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Vehicle Problems

Vehicle Reports

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   Another four trips were carried out between May & October this year. We largely had minor problems that were fixed or "got around". However for the first time a vehicle left our trip on a tilt tray. See what you think.......


Tour – Great Victoria Explorer – 18 days

Kalgoorlie. Queen Victoria Spring, various tracks, Lake Rason, Barlett Bluff, Plumridge Lakes etc

   We had a normal amount of minor problems......


Problem Solution
Clunk from moving vehicle Loose wheel nuts – left rear rim – everything OK, tightened nuts and carried on
Wheel came off camper trailer Found bits, checked studs and refitted – oooops?
Hole in CV rubber boot Taped up and zip tied boot – have done this before & works fine


Wheel comes off trailer

Should have checked those wheel nuts?


Repair to CV boot

We have treated CV boot holes like this before & it seems to work quite well.


Expedition – Forrest, Carnegie, Hill & Hann – 25 days

North west Great Victoria & Gibson’s Deserts

   This was an off-track trip looking for sites visited by some of our best known classic explorers. We had a virtually trouble free trip as can be seen below. These off-track jobs are very slow so the vehicles actually have an easier time than on the corrugations & wash-outs of a normal off-road trip.


Problem Solution
2nd battery died Wired everything onto cranking battery – careful power usage – all OK
Partially blocked radiators Normal problem – blew out with compressed air from large compressor
Flat tyres Refer to 2014 Tyre & Tube report


Tour – Desert Oaks, Red Sand & Ranges – 14 days

Central Ranges – Gunbarrel Hwy, Sandy Blight Jnc Road & Gary Junction Road

   Had a few troubles on this trip, some we couldn’t solve in the bush.....


Problem Solution
Driving light bracket broken Removed driving light – don’t need them anyway
Disc brake guard loose & rattling Removed & discarded guard
Disc brake guard rattling & loose Removed guard
Camper trailer bed stay broken Drilled new hole and fitted with split pin - OK
Petrol motor cut out No spark & no fuel – fiddled about & got spark, no good
Suspected a little black box that controls fuel & spark – no spare
Broken bonnet latch Bonnet tied down and OK
Air suspension overheating
(Vehicle restricted to 40 kms/hr)
(Ride height at minimum)
Compressor overheating – removed guards and cleaned around compressor.
Eventually found leak in front right air bag/shock absorber component. Couldn’t be
fixed in the bush and no spare.
Vehicle at back of convey for last day of trip – no trouble for group at all.


Petrol Engine Problem

    This turned into a bit of a saga;

    Heading into camp in the afternoon one of our older vehicles called in to say the engine had cut out & wouldn’t start. These days that is a bit unusual but what can you do? Got the group organised and on their way and went back to help. The vehicle was petrol so after a few initial checks we found there wasn’t any spark & little fuel. The vehicle had been fitted with an aftermarket fuel injection system and electronic distributor. Worked on the spark problem first and eventually got satisfactory spark by fitting the old distributor with points & condenser. We then had spark but no fuel. (The old points distributor worked fine for spark but there was nothing to time the fuel injectors.) Options started to narrow and we came down to a little black box that in an injected system somehow times the spark and the fuel delivery. The owner thought he had a spare, but turned out it had been left at home.

    Towed them the few miles into camp and had a think about the problem while making a few calls for advice on the workings of the system. This is when it is helpful to have a few contacts in the vehicle game. Turned out many late model vehicles (before full computer engine control) have a similar black box so we agreed to go and find one in a wrecked vehicle of which there was plenty nearby. So first thing the next morning we went "hunting" and came up with a few spares.

    We had to continue with the group the next day but left the owner of the vehicle in phone service and being very handy himself he was able to jerry rig the black boxes for a result, but no good, nothing would work. So a tilt tray had been called and everything organised. Vehicle & folk left us that night bound for a workshop in civilisation. We of course carried on with the tour.

