Drowning your 4WD can be one of the most expensive mistakes you will ever make off road. Once you get water inside your vehicle, you are in for a huge job cleaning it, and that’s if you get lucky. If you are unlucky, water can cause substantial damage and result in uneconomical repair via electrical and trim damage, future corrosion or a hydrolocked engine.
It only takes 30ml of water to be sucked into your engine to cause permanent, serious damage to your 4WD. If you are lucky and the engine survives, you’ve still got a massive job cleaning the carpets, seats, drawer systems and your trim. Believe me, its not fun!
So, how do you keep the water out of your 4WD, and avoid drowning it?
Is there another way around?
In many cases, 4WD’s are drowned because people choose to drive through a water crossing, instead of taking an easy track to one side. A perfect example of this is at the Mundaring Powerlines Track near Perth, where people regularly drown their 4WD’s in huge mud runs that are over a metre deep with extremely steep entrances and exits.
Instead of driving on the solid, dry ground to one side, they take a chance and plunge into a huge pool of water, and often get stuck. If you want to avoid drowning your 4WD, stay out of the big water crossings if possible!
Walk the crossing first
When it comes to water crossings, the biggest mistake people make is not taking the time to get our of their vehicle and walk the crossing. Whilst it isn’t practical or comfortable to stop at every crossing, is it really worth the risk?
I’ll be honest here; I have driven through plenty of water crossings without walking them. I’ve also had the unfortunate displeasure of coming to an abrupt stop in over a metre of water near Lake Jasper, with both lockers on, correct tyre pressures no recovery straps in place. All because I didn’t take the time to walk the crossing.
Needless to say, I had a few minutes to sit and reflect on my poor decision, as my
80 series Land Cruiser
slowly filled with water!
From that moment on, I’ll never go through anything that looks even remotely suspicious without either walking it, seeing someone else drive through it or at the very least poking it with a stick from the side!
It would take all day to do most 4WD tracks in the wet if you stopped at every single puddle of water, so there are some exceptions to the rule:
- With experience, you can make your own decisions; a puddle that is on a hard surface, with no sharp edges and is not too big is unlikely to cause you any issues. Idle into it very slowly and if you are comfortable, proceed with caution.
- If you see someone drive through the crossing and are confident you will have no issues
- If there is the chance of salt water crocodiles in the water (like many of the northern parts of Australia!)
If you are at all suspicious of a water crossing, its better to be safe than sorry. Get out of your car and have a good look, poke the crossing with a stick or walk it; you will never regret getting wet if it prevents serious damage to your 4WD!
Remember the water flow
For river crossings, one of the most dangerous aspects is the speed at which the water is flowing. Sometimes its obvious; if water is raging downstream at a reasonable height you would be mad trying to drive across it. Water is intensely strong, and has pushed plenty of 4WD’s off the crossings and into the river. Not only is it extremely dangerous for your 4WD, but you can easily put your lives and passengers at risk.
Again, this comes down to experience; if it is over wheel height and flowing quickly, you are taking a big risk. If you can’t walk the crossing easily, you shouldn’t drive it.
Another tip is to put something on the water and see how quickly it floats downstream, but bear in mind the under current can be stronger than the surface.
Again, if you aren’t sure, is it really worth the risk?
Know your maximum depth
4WD’s are not boats. They are designed to cross some water, but there comes a point where it is simply too deep for your 4WD to safely traverse. Your owners manual should tell you how deep the vehicle can wade (remember this is still water, and doesn’t factor in water flow!).
Most 4WD’s range from 200 – 800mm without snorkels. If you exceed this, you risk serious engine damage.
It’s worth looking under your bonnet and seeing where the air comes from; my old
had its air intake right at the front of the bonnet; one decent gulp of water through the engine bay and it would have been all over. The higher the air intake, and the less likely it is to get water into it the better!
This is one aspect where you absolutely must not risk it. If you suck water in through your air filter, you can completely destroy your engine in seconds.
Even with a snorkel, you’d be mad trying to drive through something deeper than just above the bottom of your windscreen. At that depth, you risk having your vehicle float, and lose the required vision to safely control your crossing.
Know your 4WD
The more you know about your 4WD, the better off you are. Not only do you want to know the maximum wading depth, but you want to know about any electrics that could cause issues, whether you have
, where your low points are under the vehicle and how much of an angle you can tilt on before it becomes dangerous. If your radiator fan is direct drive (that is, it spins all the time), you risk damaging your radiator badly by allowing water to make it harder to turn the fan.
