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Outback trip preparation

By Scott Heiman, 20 Feb 2017 Gear

Outback trip preparation

A remote area 4x4 excursion requires special preparation. Here’s what you need to consider when preparing for your next trip, big or small.

With everything we try to fit into our lives, it’s easy to forget a routine vehicle service.

This article was originally published in the April 2014 issue of 4x4 Australia.

Rotating tyres, checking fire extinguishers, maintenance of recovery gear, and everything else that comes with owning a four-wheel drive usually takes a backseat to life’s distractions – at least until it’s time to go on a trip. 

While our vehicle may just be a mode of transport from day to day, once we set off for our favourite camping or fishing destination, it becomes our safety vehicle. Current national statistics show that 49 per cent of all injuries are open-wound and 27 per cent of all injuries occur while undertaking a leisure activity. While many such injuries may be readily treatable in built-up areas, the potential consequences could be lethal when you are hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest treatment centre.

Checked the tyre pressure in your sparesWe regularly read headlines from holidays gone wrong. “Man dies and severely dehydrated friend rescued in Australia’s 50°C Simpson Desert after 4x4 gets stuck in the sand” – Daily Mail, 7 November 2012. “Teen found alive after spending nine weeks in Sydney bushland” – Yahoo NZ, 29 January 2013. “Chopper rescues children from bogged car” – WA Today, 21 January 2014.

In 2005, two men in a four-wheel drive were left high and dry in the desert of Western Australia when their vehicle broke down. They had inadequate amounts of water, no extra fuel, no two-way radio, a mobile phone with no coverage, and only a dog for company. Worse still, no one knew they were missing because they hadn’t informed anyone of their plans.

Ensuring you’re prepared is easy, and can prevent you becoming a statistic in the Australian bush.

Fitting something in Patrol


1. Prepare to learn.
The first step is to be armed with knowledge, but always remain humble because complacency and bravado can get you into trouble. So obtain a reliable survival guide appropriate to Australian conditions. Examples of some good guides include Aid to Survival, which is the Western Australian police bushcraft and survival guide. It has loads of valuable information for the first-timer and is free online. Or try Alive and Kickin’, one of Australia’s most comprehensive survival search and rescue books, written by two former ADF personnel who ran a military survival school.

Books such as these are best kept in the glovebox so they are close at hand when you need them.They are no good if you’ve left them on a shelf at home. They are also great around the campfire to teach your kids and partner some survival tips. It can also be good fun, like looking for the Southern Cross and finding south. It’s just as important for those travelling with you to have survival skills in case of an emergency.

Group briefings2. Prepare to up-skill.
Driving in isolated environments takes a lot of skill. In most government/military sectors, preparing individuals to undertake 4WD responsibilities involves a minimum 16 days of training, including 125 hours behind the wheel covering various situations.

This focus on ‘up-skilling drivers’ recognises that simply having a driver’s licence doesn’t mean you understand your vehicle and how to use it properly. There are several approaches you can take to develop your off road driving skills, including a number of commercial and private trainers who can provide a great deal of assistance. Find out more from your local 4WD clubs.

3. Prepare to communicate.
Before you set off, buy and carry a personal locating beacon (PLB) and have it registered. This has to be the most simple and important step that any of us can take towards ensuring the safety of ourselves and our loved ones when we travel.

Check air filter4. Prepare your vehicle.
Most cars spend the majority of their time on the tarmac, but if you’re heading away, plan for your worst-case scenario regarding the type of terrain and distances you may need to travel. As a minimum, stick to routine servicing schedules as per the manufacturer’s specifications and maintain a program of routine checks between services. By doing so, you’ll have a better maintained vehicle that will perform more effectively, economically, and capable of getting you out of trouble.

Preventative maintenance and inspection can also uncover the strangest things, simply because we operate in rural and remote areas. For instance, rats have an uncanny liking for making nests inside engine bays, chewing on water vessels and wires, and even starting fires. Ever heard a leaf stuck in your interior fan? It could be the start of a rat making a nest. If you ignore it, the next time you turn the fan on might be the first (and last) time you make minced rat. More common are snakes causing drive belts to dislodge and overheat a vehicle’s engine.

Finally, when packing, don’t forget to consider the vehicle’s load and towing capacity compared with how much gear you’re planning to take.

