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Vehicle Problems

Vehicle Reports

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   Every year we do 4 or 5 commercial tag-a-longs and 2016 was no exception. There were a few problems, some bigger than others but things went pretty well regardless.
This is just about what happened, no brands, no names.
See what you think.......


Tour – "Canning Stock Route & the Explorers" – 28 days

Halls Creek to Wiluna – the full Canning Stock Route with every detour we are still allowed to do.....

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


Problem Solution
Flat battery Jump started
No power – battery terminal loose Cleaned & tightened up
Fridge battery not charging well Put in manual bridge to cranking battery if needed when engine running
Rear right coil spring popped out Put it back in and put a heavy wire around it
IFS axle boot damaged Duct tape & zip ties – didn’t last long – found a bigger problem.....
Bash plate missing bolts Supplied & fitted new bolts – put some goo on them this time
IFS CV joints collapsed & smashed Pulled half shaft out – vehicle headed to town in 2WD for new parts
Flat battery Jump started
Engine erratic - water in fuel Blew out filter several times & drained water from fuel tank
Dusty air filters Blew out with compressed air about once a week


Front Axle Outside Constant Velocity Joint Failed

   So what happened was that about midway through the trip we noticed grease on the inside of the tyre. Having a quick look the CV boot was found to have a hole in it. We suspected a stick or something had sliced it open, we have seen this before. So we taped it up with duct tape and threw on a few zip ties to hold everything in place. This normally works a treat and thought no more of it. However a week or so later upon inspection I found more grease on the inside of the tyre and the repair tape cut to ribbons. I poked a finger into the damaged boot and felt sharp steel, oh dear. Had a good look with a torch with the steering dragged the right way and it was obvious that the CV joint had collapsed to the point where the balls were gone from the cage as well as any remaining grease. The driver hadn’t heard anything unusual from the front end of the bus, these things happen. While on the job I had a look at the other side CV and there was grease on the inside of the tyre, but only a little. Bugger! I couldn’t feel any huge sharp bits yet so we decided to leave that one in.

   The next job was to pull the half shaft out just in case it decided to grab & lock up the axle, maybe breaking something else if the vehicle was at speed. I hadn’t had anything to do with IFS half shafts but after a bit of thought and a couple of bolts it all came to pieces quite well. To stop sand & dust getting into the inner joint we siliconed a plastic bottle over the opening. Best we could do on the spot.

   From that point it was simple. Head to town and get some new parts as we couldn’t do anything to solve the problem where we were on the Canning. Luckily we were at Well 24 so Newman wasn’t that far away by a pretty good road and there were plenty of workshops there that should be able to help. We arranged it so if the vehicle could be repaired then the customer could drive south to Wiluna and come up the CSR to meet us coming down as we were not sure how long the repairs would take or if parts would have to come up from Perth. As it turned out this worked well and we met up again at Well 12. The Dealer in Newman apparently looked at the IFS CVs and nodded calmly saying they do a lot of them and should have some on the shelf.......make of that what you will.

   I was curious about this problem and got the owners of the same brand of vehicle with IFS to check their workshop manuals for anything about the CVs regarding maintenance. All that could be found was that the rubber boots were to be inspected for damage periodically. No mention at all about checking grease in the CVs or adding grease some time during a major service. I found this very poor. (In our own vehicle of a different brand it is clearly stated during major services to check and add grease to the CV joints.)


Broken CV joint

A broken Constant Velocity (CV) Joint in a late model vehicle on our
Canning Trip in April/May. The vehicle only had about 150,000kms on the clock.


Missings bearings

You can see how the cage is smashed with the bearings missing.


End of half shaft

Here you can see the end of the half shaft (axle), it’s meant to be inside the cage.......


No half shaft

This is what it looked like after we took the half shaft out. Vehicle is fine but only rear wheel drive is available.


Water in Fuel (Petrol)

   One of the Petrol vehicles started stuttering and coughing one morning. Had a bit of a look and we had plenty of fuel and power so had to think of something else. I went looking for a fuel strainer in the system but couldn’t find one, then I couldn’t locate a traditional filter in the engine bay.......turns out the fuel filter is about the size of a small Vegemite jar and it’s stuck on a steel bracket, it’s all one piece. It didn’t look like a filter to me at all. Pulled the little filter and tapped the contents into the palm of my hand, whacko, water! Kept tapping it out and gently blew it out as well (just with my mouth). Put it back together and away we went. However within half an hour the spluttering was back, so we had more water in the filter and likely more in the tank.