The more comfortable and knowledgeable you are with your 4WD, the better off you are!
Install a snorkel
A 4WD snorkel connects to your air box, and pulls air from near the roof height of your 4WD, which in theory means you can drive through deeper water. However, it doesn’t guarantee the safety of your vehicle by doing so! Water above bonnet height has a whole series of other risks that you must consider!
Check for air leaks
With so many different types (and qualities) of snorkels on the market these days, its important to make sure they are sealed completely. Usually the snorkel will not leak at all, but there is always a few joins in between the air box and the snorkel itself, as well as the airbox down to the engine.
Make sure there is no air leaking, or you may still drown your 4WD even with a snorkel fitted! Hose clamps, cracked elbows, poor sealant and vibration damage can result in air being pulled in lower than your snorkel entry, which also means you can suck water in and do serious damage.
Ensure your tyre pressures are correct
Tyre pressures are critical when it comes to 4WDing. There is a direct correlation between tyre pressures and traction; running the wrong pressures when you are attempting a water crossing can easily result in a drowned 4WD. Picking the right tyre pressures depends on your vehicle, what you are carrying and the terrain you are driving on. Have a look at
6 reasons 4WD tyre pressures are critical
for more information.
Get your tyre pressures right though, its not worth the risk!
Engage maximum traction
You want maximum traction when it comes to water crossings. Not only do you have to push water out of the way, but you may have to battle soft surfaces, holes, rocks and water current pushing you the wrong way. As a minimum, you should have the front hubs locked, your 4WD in Low Range and the center differential locked (if you have one).
If you have front or rear
, they are also a great idea, depending on the application. The more traction you have, the less likely you are to stop moving, and drown your 4WD!
Remember your electrics
Electrics and water don’t mix very well. On petrol engines especially, water can cause huge dramas with electrics. The way to avoid this is to reduce the water that contacts them; the correct speed and a water bra is a good start, along with silicon spray or WD40. This repels water from the electrics, and keeps them dry!
You’ve probably all seen a petrol 4WD go through some water, and run rough for some time after. My Hilux used to splutter badly after some crossings, and we had to open the distributor once as water had gotten inside on a crossing, causing it to stall.
Check the exit
It’s easy to inspect the crossing at the start and middle, but a lot of people forget to check the exit as well. You are in a pretty sticky situation if you get to the end of a long, deep water crossing and come to a vertical exit! Always make sure you are able to safely exit the crossing too!
Use the right momentum
I wrote a post a few weeks ago covering
. Water crossings need to be approached with the right level of momentum, or you will do damage. Too quick and you risk pushing a heap of water into your engine bay, and too slow and you risk getting stuck. What you are looking for is to create a bow wave, that leads your 4WD through the crossing.
Make sure you pick the right gear, and stick with it. In most cases, second gear in low range works perfectly. Keep the vehicle in its optimum rev range and drive the crossing with the best chance of success. Do not use the clutch in a water crossing; you can get water inside, and it will never be the same.
Go in prepared
If you aren’t 100% confident with a water crossing, take the time to hook a strap onto the front or rear
Rated Recovery points
, and then hang it (or wrap it) out of the way, where it is accessible should the worst happen.
Have another vehicle ready, so if you do get stuck, it takes a minute to hook the strap up and pull you out, rather than 10 minutes trying to hook a strap on in freezing cold, muddy water!
Use a water bra
A water bra (or just a tarp), can be attached to the front of your 4WD just before going through a water crossing, and dramatically reduces the water that flows into your engine bay. These are cheap insurance, and work extremely well, especially on petrol 4WD’s.
Remember the risk
Above all, consider the risk. If you aren’t confident, is it really worth it? What could possibly go wrong, and what would it cost you? Does your 4WD insurance cover you for water crossings, and for the area you are in?
I’ve seen far too many 4WD’s get written off, or badly damaged through water crossings that haven’t gone to plan. They can be a lot of fun, but they can also literally dampen your trip away.
Have you had any close calls, or bad experiences with water crossings? What have I missed in this post? Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you!
How many times have you had someone say to you their 4WD is only getting 500km out of a tank of fuel? What does that mean to you? How big is the fuel tank, and how far are they running it down? What size engine, tyres, and driving habits do they have? Were they doing 90km/h on flat ground, or sitting on 110km/h up and down hills on cruise control? Fuel economy varies wildly depending on where and how you are driving. You can easily monitor your fuel economy every time you fill up; it takes a few seconds to do!