Servicing own gear5. Prepare every day.
Preparation doesn’t stop the moment you lock up the house and leave town. It’s something you have to do every day of your trip. Ron Moon wrote about a remote journey through South America and identified the consequences of his failure one morning to conduct a ‘first parade’ of his vehicle. The consequence was the loss of his camper-van’s wheel and a day of travel.

First parade is a military term that refers to a series of checks a driver should conduct every day: prior to, during and at completion of the use of the vehicle. These are known as first parade service (before you start driving), halt parade service (at each long stop) and last parade service (when you’ve finished driving for the day).

A successful trip is one where you get to your destination and back safely while enjoying yourself. Understand the terrain you’ll cover, keep your vehicle well maintained and understand your potential vulnerabilities.

By maintaining and using your vehicle properly, you will not only prolong its lifespan but also ensure you and your loved ones remain safe.

Driving in the bush


(1) Check the winch (if fitted) and ensure it is disengaged. 
(2) Before starting the engine: 
(a) check the wheels for security, and the tyres for wear and correct pressure; and 
(b) check that the fuel, oil, coolant, battery levels, and clutch and brake fluids are correct.
(3) After starting the engine, listen for unusual noises.
(4) Check everything that turns on, flashes, beeps and swishes. 
(5) Check that the fuel and oil gauges are operational. 
(6) Clean the windscreen, external mirrors, lights and reflectors. 
(7) Check fire extinguishers, first aid kit and tool kit.
(8) Check spare tyre and changing equipment.
(9) Adjust all mirrors. 
(10) Check for steering, handbrake and footbrake faults. 
(10) Complete any other requirements specified within the vehicle user handbook. 
(11) Fix any defects/deficiencies before you step off.

Check your fire extinguisher


(1) Check fuel, oil and coolant for leaks. 
(2) Check the tyres and wheel nuts. 
(3) Check hubs and brake drums for overheating. 
(4) Check the stability of the load, canopy, ropes and trailer. 
(5) Check all lights and indicators. 
(6) Clean the windscreen.

Brake fluid


(1) Check the coolant levels. 
(2) Refuel and top up oils and lubricants. 
(3) Check the vehicle lights and indicators. 
(4) Clean the vehicle. 
(5) Clean out the interior and the load compartment. 
(6) Ensure that the winch (if fitted) is disengaged. 
(7) Complete any other requirements detailed in the vehicle user handbook. 
(8) Identify and fix any defects/deficiencies ASAP.


Change the oil every 5000km regardless of what the service manual advises. Constant short-trip driving, poor quality oil, poor air flow and contaminated oil all contribute to the creation of ‘oil sludge’. This sticks to the engine like cholesterol sticks to arteries.

Check water levels regularly. The use of coolant, rather than water in the radiator, will delay corrosion. But the anti-corrosion properties break down over time, which is why mechanics recommend routine coolant change.

Keep tyres at recommended pressures. This can help reduce fuel consumption by 10 per cent or more on the highway. But ensure that pressures are adjusted for the actual terrain to avoid punctures and to improve ride. Remember, a lower tyre pressure may need to be set at the start of the day to ensure maintenance of appropriate pressure when the tyres heat up.

Refit wheelsKeep a constant speed. This will reduce tyre wear and mechanical fatigue.

Check vehicle towing specifications. Overloading a vehicle places undue stresses on the engine, towbar and chassis.

Keep an eye on the brakes. City driving, driving in hilly areas and towing reduce their effectiveness (and lifespan).

Spare tyre. Check its pressure and accessibility. Also ensure that the sidewalls of spare tyres stored under the vehicle body are not damaged. Include a can of inflating foam and/or tyre puncture plugs to help get you back on the road.


Obtain up-to-date detailed maps showing water sources and nearest communities.
Have a compass, GPS and PLB and know how to use them.

Always inform someone where you’re going, what route you plan to take and when you expect to reach your destination.

IPad back country mapsHave your vehicle undergo a major service before you leave on a big trip, and tell the mechanic your plans. He may have some suggestions for you.

On long journeys, have two complete spare wheels, extra petrol, engine oil, fan belts, filters and spare keys.

Carry water in a number of containers (in case of leaks).

If your vehicle suffers a breakdown or gets bogged, stay close to it because your vehicle will be easier to spot from the air in case of a search. Don’t set out for help unless you irrefutably know where you’re going and know you can get there.

Don’t rely on mobile phones to call for help. A reception signal may not exist where you’re going. Have a PLB and a car-mounted CB radio and/or satellite phone.