   Decided to drain the tank and replace the filter. Now the problem with modern vehicles is that they have plastic fuel tanks that don’t have a bottom bung so they can be drained like the old steel tanks. So you have to put a hole in them then repair it. Drove the vehicle up a bit of a slope so the water would settle at the lowest point in the tank and then drilled a small hole in it. Caught a litre or two of fluid in a bucket then put a good sized screw into the hole to seal it up. Worked fine! There was about 300ml of water in the bottom of the bucket, obviously that was enough for the pick-up to get. Put the new fuel filter on & tidied things up. Vehicle fired up well and ran properly for the rest of the trip. Problem solved with only a small amount of effort.


Small fuel filter

You can see how small the fuel filter is & with no drain for water
you have to replace it. Poor engineering.


Water & dirt in petrol

Petrol from the filter, dirty & with plenty of water.


More water

Fuel drained from the tank, fair bit of dirty water in the bottom.


Tour – "South West Explorer" – 18 Days

Great Victoria Desert

   This was a little trip using mostly forgotten roads or tracks that don’t appear on any maps in the south west of the Great Victoria Desert. We had a good run with only a few minor problems, that small they are hardly worth mentioning.

Problem Solution
Ripped door off camper New pop rivets – all OK
Snorkel mount damaged rivets tore New pop rivets – all OK
PVC pipe broken off side of vehicle PVC was broken and discarded at Laverton tip
Intermittent engine starting Fuel pump relay a bit sticky – swapped it for a neighbouring relay – all OK


Expedition - "Two Soaks C96" – 28 days

Great Sandy Desert

   This was a pretty tough trip through trackless sandhill country looking for a couple of Native Wells used by Carnegie & his party in 1896. We didn’t find those two but we found plenty of other things which we don’t think many folks have seen for many decades. The trip was almost trouble free, a few minor things but we had two major problems that (pardon the pun) threw a spanner in the works. It was things we couldn’t fix and we had to make major changes to the trip to work around this issue. That all sounds bad but things went well and everyone got on with things in a cheerful manner, a good trip despite what happened.

Problem Solution
Cranking battery not working Cleaned terminals and things got better but battery indicator stilled showed black
Front diff’ noise Put in 2WD – vehicle left expedition at Balgo Community
Rear drive shaft snapped Pulled shaft out and drove out of desert in 2WD – needed a tow a few times
Fridge failed Fridge switched off for a day or so then switched on – all OK
20 flat tyres See the Tyre & Tube Report
Blocked radiators Blew them out with compressed air when needed
Dusty air filters Blew out with compressed air when needed


Snapped rear drive shaft

Snapped rear drive shaft, pretty hard to fix in the bush......

   The vehicle in question had an aftermarket overdrive bolted onto the back of the transfer case so the rear drive shaft was also an aftermarket unit, much shorter than the standard shaft. This shaft snapped so the vehicle lost drive to the rear wheels and there wasn’t much we could do. We removed the shaft and the vehicle was left with front wheel drive only. With many miles of sandhills to cross to the north we didn’t have the time or the fuel to nurse a 2WD vehicle any further against the run of the sandhills. We decided to head east between the sandhills heading for the track between Balgo & Kiwirrkurra & 130kms & 2 days later we were on that track and 2WD would handle the conditions pretty easily from now on.

   We couldn’t get a replacement locally of course so a new shaft was sent from Melbourne from the aftermarket supplier. It took 8 days to get to Halls Creek, which we thought was pretty good as there is no air freight available. The vehicle in question left our expedition at Balgo & went to Halls Creek to wait for the parts & fit them when they arrived. We carried on with our expedition in a slightly revised way and caught up with the vehicle on the last day of the trip, they were mobile and very relieved to be on the go again. Things worked out quite well in the end.


Snapped shaft

Both ends of the snapped male splined shaft, just like a carrot,
never seen that before on a 4WD in the desert.



Radiator with a little bit of rubbish on it from bush bashing. Easy to clean out with
compressed air if you can get in there & have the right gear to do it.


Tour – "Nullarbor Explorer" – 22 days

Esperance WA to Coorabie SA – a trip that used a variety of tracks & roads to stay off the bitumen and visit dozens of sites of interest.

   We were lucky with this trip as we only had a couple of minor quibbles but one of them was a real puzzle that we didn’t solve. The mechanics that fixed this problem after the vehicle returned home reckoned it was easy to find the leak. I spent quite a bit of time chasing this problem & had no luck at all. See what you think.....

