"4WDing (four-wheel driving) is one of Australia’s great passions."
We use these vehicles to travel on a variety of surfaces and gradients and in remote locations where the conventional two-wheel drives have no hope. Four-wheel driving is a lot of fun, but should be taken seriously, particularly when venturing off the beaten track, tackling challenging and unpredictable conditions. A good understanding of your 4WD’s operations and mechanics, driving procedures, vehicle recovery and spare parts and equipment is a must.
Understanding 4WD gears and in what conditions they are appropriate is essential. When driving on normal hard surface roads the 4WD gearstick should be in H2.
When engaging in 4WD, remember to “lock the hubs” in if your vehicle is a free-wheel hub model.
Push the clutch pedal, stop vehicle movement or slow down to 5km/hr and shift the 4WD gearstick to either H4 or L4, depending on which type of traction is required. Traction is the friction between the tyres and the ground.
H4 is required when four-wheel drive is needed but not maximum torque (low gearing). Use H4 on firm beaches, rocky bottom creek crossings, when traction is required for climbing average gradients and when the vehicle’s back wheels are sinking or slipping.
L4 is required when 4WDing on soft boggy surfaces and climbing steep gradients where slippage is possible and more torque and traction is needed. Use L4 on soft beaches, muddy tracks, soft bottom creek crossings, slippery surfaces and steep inclines.
Free-wheel hub models remember to “free the hubs” when changing back to two-wheel drive. Driving for too long with the hubs locked in and in 2WD is not good for your vehicle.
Breakdowns and mechanical problems are always a possibility when travelling and there is no worse place to be stuck with no mechanical knowledge then the outback. Always carry your vehicle’s repair manual and a variety of spare parts for common problems which can occur 4WDing off-road. If you’re not very mechanically minded take the time to learn some basics before embarking on your trip.
Learning skills such as changing belts and hoses, air and fuel filters, suspension and wheel bearing repairs is a good start. Ensure you carry adequate tools and spare parts when travelling in remote areas. If your vehicle is really stuck do not leave your vehicle, sit tight and wait for help.
When 4WDing on the rough roads of the outback, wet boggy tracks or on soft sandy beaches the tyre pressure of your vehicle needs to be considered. Rough roads with sharp rocks and shale can spike hard tyres easily so when travelling on these roads it’s sensible to deflate your tyres to about 28 psi (pounds per square inch) to allow a bit off give. Wet boggy tracks will require tyre pressure of 28 psi or lower. Soft sandy beaches and dunes can require anything as low as 10 psi, depending on the softness of the sand and the weight of your vehicle. When 4WDing on soft sand deflate the tyres to 16-18 psi. You can always deflate them a bit more if required. If you get bogged the first thing you should do is deflate your tyres further, this will help immensely. Do not accelerate and dig yourself deeper. Always consider tyre pressure first. Carrying a set of tyre deflators, a pressure gauge and a good air compressor is essential.
If you manage to get bogged stop accelerating and get out and assess the situation. You may be able to recover the vehicle yourself by deflating the tyres as low as 10 psi if required, clearing the boggy sand from around the wheels with a shovel, engaging 4WD and accelerating slowly keeping momentum through first and second gears.
If you are unsuccessful the easiest alternative is a snatch strap or tow rope. Secure the strap with D-shackles to the attachment on the chassis of your vehicle and to the reese hitch or chassis of the vehicle towing. Do not use the tow ball when retrieving from a boggy situation as fatalities have occurred in the past when the tow ball has sheared off at the thread and nut. Tow in as straight a line as possible accelerating together.
An electric winch is a third option if your vehicle or another 4WD at hand is fitted with one. Winches are a great accessory for 4WDing enthusiasts and could prove to be a good investment in a boggy situation. If you are on your own and have a winch it’ll need an anchor point. If there are no strong trees within reach you’ll need to create your own anchor which can be done by digging a large pit about 2 foot deep and undercutting the side of the pit closest to the vehicle by a further trench 20cm or so to impart backspin and minimize bounce. Insert a large strong log or spare tyre in the trench and attach the winch to this anchor at the closest point to the full depth of the trench. Bury the anchor and attempt to winch yourself out of trouble.
If all else fails and your vehicle recovery is unsuccessful, remember to always stay with your vehicle. Do not wander off in the outback attempting to find help as more likely help will find you. This has been proven time and time again in remote Australia.
If you are travelling to very remote areas you may want to consider purchasing an EPIRB (Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon). This device could potentially save your life in an emergency. When activated a signal is sent to emergency services via satellite and help is on its way to your location. The beacon is pricey, however a good investment for your safety when heading into remote and unknown territory.
Creek crossings are an exciting part of 4WDing, but require caution, sensibility and strategy. It is always a good idea to stop and investigate creeks first, particularly bigger creeks with more depth and poor visibility. Walking the creek first is recommended so you know the depth, you can find the shallowest route and feel the firmness and for any obstacles such as rocks or logs. Walking creekbeds in crocodile country is of course at your own risk. If in doubt wait for another vehicle to cross and take note of their route or query the driver as they may have local knowledge.
Some creeks are a piece of cake and others can be challenging, especially for less experienced four-wheel drivers. Creeks can be fast flowing and if your driving technique and strategy for crossing the creek aren’t down pat you could find yourself in some trouble. Vehicles stopping altogether in the middle of a flowing creek should not attempt to restart the engine as it will fill with water and drown the engine. Vehicles slowing down too much will find it hard to regain the momentum to get going again and could end up being dragged by the current.
Creeks with depth over the vehicle’s axel require a snorkel on your 4WD or a tarpoline secured firmly across the front of your vehicle to protect the radiator from water entering and flooding the engine.
So before crossing the creek, check the depth, think about the route you are going to take and go over it in your mind. Ensure the hubs are locked in place, engage 4WD in L4 for better traction and keep momentum constant as you cross the creek.
4WDing is a fantastic hobby, sport, lifestyle, holidaying experience, however you want to class it. The best advice we can give 4WDing enthusiasts, particularly when travelling in remote areas, is know your vehicle, carry adequate spare parts, equipment and recovery gear, check your vehicle regularly and last but not least, stop, get out and investigate the unpredictable situations before you drive on in head first.