    Cutting a long story shorter, the mechanics workshop spent quite some time on it with no result. The owner within a few days flew in the specific part from Sydney. Fitted the little black box & the vehicle started and ran immediately – problem solved. The couple met us for our final tour dinner in Alice Springs so we were able to get the full story.

    What is the moral here? You could rant & rave about a few things but the reality is simple; you can’t & don’t carry every spare part. It is impossible. You carry what you think needs to be carried to cover the weakest links on your vehicle but in most cases you are simply crossing your fingers & hoping that everything works for the duration of the trip. Regardless of how good you are mechanically & electrically if something pops that you don’t have a spare for or parts for, then there is not much you can do. Minor things can be done without like electric windows but a comprehensive failure of engine or transmission leaves you stopped dead. It is a large problem and it pays to do your homework with your particular vehicle. Remember the next vehicle along to help probably won’t be the same model as yours.

    In our case as a commercial operator our vehicle goes through a program of maintenance where parts are changed out before they are worn out or fail. It is called preventative maintenance. It is what they do with aircraft. There is no way to guarantee that this will always work but so far we have no complaints, but our job depends on it, not just one holiday.


Towed out

Sometimes you can’t beat a problem......


Air Suspension Problem – overheating

    Can’t say we had seen this little problem before but we don’t control what happens. We just manage the consequences and do our best. So it started with an intermittent squeak from the front end of a late model air suspension vehicle. Initially it didn’t cause any problems so we didn’t think much of it. Looking at an IFS vehicle front end boggles the mind about where a squeak could come from, so many moving parts. Often vehicles develop the odd noise when they are subject to dusty & rough conditions as well.

    The problem surfaced eventually when the vehicle would not keep to a selected height with the adjustable suspension. It registered a heat problem, shut the compressor down and automatically dropped the vehicle to its lowest suspension setting while also restricting the maximum speed to 40kms/hr. Not much of an idea when off-road on unmaintained roads in the western deserts. The suspicion was a leak in the front right airbag system somewhere. Nothing could be found initially, the problem just wouldn’t surface to be found. The short term solution was letting the system cool every now and again when the suspension compressor warning light came on. As well as adjusting the suspension height higher only when needed. Fortunately the roads for most of the trip were not too bad so it could be managed. This didn’t hold the group up a great deal but I don’t know about the "stress" on the vehicles occupants.

    One band aid solution was to drop the cover plate from the compressor and clean out the dirt, sand & grass to allow it to keep a bit cooler for longer. This was done and didn’t seem to make that much difference, probably because at the time we were only travelling slowly so air movement wasn’t great enough to make a difference. Roaring down the highway of course would have been much better. Towards the end of the trip we were able to find the source of the problem with the aid of some soapy water in a spray bottle, the one I use for tubeless tyres & tube repairs. Turns out that the front right airbag had developed a leak at the join with the integral shock absorber, it wasn’t until fairly well near the end of the trip that the leak was able to be found as over time it had got a bit bigger and was able to be located in behind the shock absorber tower with a mirror. Not much we could do about it as we didn’t have a spare and it seemed the vehicle computer would have to be "talked" to when fitting the new bit anyway. So we were hamstrung.

    For the next day & a half the problem kept up and the vehicle was often reduced to 40kms/hr until the compressor cooled. The system overheated quite quickly in 10-15 minutes as the compressor had no hope of keeping cool with such a leak. It pays to remember that the compressor is not like your tyre unit, it is only quite small and not designed for long periods of work. Obviously you would then think you may be able to override the system and allow the vehicle to travel quicker than 40kms/hr while at the lowest suspension setting, which was on the bump stops by the way. No doubt you could but we didn’t have the tooling for that and only a bitumen road would be good enough for higher speeds while on those bump stops. So we just carried on. We weren’t in a hurry so it didn’t turn out to be much of an inconvenience at all really. There are just some things you can’t do much about.

