The tow vehicle first
One thing we know from experience is most travellers have no real idea of how heavy their 4WD is when loaded with all the food, water, recovery gear, spares and extra fuel, as well as the kitchen sink for some.
Prior preparation and planning makes for a better trip. We are big fans of practice making perfect when it comes to getting ready for your “big trip” particularly your first few. A Simpson Desert Crossing which is on most people’s bucket list is a memorable experience made better because nothing was forgotten, it all worked perfectly and nothing broke. To achieve these apparently simple goals is best approached by starting on smaller trips around one year prior to your biggie and using these to perfect your packing, equipment selection and repacking. The latter is often overlooked and it can be a sad event watching a frustrated family trying to stuff equipment back into their 4WD only to find that once out of the packaging it has doubled in size and there is nowhere for it to go.
Know your numbers. We recommend that once you have loaded the 4WD for one of your pre-departure weekend trials, you put it over a weigh-bridge and have the following weights taken; front axle, both axles and the rear axle. We also recommend you do the same with your fully loaded camper on the back. Then read your owners manual and be prepared for a surprise. You have a 95% chance of being overloaded on all axles as well as your gross vehicle mass. If you are not, congratulations, and we expect this would not be the first time you have travelled remotely.
So if you are overloaded what to do next? Simple really review everything you have packed and ensure that most tools and equipment including cooking gear should have at least two uses to start with. Clothing can be kept to a minimum regardless of the duration of your trip. If you are travelling with others then sharing tools and recovery equipment to reduce duplication is a great way to share the load.
What’s on the roof?
Pretty much all 4WD have a roof loading from around 55kg to 200kg with the average being around 100kg. Check your owners manual as here you will find the maximum weight and your roof storage system is included in it. So you will suddenly find the six jerry cans and case of spares mean you are now twice your legal limit.
Getting up and down from your roof. There is plenty of research telling us that blokes do nasty things to themselves when they fall of ladders which it seems we do a lot. Our friends at the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) tell us that head and other injuries resulting from falling off a 4WD is a lot more common than you realise.
Let’s put this into some perspective. If you are standing on the roof of your 4WD which is about 1.9m off the ground and you are around say 1.8m tall then your head is a very long way from the ground that it could be about to hit. As well most outback travel is done in the cooler months so your roof rack is probably damp with morning dew/rain/ice which significantly increases the risk of a fall. Please think about this seriously.
Centre of gravity?
4WD are tall and further off the ground than your family car. This “ground clearance” is essential to get over all that rough terrain you are heading for without damaging the undersides of your vehicle. This is a positive design feature that also has its downside which is the higher you are the greater your chance of falling over. All that extra weight on the roof not only makes the car handle like a drunken sailor, we will talk more about this in another blog, but it also makes braking times much longer.
OK hopefully you are now well on the path to working out what you really need, where it will go and what space you have left for your partner/family who are joining you on this once in a life time outback adventure.
Now for the camper trailer
Camper trailers come in all shapes and sizes. We use Ultimate’s which are light, strong and extremely capable off-road. As well they offer comfortable living regardless of the weather. Regardless they get serviced after every trip regardless of cost so we can be confident that an equipment failure is a rare event.
Mechanicals. As with your 4WD mechanical reliability is vital so servicing prior to any trip is vital, particularly as some campers seem to spend a lot of time on the back yard which is not a good thing for moving mechanical bits and pieces that need regular lubrication to prevent rust and corrosion to start with.
The major items to check on the move as well as prior to leaving are; brakes, bearings and the hitch which is normally forgotten. As well the water tank and pump and electrical including lights, batteries and battery and solar chargers if you have them. Nothing worse than plugging in a solar panel to find the sun is not getting into those black boxes that store your electricity. Or those reds and blues behind you are part of a process to let you know your brake lights and indicators are not working.
Weight distribution. A poorly loaded camper is even more dangerous than an overloaded 4WD. Reason is it will cause a crash faster than you can react to this violently swaying anchor which is trying to buck you off the road or into oncoming traffic. Won’t happen to me you say. Let me tell you know we have seen it all to often and it scares the living daylights out of me just watching it happen. Only the gods know how the driver and passengers in trouble in front of us are feeling as they try and regain some semblance of control before they hit something or someone. Please take great care when you load your camper and take it for a test run before you head out into our wide brown land.