It is very useful to keep an eye on your fuel economy, as you can plan your fuel stops for future 4WD trips, ensure the vehicle is running as it should and understand how different conditions can change your fuel consumption.
Is your speedometer correct?
The first thing you should really do is ensure that your speedometer is correct. If you have changed tyre sizes, there’s a good chance it won’t be! If your speedo is not correct, your trip meter won’t be either. You can do this one of two ways; drive along with a GPS at 100km on the speedometer and see what the GPS says (less accurate), or drive 100km on the vehicles trip meter, and see how many km you have done according to the GPS.
There will be a difference if you have changed tyre sizes as the bigger the tyre the less revolutions per kilometer it will do, compared to the original tyres on the vehicle. This puts your speedo out. For people that have gone from 265’s to 285’s (or 31’s to 33’s) your speedo is usually out by 5 – 10%.
Fitting bigger tyres to your 4WD
usually results in worse fuel economy. How much, is dependant on many factors; see the link for more information.
For our 80 series, 100km on the trip meter is actually about 105km – its out by 5% due to the larger diameter tyres.
Once you understand the difference in your speedo, you can work your fuel economy out every time you fill up. Simply remember to add 5% of your trip meter to the reading, and you can get an accurate economy figure.
Working out your fuel economy
The easiest way to work out your fuel economy is done when you fill up at a service station. Fill the tank all the way, until the nozzle clicks. Once you’ve paid, get back in your car (move out the way!) and reset the trip meter. From there, drive your vehicle around until you want to fill it up again.
When you put more fuel in, fill it up again until it clicks, and take note of the number of km you have done on your trip meter.
If you haven’t changed your tyre size, you can skip the trip meter correction step. If you have changed your tyre size, remember to factor in the extra km you have actually travelled due to the tyres.
Lets say we put 98.5L of diesel in our 80 series, and we’ve done 653.8km on the trip meter. We know the trip meter is out by 5%, so we multiply 653.8km by 1.05.
This gives us a correct reading (after factoring in the tyres) of 686.49km.
From there, simply divide the amount of fuel you’ve used (98.5L) by the number of km (686.49). The result needs to be multiplied by 100. This gives you an accurate fuel economy reading of 14.35 litres of diesel per 100km.
KM done on trip meter when filling up = 653.8
653.8 x 1.05 = 686.49km done on 98.5L of diesel.
(98.5/686.49) x 100 = 14.35 litres of diesel per 100km.
Using an app
You can use a number of different apps which work out your fuel economy and record it for you (Fuelly, Road Trip etc), but remember these won’t work out your tyre diameter changes, which makes big difference.
Don’t rely on your cars computer to tell you
A lot of modern 4WD’s will tell you the average fuel consumption, and estimate the number of km’s you have left in the tank. This is handy, but not always very accurate. This is especially the case if you have changed your tyre sizes, as the vehicles computer works off a certain number of revolutions of the tyre per kilometer, and you’ve just changed that by fitting bigger tyres to your 4WD.
When will I use more fuel in my 4WD?
4WD’s are not small, or light weight, and they do tend to use their fair bit of fuel. However, you will use a lot more fuel by doing the following
Driving in soft sand
Soft sand is usually where you will go through the most fuel. This is where your vehicle is working the hardest to maintain momentum, and as a result uses more fuel. For petrol vehicles, you can use up to 50% more fuel, and diesels usually around 30% more (but this does depend on your vehicle!)
Driving at 110km/h
The difference between doing 90km/h and 100km/h is huge on your fuel economy (usually a litre or 2 per hundred km). Going from 100km/h to 110km/h is substantially more. Often this is in the realms of 1 – 2 litres per 100km too; if you have the time you can save a huge amount of money by slowing down!
Your driving habits play a big role in your fuel economy too. If you are accelerating quickly, braking hard and changing throttle positions rapidly you will use more fuel!
Running under inflated tyres
Your tyre pressures are critical to good fuel economy. The more you inflate them the better your economy will be. However, if you run them too hard you will have very little traction and risk having an accident. For most 4WD’s tyre pressures in between 30 and 45PSI is appropriate.
Towing a trailer
The moment you tow something, your vehicle has to work harder. Sometimes this is made worse by wind drag, but in majority of cases its just the fact that you are dragging a weight behind your vehicle.
