To assist in your planning following is a simple checklist to avoid a breakdown and what to do in the event of a breakdown.
- Carry a spare set of fan-belts and a top and bottom radiator hose.
- Carry a simple set of tools and a first-aid kit.
- Carry additional drinking water, food and fuel.
- Check each morning the condition of your under-bonnet items, in particular all fluid levels, air filter and inspect the tyres and pressures.
- Some of the tracks mentioned are best suited to high-clearance, dual-range transmission vehicles, so check with locals on the suitability of your vehicle and know both your and your vehicle’s capabilities in the bush – do a 4WD course!
- Take with you only the essentials and try and leave unnecessary items behind – they’ll add more weight and stress to the vehicle and cost you more in fuel.
- Avoid the use of roof-racks and if they are a necessity, pack only light items upstairs to avoid the risk of rollover. – If you’re towing a trailer, take heed of that previous tyre advice and check the condition of the wheel bearings and suspension before you leave.
- Leave advice with friends or relevant authorities on your destination and itinerary, so if you stay overstay your journey the alarm can be raised for search and rescue.
- Give some thought to communications, a UHF CB radio gives reasonable coverage with other road users and pastoralists.
- In really remote country someone in your party should have HF radio or a satellite phone, both can be hired inexpensively.
- If you do get stuck, do not leave the vehicle!
If you’ve taken heed of the above list you should be able to sit things out comfortably for a couple of days. A vehicle is a lot easier to find than a person wandering through the bush. Any strenuous activity should be done on the cool of the morning or during the night, to avoid stress during the day. Daytime temperatures can vary dramatically from season to season.
Driving on Outback roads can be tricky, too. Road surfaces vary dramatically in quality especially after seasonal extremes, when rain can make them impassable for days. Watch you speed too, for high-crowned dirt roads are treacherous when trying to slow in a hurry to avoid an animal, rock or entering a floodway quicker than need be.
Try following these rules for Outback road etiquette:
- Travel during the day and plan realistic distances.
- Break the driving up into two-hour stages and share the driving tasks with a partner to avoid the perils of driver fatigue.
- Avoid windscreen damage and dust when approaching on-coming cars, slow down and move over to the left of the road lane. If the approaching vehicle is a road-train, give it plenty of room and get off the road and don’t even think about overtaking a road-train kicking up a heavy cloud of dust. Stop and have a cuppa and a stretch. A 15-minute break will put plenty of separation between you.
- When on dirt it’s advisable to engage HIGH range 4WD. In the case of “part-time” manual front hub vehicles, LOCK the hubs, shift the transfer lever into H4 (HIGH range). With “full-time” 4WDs engage the centre diff-lock button or transfer lever position. This will offer greater security at speed on the dirt, better handling and braking. Driving on dirt in 4WD will not damage the transmission.
- In more difficult conditions, say mud, steep climbs and larger rocks, stop and shift into LOW range 4WD, you’ll use a better spread of power for better control at slower speeds.
- If rain threatens, be prepared to stay put for a couple of days to avoid damaging the roads (penalties apply for road users driving on closed outback roads) and if you’re driving in a dry creek bed get out of there quick-smart, for there’s a good chance a flashflood might roar down the watercourse, claiming vehicle and possessions.
- Some common courtesy and patience goes a long way, so too leaving gates as you find them and staying on designated tracks and trails.