    On reaching civilisation the vehicle was booked in and a new air bag/shocker sent up & fitted, problem solved. Finally from me a big thankyou to the owners of this vehicle for their patience and expertise with this problem.


Fixing air bag leak

Removing plate to clean around suspension compressor before finding air bag leak


Cleaning out debris

Cleaning out debris from a suspension compressor bash plate – hoping to aid cooling of the compressor


Tour – Beadell Tracks Wanderer – 24 days

Anne Beadell, Connie Sue, Gunbarrel Highways, Hunt Oil Road, David Carnegie Road

   Just the normal minor problems that were fixed in the bush.


Problem Solution
Hole in suspension air bag Cut by sharp stone – spare fitted & OK
Trailer plug rubbing on ground Plug refitted to top of towbar
Roof-rack bolts loose Tightened bolts – all OK
12V plug failed Cut off and wired on another plug - OK
Same trailer plug giving trouble Plug damaged – rewired the plug & fitted zip ties to hold wiring
Put new bolts in plug mount on top of towbar – (small bolts had broken)
Hole in CV boot Taped up & zip tied – works well


Collapsed air bagSplit in air bag

Bag has collapsed inside coil Cut on bottom of air bag – likely a stone


Suspension Air Bags

    Well we have been running on these exact airbags since 2010, that’s 22 commercial tag-a-longs plus about a dozen private trips all in the western deserts. I won’t bother including how much running up & down the bitumen highways that includes but suffice to say Connie & I know the Stuart, Eyre & Great Northern Highways extremely well. However bitumen miles don’t wear most gear, just tyres & fuel as long as your engine filters are clean.

    As I’m not sure what cut the airbag I can’t really say much more about it. Given the amount of time spent off-road as well as bush bashing off-track then the only conclusion to draw is simply bad luck. Travelling in remote country you must be as ready as possible for a bout of "bad luck" whether it’s gear, vehicle or tyres. You cannot afford not to be self-sufficient. So on finding the old right hand rear bag deflated I first pumped it back up so I could find the problem. Straight away I could hear the air leaking out and quickly found the cut on the bottom corner as you can see in the above photograph. I was able to pull the bag out through the coil spring after jacking up the chassis a bit to "open" the coil up enough. All I could do was get out one of the spares we have been carrying for 5 years, clean the coil of grit & sand and install the new bag, fit the airline & pump him up. I think the whole job took about 20 minutes.

    Now if you didn’t have a spare air bag you would have to decide whether to keep going or go back. This decision depends on whether you have the standard suspension or you actually did upgrade the springs. I’ll explain; if you keep your standard coils or leaves you now have a great deal of weight on the standard spring, it won’t like it and in a short space of time it may begin to sag depending on age etc. If & when it does sag you will probably find that side of your chassis will begin to use the rubber bump stop, now depending on the set-up that could mean trouble for your chassis. Many of the popular 4WD's these days have very thin chassis’ that don’t like real hard work and hitting a bump stop is one of them. Imagine belting your chassis with a big hard mallet.....doesn’t sound like much but fatigue in steel is a real issue.

    For long range touring where you are heavily loaded you would be ill-prepared if you didn’t upgrade your rear springs in some way before adding an air bag set-up. Once again I urge folk to have a think about it.

    It pays to be prepared.......


Moved trailer plug

Moved the trailer electrical plug up into the bumper –
you can see where the professionals had mounted it low down on the bracket.
Really smart work for an off-road set-up......


CV Boot repair

Another CV boot repair, just stopping the grease coming out &
dust/water getting in. (Is there something to be said for solid beam axles???)



So 2014 had a couple of tough problems but the remainder were only really minor issues that wouldn’t interrupt a good holiday trip in the deserts. Remember it pays to carry spares. Do your homework on your vehicle & gear. Remember very few folk will really know what will happen in remote areas with heavily loaded vehicles.

If you know what will happen in 2015, let me know.

Mick Hutton
Copyright : June 2015




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