Roof racks, bigger tyres, different tread patterns and more weight
Anything that makes your vehicle work harder is going to make your fuel economy worse. by adding things to the vehicle that decrease its aerodynamics (like bar work, roof racks etc) your engine has to work harder to push the vehicle along.
If you change to a more aggressive tyre pattern, the airflow around the tyre is disrupted, and you will notice a higher consumption.
The same goes for adding more weight to your vehicle; if you put a 50kg backpack on yourself you will use a lot more energy to move around too!
Bigger tyres will make your 4WD use more fuel, as it has to work harder to turn the tyres. Even if your RPM drops at a given speed, your 4WD still has to work harder!
Sensors and other electrical/mechanical issues
For many modern vehicles, having a sensor (like the MAF) slightly dirty will send your fuel economy through the roof. These control the way the engine behaves, and if they aren’t in pristine condition you can expect poor fuel economy. The same goes for Exhaust gas recirculation systems, which tend to cake your engine up with build up. Fuel and air filters are another common cause of high fuel consumption too.
There’s a range of other things that will affect your fuel economy, but if you take the time to work it out every time you fill up, you will get an idea for yourself!
Our 80 series 1HDT fuel economy
Our turbo diesel 80 series is not the most fuel efficient 4WD on the market. It’s nearly 26 years old, and has done 374,000km. We knew this when we bought it, and have been extremely happy with it.
For general driving around town and taking it easy our 80 gets around 14.5 – 15L/100km.
If we are travelling at the speed limit on longer trips with some gear in the back it seems to go up to around 16L/100km, and on our 9000km trip to the Kimberley we averaged 16.7L/100km. This included a fair bit of 4WDing, sitting at 110km/h where allowed and not really taking it too easy.
For a vehicle that weighs quite a bit, has bigger tyres, almost every accessory under the sun and is 26 years old, we are extremely happy with it.
What fuel economy do you get?
What sort of fuel economy you get in your 4WD? Let us know a bit about it, and how often you check your fuel economy!
So, you’ve sunk down in your 4WD on the beach, and don’t know what to do next. Firstly, relax; although its a pretty uncomfortable position to be in, you can get yourself out without damaging anything but your pride!
How do you get moving again?
I’ll run through a number of steps that you need to complete, before being on your way again:
Stop spinning your wheels!
The biggest mistake you can make when you stop moving on a beach is to keep spinning the wheels. You will see that if your 4WD stops moving forwards, it begins to sink! The more you continue to drive, the further you sink, and the harder its going to be to get moving again. The best practice is to stop spinning the wheels the moment you lose momentum. Do this, and your 4WD recovery will be simple and easy.
If you are not moving forward, don’t keep spinning your wheels; you are only making it worse.
Check you are in 4WD, with the front hubs locked
You wouldn’t believe how many people drive onto a beach without putting their vehicle in 4WD. For older vehicles, there’s a second gear stick that needs to be moved into high range (H) or Low range (L). Newer vehicles generally just have push buttons, or a different gear stick arrangement. Also, check your front hubs are locked; this is what transfers drive to the wheels. For older vehicles, you will have to get out of the vehicle and turn the hub to the 4X4 position on both sides. Modern vehicles have auto locking hubs.
Your hubs are located in the middle of your front wheels.
Let your tyres down further
make all the difference when it comes to beach driving. A couple of PSI will completely change the way your vehicle floats on the sand. How much have you let your tyres down? If the answer is anything above 15 PSI, you need to let more air out of your tyres. If you are badly bogged, you can let them down progressively all the way to about 8 PSI. Anything below 10 PSI and you are at risk of rolling a tyre off the bead if you turn quickly when moving, but to get a bogged 4WD going again you can go all the way to 5 PSI (only if you absolutely must!).
If you go from 16 PSI down to 10 PSI, you’ve lost 40% of the air in your tyres, which gives you a much greater surface area and thus a whole lot of extra floatation. Don’t believe this makes much of a difference? Try it; you will be blown away. If you are regularly 4WDing, get yourself a good quality
; you won’t look back.
Dig some sand away
Yep, now for a bit of work. You should always carry a full length shovel with you. What ever you have, dig with it, around all 4 tyres in the direction you want to move again. If you are bottomed out on the chassis, you have a lot of work to do. The idea is to get the vehicle’s weight back onto its wheels. The more you dig away, the easier it is to get moving again, so take your time.
