply for GVM upgrades (LT Spec). Your experience will be much nicer if towing a caravan on a big lap using HT tyres.
If you plan to do a lot of internal remote roads and tracks, then you will want to sacrifice your driving comfort a little by choosing an All Terrain for its increased puncture resistance over HT’s.
Keeping your tyre at the OEM size will provide you the best power and fuel economy from your vehicle.
Accessories and modifications are your enemy when driving Australia. The heavier you are, the worse your fuel and ability to get places. Fitting cheap, heavy drawers is one of the worst choices you can make. If long trips is your thing, source a light aluminium drawer solution, they do exist. You can DIY aluminium drawers.
Do you need that steel bullbar? Aluminium instead? Do you drive at dusk and dawn where animal strikes are likely? A nudge bar can hold your spotties or lightbar. You don’t need a bullbar to hold a UHF aerial, its called a transparent on-glass antenna or magnetic base or bonnet mounting bracket. Do you really need a roofrack to hold the awning you use once and never again because its hard work? Or to mount that awesome solar panel you think you need to charge your battery when your vehicle is driving most days and charging from your alternator?
The Destructive Cycle
People tell themselves stupid crap all the time. We all do it. Stop it. Don’t justify your wants, accept your needs. Wanting something can be on the side of stupidity. Needing something stems from a factual experience where you discovered you require something to achieve the aim.
The more weight you add, the worse your vehicle drives. Worse, the longer it takes to stop. Now you need to upgrade your brakes. More weight, more cost. Less power available, so now you look to upgrade power. More weight or sacrifices made. It gets ugly quickly.
This is what I mean about OEM capability and modifications are an ongoing sacrifice. A stock standard 4WD from the showroom is insanely capable off-road, especially in low range. Oh, low range works best with stock size tyres because that’s how the gearing was engineered.
The Needed Essential Accessories
Lots of people talk about the essential accessories, their list of requirements, more often than not, its a focus on big tyres, suspension lifts, big antennas, big spot lights and all that crap. Well, my list is a little different based on actual touring of remote Australia.
- All Terrain Tyres – these are essential IF you’re planning to do remote tracks such as The Gibb River Rd, Old Tele Track, Canning Stock Route, Birdsville Track, Anne Beadell Highway, Gunbarrel Highway, Tanami Track, The Oodnadatta Track, The Strzelecki Track and The Corner Country Track, to name the popular ones. You do not need to increase your tyre size. You need increased traction and puncture resistance.
- Air Compressor – You will get further off-road and better experience corrugated outback roads with the ability to decrease and increase your tyre pressures as desired.
- MaxTrax & Trailer Skid – Don’t be cheap here, you want maxtrax for every wheel of your vehicle and tow. Don’t buy cheap crap that will fail you in the middle of nowhere. I wish these existed decades ago. If towing down remote tracks, you want a Trailer Skid, as sometimes you have to disconnect and winch both vehicles individually.
- Winch & Winch Anchor – These are solo touring insurance policies IF doing remote tracks. The winch is self explanatory to get yourself out of problems. Combine with maxtrax, you will often get yourself free. The winch anchor is the ultimate solo recovery insurance policy. It’s common to have nothing to anchor your winch, this fixes that problem. It’s unlikely you’ll need a winch travelling Australia, but this is about remote self help.
- Lockers for Towing – Most 4WD’s come standard with a rear locker, however, remote towing is all about traction when things get tough due to the weight you’re pulling. Adding a front locker will help you immensely, all four wheels actually turning for traction.
- UHF & PLB – Regardless if you have the more expensive satellite options, starlink, Cel-Fi and such, you want a basic hand held 5 watt UHF and Emergency PLB device. The PLB is for emergencies, the UHF you can carry everywhere with you, ie. hiking, and use the emergency channels to hopefully get localised help. You can’t always stay with your vehicle and its fixed system in remote Australia.
- Water, Fuel & Food – You want a stash to get your through. Non-perishable food items that you can leave in storage for emergency situations. The same for drinking water and extra fuel. If you’ve never recovered yourself for many hours, you will be shocked how much extra fuel you go through.
- Shelter & Warmth – Normally in an emergency you stay with your vehicle. Unfortunately, that may not be an option in outback Australia. You may have to move to high ground, as such you need a lightweight shelter with cord to keep yourself from the sun. You also want an emergency blanket per person, they’re usually under 100g each.
- First Aid & Fire – These things are obvious, but many don’t do it. A simple first aid kit to keep in a backpack for hiking and camping. You might be surprised how easy fires start when remote. A basic extinguisher is better than nothing, a better option like Fire One First Response or ARB Fire Stryker is optimal, as those two are not susceptible to explosion from remote temperatures. Car exhausts, DPF, catch fire to dry grass easily, especially when stuck up under your vehicle. Electrical parts over-heat and catch fire.
Personally I like to have a Go Bag, which is my hiking bag. It will have first aid, water, nutrition bars, shelter with cord, a UHF and PLB.
Needs vs wants. Wants are what you need to regulate. What you want and what you need are very different outcomes when travelling remote Australia. Being comfortable is a thing, I get it. So be comfortable in your caravan / camper, keep your 4WD minimalist so that you’re comfortable in that too. You spend considerable time driving from A to B, just as you do resting and sleeping.
I didn’t forget about you. When not towing, and instead you build a solo touring vehicle, the above points still apply. If anything, they apply more so. You don’t want to be increasing vehicle height when adding 100kg of roof rack and tent up top. If anything, you want to increase your vehicle track width the legal 50mm, but not height. You want to use lightweight aluminium or composite everywhere. You want to make very smart choices, keeping everything lightweight as possible. Companies such as DMW, MITS Alloy and Boss Aluminium are doing amazing things with touring canopies. If you want the best and lightest in the business, Core Offroad is your company.
Just My Opinion
This is all just my opinion from my experience. Your 4WD, your choices. Modifying a 4WD gets expensive fast. Instead of rolling your car into ARB and having everything thrown at it, which if you check weights, ARB are one of the heaviest accessories in the business, use your money wisely and put it towards lighter solutions and leave all the crap in the ARB shop where it belongs. ARB will sell you everything, including the kitchen sink, but not the brakes to now stop all that extra weight. Make smart decisions when modifying your 4WD, regardless your capacity for DIY, make smart choices.
I can’t say it enough, the less you change your 4WD from falling in love with it at the showroom and test drive, the more comfortable you will be when touring Australia.