If you are on a slope, steer towards the water
The biggest mistake people make when they get bogged on a beach with the sand sloping towards the water is they try and take off away from the water. It’s human nature I suppose, you want to keep your 4WD away from the nasty salt. The thing is though, you will almost never be able to get moving again up a slope; you need to steer down to get a bit of momentum first.
I’m not suggesting you drive directly towards the water, just make sure you aren’t heading uphill at all, or you risk getting bogged even worse. If your vehicle is crab walking, there’s a good chance you need to steer further down hill, or let your tyres down more.
Rock forward and backwards
A good test to see how you are fairing after doing the above steps is to take off forward half a metre, and go backwards half a metre. Keep doing this until the vehicle moves easily back and forward. You now have a harder section to take off from, and have the best chance of getting out of your predicament.
Take off, slightly downhill
Now for the final step; when you are ready, take off with the vehicle driving slightly downhill. Wait until you have built up some momentum (at least 3rd gear in low range, or high revs in 1st gear high range) and then you are ready to attempt driving back up to the top of the beach. Hold the revs, and if you start to lose momentum, be aware you can get it back easily by driving back towards the water slightly.
Avoid any wheel spin, and if you begin to sink again, stop immediately and re-assess.
It can be stressful getting bogged on a beach, especially if you have others in your care. I was driving from Lancelin to Wedge Island some time ago in our 80 series, with the tyres down at 15 PSI, and took a line a little too close to the water to get around two other bogged vehicles. Our big 80 started to go down more than it was going forwards about a metre away from the waves that were rolling in. It’s not a very pleasant feeling at all, but you need to get past that and do something about it. I decided to stop driving, rather than sink badly and let the tyres down.
I jumped out, and let 3 tyres down to 10 PSI. The last tyre (rear left) was so badly buried I couldn’t even get to the tyre valve. I got back in, gave it a few berries towards the water (and we were very close!) until I grabbed 3rd gear in low range, and then comfortably cruised back to the top of the beach. It’s counter intuitive to drive towards the water, but you don’t have a choice!
If you have a second vehicle
If you are travelling with a second vehicle (which is ideal), you can use a
or winch to get you moving again. Obviously, it pays to do some of the steps above; ensure 4WD is engaged, let your tyres down and dig some sand away.
Using Maxtrax or Treds
The easiest, safest and quickest way to recover yourself on a beach is to use a set of traction boards. I haven’t used Tred’s, but would recommend
in a heartbeat. Dig a bit away, wedge them under your wheels and drive out; its that simple.
Have you been badly stuck?
Let me know below; what’s the worst you’ve been stuck on a beach? How did you get out?
So, you’ve got a heavy caravan or boat that you want to tow? Don’t be misled by the advertising! Just because your 4WD has a certain ‘towing capacity’ doesn’t mean you can actually tow that under normal conditions.
Today, you can pick up a number of new 4WD’s that have a claimed 3500kg towing capacity. The thing is though, its completely misleading, to the point where you are almost guaranteed to be overloaded towing something that’s 3500kg. How is that possible?
How do they mislead you?
Any vehicle on the road must comply with a number of different weight requirements, whether they are towing or not. Lets keep it simple, and just look at the Gross Combination Mass (GCM). This is the maximum amount both your 4WD and trailer can weigh as a combined weight.
Whilst you might be able to tow the maximum amount the vehicle is rated for, it can only be done under some pretty severe weight limitations. This is in relation to what the tow vehicle itself has on board in terms of weight; anything from passengers to extra fuel, 4WD accessories and general gear.
A more in depth look at 3500kg towing capacities
Take a dual cab Ford ranger, which has a GCM of 6000kg, and a claimed towing capacity of 3500kg. Remove the weight of the vehicle (with nothing in it!) from the GCM and you have 3800kg. Then, remove the 3500kg trailer you are towing, and you are left with a mere 300kg.
Now, put 4 people in the back of the Ford ranger, and there’s a good chance you are overloaded. Bear in mind this is without considering ANYTHING else in the 4WD. No extra fuel, no bull bar, no drawers, no fridge, water, winch, recovery gear and the list goes on. It also doesn’t consider the tow ball weight, which you need to consider.
Let’s go the other way. The same Ford Ranger, decked out with lots of accessories and gear, weighing in at the maximum weight of 3200kg. Given you can’t exceed the GCM of 6000kg, you are left with a maximum towing capacity of 2800kg.
Now, how many 4WD’s have you seen, decked out with every accessory under the sun, loaded to the hilt and towing a trailer that’s over 3 tonnes?
How do other vehicles compare?
The Dmax has a 5950kg GCM, and 3500kg towing capacity. Take away the towing capacity and you have a maximum weight of 2450kg. Given the vehicle weighs 1930kg empty, you’ve got a capacity of 520kg
A Triton has a 5885kg GCM, and a 3100kg towing capacity. Remove the towing capacity and you have a maximum weight of 2785kg. With the vehicle weighing 1965kg, you are left with 820kg.
The NP300 Navara has a GCM of 5910kg, and a 3500kg towing capacity. This leaves you with 2410kg. Minus the weight of the vehicle and you can carry 489kg.
If you want to see how your vehicle compares, find it on here –
What does it mean?
As long as you are aware of the above, and you make sure you are within the GCM, towing capacity and pay load of your 4WD, you won’t have an issue. The problem though, is so many people are not aware of these things, and would probably be horrified if they did know. There’s a huge number of 4WD’s on the road today that are towing and would not be legal. Not good.
Remember that a 500kg pay load can get eaten up pretty easily. Have a think about
What your 4WD weighs
, and you might be surprised. Even better, take it over a weigh bridge and see for sure, but be prepared for a shock!
What if I am over?
If you are over your payload, or Gross combination mass, you are going to want to do something about it. In the event of an accident, you may be liable for the damage that happens, as you were not driving a vehicle that met the law.
4WD insurance claims
can be denied, and you could end up in a world of legal pain if someone is hurt. It’s not worth the risk; you are required to drive a
on the road, and are responsible as individuals.
I think its shocking that vehicle manufacturers can proclaim such towing capacities without explaining that they come with severe limitations. It’s appalling, really. Whilst I understand ignorance is not an excuse, there is a certain amount of trust that you put into a 4WD manufacturer!
What do you drive and tow? Are you within the limits?
There’s a lot to learn about 4WDing. Whether you are new to the scene, or you’ve been exploring this magic country for many years, you can still pick up something new. In this post, we look at 15 things that you may not know about your 4WD.
Your speedo is probably not accurate
You’d expect your speedometer, odometer and trip meter to be on the money, right? The truth is, even a brand spanking new 4WD is allowed to have some speedometer error. At 100km/h it can be up to as much as 10km/h, which makes a substantial difference.
However, with 4WD’s, the most common way to alter your speedo readings is to fit different size tyres. Usually, bigger size tyres are chosen, and this will make your speedometer read lower than you are actually going. If you’ve gone up a few sizes on tyres, your speedo will often be close to accurate, or it may read a little low. If you go up more than a few sizes, your speedo could be out by as much as 20%. If you are keen on knowing more, have a read of
Fitting Bigger Tyres to your 4WD
It pays to get a GPS, and check the difference. You can do this while sitting at a constant speed, but the most accurate way is to log 100km on both your trip metre and a GPS, and then compare.
Our 80 Series Land Cruiser
is out by just under 5%, running 50mm bigger tyres.
This is important, as you don’t want to pick up a new 4WD (even if its just new to you), and get done for speeding because you didn’t know the speedo was reading wrong! If it does read incorrectly, there are a number of ways you can get it fixed without changing your tyre size.
How old are your tyres?
Any form of rubber will perish over time. This is made worse when its subject to the abuse a 4WD tyre gets, but as your tyres age they will perform worse. Every tyre in Australia has a 4 digit number stamped inside a little box on the sidewall, which tells you the manufacturing date of your tyre. If you want to know more, have a read of this –
How to tell the age of your 4WD Tyres
According to the tyre guru’s, once your tyres get to around the 5 year mark, they are considered old, and you should be looking at replacing them.
Something to bear in mind is that your new tyres could already be up to a year or two old when you get them, depending on how long the tyre store has had them. If you don’t rack the kays up, its easy to hit the 5 year mark and still have a tyre that looks perfectly good.
I’m not saying the moment your tyres hit 5 years old they are going to fall apart, but its an early warning sign to pay more attention to them. Look for any signs of perishing, including cracks and worn sections. The last thing you want is to have a blow out at speed!
It may not be legally modified
There’s nothing nicer than a 4WD running a big, quality suspension setup and huge muddies. They look tough as, idle through huge ruts and are a heap of fun to drive. The thing is though, most of them are not legally modified!
The consequences of driving a vehicle that has illegal modifications go much further than just getting a yellow sticker. You can be liable in the case of an accident, and by law your insurance company does not have to cover you.
If you’ve changed your tyre size, suspension, wheel track, brakes, body or chassis, you’ll want to have a read of this;
Is your 4WD legal?
Your factory hooks are not rated for recoveries
You will get bogged in your 4WD, eventually. It happens to everyone, and its just part of the fun. What’s not fun though, is hearing about someone every couple of years in Australia who gets killed by a 4WD recovery that has gone wrong.
You put a heap of stress on lots of different components when recovering a 4WD using a winch or snatch strap, and you can very easily kill someone when it isn’t done correctly. The ‘hooks’ that come with your 4WD from factory are not rated to be recovered off. Before you head off road, you should get a decent set of front and rear
Rated recovery points
, and have them mounted correctly to the chassis with grade 8.8 bolts.
Even then, use a bridle where possible, and a blanket, dampener or towel over the recovery strap so if it does go pear shaped no one gets wiped out by it.
What’s your Payload?
It’s scary to see some 4WD’s on the road, loaded up with more gear than you can poke a stick at. If you don’t know already, head over to
, select your vehicle and under dimensions, there’s a figure given for your Pay load. This is the legal amount of weight your vehicle can carry, as deemed safe by the manufacturer. If you are towing, the weight on your tow ball comes off this too.
At the very least, take the time to write down the weight of everything on your car, including passengers, extra fuel, water, modifications etc. I guarantee you will be very close to the payload when heading off on a trip away.
If you are over the given pay load, you are putting excess strain on the vehicle, may not be covered by insurance in the event of an accident and could be fined badly if the authorities decide to weigh your vehicle.
What size lift kit are you running?
One of the more challenging things to do when you get a 4WD that is new to you is to find out what sort of lift kit it is running. Over time, even stiff springs will sag, and it becomes very difficult to know whether you are running a 2″, 3″, 4″ or something else.
So, what can you do to identify the lift you have? Firstly, look for blocks between the chassis and the body. Obviously they aren’t going to shrink, and if you have 50mm blocks then your vehicle has been raised by 50mm using a ‘body lift’. From there,you have a few options.
The easiest is to ring your vehicles manufacturer, and ask them for a measurement to identify it. They should be able to give you this, but remember to give the right information, as they vary regularly between different years and models.
Beyond that, forums that are set up which are dedicated around specific model vehicles are a gold mine. On most of them, you should be able to tell you the measurement between the inner guard and centre of your hubs for different lift kits.
Remember that over time springs will sag, and a vehicle with an old 4 inch lift may be lower than one with a new 2 inch lift.
Tow balls are not suitable recovery points
If you are new to the game, one thing you absolutely must not do when 4WDing is use the tow ball as a recovery point. Yep, its easy to drop a strap over the tow ball and take off, but these are not designed for huge amounts of energy to be applied within a split second.
They will shear, and having a steel ball hurling through the air faster than you can see (usually towards another vehicle or person) is the last thing you want to do. They might look strong, but they most certainly are not.
Want to know more? Check out our latest post;
Tow Balls in 4WD Recoveries can kill you
Weight behind the rear axle can be dangerous
We covered payload earlier in the post, but you’d be mad to take a chunk of that weight and have it sitting behind your rear wheels. Do yourself a search on google, for bent 4WD chassis. Scary stuff.
You know what most have in common? Either they were overloaded, or they had the weight positioned too far back. I saw a photo the other day, of a badly bent, new Mitsubishi Triton dual cab, which had a heavy rear bar mounted, along with a spare tyre on one side and 4 jerry cans of fuel/water on the other side.
Add it up; Rear Bar 50kg, tyre and swing arm 30kg, second swing arm and 80L of fluid, and you are looking at about 180kg right at the back of your chassis. Hit even a small bump, and what do you think is going to happen?
If you are going to carry heavy weight, make sure its positioned either in front of the rear axle, or on top of the axle. The further back you put it, the more stress its going to put on the last third of your chassis.
Your insurance company may not cover you everywhere
There’s a lot of insurance companies in Australia that offer cover to 4WD vehicles. The thing is though, they are not all equal. Some insurance companies treat your 4WD as if it is the same as an ordinary car, and their level of cover may not suit your requirements.
When you take out 4WD insurance, be sure to ask where you are covered in Australia. Some companies will not cover you for driving on gravel, non-gazetted road, private property or beaches.
4WD insurance is a very important part of owning a 4WD; if you want to know more about it, have a read of this –
What to look for in 4WD insurance
You may not be able to tow the maximum towing capacity
The number of heavy trailers being towed within Australia has gone up significantly in the last few years. Whether its a big boat, caravan or car trailer, there are very strict regulations on what you can tow.
Your 4WD will come with a maximum towing capacity, which you must not exceed. However, manufacturers are getting very sneaky and unethical, and are advertising maximum towing capacities that you would only be able to use under very unlikely situations.
I won’t go into it too much in this post, but if you need to tow something heavy, you may have to ensure your 4WD is as light as possible. As an example, think about a new Ford Ranger; if you are using the maximum towing capacity of 3500kg, you are only legally allowed to have 300kg of weight added to the 4WD itself. Take away the ball weight and just one passenger, and you are going to be overweight already.
For more information, have a read of this;
Are you being misled by 4WD towing capacities?
Tyre pressures should vary from 4WD to 4WD
Tyre pressures are one of the most important factors you have in your control when it comes to 4WDing. There’s a heap of guides out there that will tell you what tyre pressures to run, but you really need to tailor it for yourself. To start off with, check out
6 reasons tyre pressures are critical when 4WDing
You should not be running the same tyre pressures as all of your mates; as you (more than likely) drive different vehicles. Every vehicle should have its own set of tyre pressures, based on the weight of the vehicle, tyre dimensions, terrain and speed.
If you didn’t already know, your tyre pressures will go up and down as you drive, due to the temperature change of the air inside. There’s more information on that here;
4WD tyre pressures; do you check them hot or cold?
Have a look in your vehicle owners manual, which will tell you the recommended tyre pressures for certain tyres. If you do
Fit bigger tyres to your 4WD
, you can lower the pressures a little. As always, pay attention to the way the tyres wear. If the middle gets worn out, your pressures are too high. If the outsides get worn out, you are running them too low.
Your roof has a weight limit
Even though a roof rack seems like a convenient place to load your gear onto, the manufacturer of your 4WD has set weight limits to what the roof of your vehicle can withstand. For most 4WD’s, its only 100kg, although there are a few that have 150kg roof load ratings.
100kg may not seem like much, but have a think of what happens when you hit a bump off road; the forces on the roof are substantial. Overload your roof, and you end up with a high centre of gravity and you could easily damage your roof.
Have a think about what you have on your roof. Steel full length roof racks in my opinion, are a complete waste of money. I removed one from a mates Patrol a while back, made by one of the more reputable 4WD accessory companies, and it came in at 66kg. That’s a ridiculous amount of weight to have on your roof racks, without even starting to store anything. You don’t have to put much more on the roof and its already overloaded!
Roof top tents are also something to be wary of; many of them weigh around the 50kg mark; that’s a lot of weight. Often I’ll come across vehicles in the bush who are carrying several jerry cans, big toolboxes and half of their kitchen on the roof. While it might be convenient, its not legal, nor safe!
The driver is just as important
At the end of the day, your 4WD only makes up a portion of how far it will go. Modifications and accessories can make a big difference, as does starting with a capable 4WD. That said, in my opinion, the driver behind the wheel of your 4WD makes just as much difference.
I’ve seen some very standard 4WD’s tackle tracks that have blown me away; if the driver knows the right lines and has plenty of skill they make a massive difference.
Your safe wading depth might be much lower than you expect
Last week, I wrote a post about
Staying out of the water without a snorkel
. If you don’t know what the safe wading depth is in your 4WD, take the time to find out. This is the depth of water that you can safely drive through without doing any permanent damage to your 4WD.
By permanent, I mean electrical or mechanical damage, which can be easily enough to write your vehicle off. Most vehicles have a wading depth of in between 400mm and 800mm. However, if you hit a small water crossing at speed, it doesn’t have to be that deep to cause serious damage to your 4WD.
Your vehicles manual should tell you the wading depth. If you aren’t happy with it, look at installing a snorkel.
Where’s the lowest point on your 4WD?
I mentioned the quality of a driver plays a huge role in how far your 4WD will go earlier. One of the things an experienced 4WDer knows is where the low, and vulnerable parts on his/her 4WD hang down. You need to know what is likely to get hung up on your 4WD, so you can pick your lines, and reduce the chance of any damage.
On vehicles with solid axles, your differential pumpkin will be the lowest, along with the transfer case and sometimes the sills below your doors. Obviously, the aim of the game is to avoid hitting these, as you can do some very costly damage!
I’m sure there are stacks of things I’ve missed here. What else should you know about your 4WD before you head off road?