Problem Solution
Brake fluid leaking away somewhere No sign of any brake fluid leaking anywhere, anytime – clamped off the rear brakes to isolate the problem and the leak disappeared. With the rear still clamped fluid started leaking again, still no wet patches anywhere. Investigated the Master Cylinder & no luck either. It had me baffled to be honest, all we could do was top the reservoir up and keep going. I guess we put a couple of litres through the Master Cylinder and never did we find a wet patch to indicate a "hole" in the system.
Dusty air filters Blew out with compressed air
Radiators with some grass seeds Blew out with compressed air
Clutch fluid disappearing Replaced Slave Cylinder – better but still losing fluid, needed to change Master Cylinder


Dusty air filter

Dusty air filter.

   I’m always surprised how many folks won’t pull their air filter out and give it a bit of a clean even after they comment/complain about dust during a tag-a-long tour or expedition. Usually what happens I’ll be doing mine and others will bring their air filters over for me to clean with our big compressor.

   For those who don’t realise, air filters don’t stop all of the dust and be warned snorkels still allow dust. Think about it, what does dust do from a moving goes up, that’s why you can see vehicles coming from great distances because of the dust plume. So if you have dust in your engine it combines with the oil and makes your lubricant very slightly abrasive, something like extremely mild grinding paste. It pays to blow out your air filter frequently, and change your oil more often than the manual states if you are off-road a lot, it’s called maintenance.


Blowing out dust

Blowing dust out of a radiator & engine bay during an off-road tour.

   It’s always a good idea to have a calm think about how things work. Folks should give it a go because if you are out in a remote area, you may be the only one that can help yourself.....Sitting behind your radiator is a large fan, this thing's job is to draw air through the radiator to cool the fluid that is being pushed through it by the water pump. These fans are very efficient designs, they drag a lot of air through. They have to. So if the air they bring in is dusty & filled with grass seeds where do you think all of that stuff goes?

   Compared to air filters the poor old radiator is a real orphan. Nobody ever thinks their radiator may need some servicing, I’ve lost track of how many times I have been told, "oh, the temperature gauge never moves!". In their defence nearly all 4WDs are incredibly difficult to get at the radiator to have a go at cleaning them. I can say from experience it’s a real pain in the bum. With cowlings and other gear in the road they are almost impossible to clean really well, at best you might get about 50-60% of the radiator area. It is a slow painful job and with many of the vehicles you need to do it from underneath so you get covered in crap while you are working. All good fun as they say, "they" being the folks that don’t do this sort of thing!


Observations From Outback Touring

Be Prepared

   Such a simple, well known phrase, it’s a pity most folks don’t realise how far reaching it is. Being prepared means much more than taking along a few spare parts for your vehicle and a spare box of matches. If things go awry on your trip with things such as weather or major mechanical difficulties then your whole trip could have to change dramatically. Route, time and many other factors can be affected and may have to be altered to such a degree that they no longer resemble your original trip. It pays in your trip planning to add a bit more time to the trip or shave a bit of distance from your itinerary to allow for the unexpected. Tying yourself to booked accommodation or connecting flights etc. is fine but give yourselves a little more time to join the dots in case something goes wrong. Remember you’re on holiday, it’s not meant to be stressful.

Aftermarket gear for 4WDs in regard to western desert touring

   There are two basic schools of thought about this;

   Well as usual there is merit in both schools of thought. Done properly & used sensibly both work to a point, BUT as with most things there is a huge grey area in between and most folks don’t ever have the opportunity to see both sides of the "argument" from the ground. From our perspective I favour both, the reason for this is simple. Our work in the western deserts sees us loaded to the maximum amount, covering huge distances with no fuel & water available all the while being entirely self-sufficient for weeks at a time. From memory our longest single run between services of any description has been 22 days and every day we were mobile, not camped up. A completely standard vehicle cannot do this year after year, trip after trip, it’s impossible for many reasons. However we are pretty careful not to interrupt the function of the original vehicle systems if we can help it. I believe that has been part of our success with the same vehicle over the last 13 years on a commercial basis, some 65 odd western desert trips.

   The folks in the "standard" camp have a valid point. A vehicle in its showroom form is as reliable as it will ever be, I will never dispute that. 9 out of 10 times a problem in the bush with a vehicle besides tyres will be aftermarket gear. To break this down a little more to make sense of it folks need to analyse why the gear caused a problem. 9 out of those 10 times it failed because the thing wasn’t installed properly or has never had much maintenance since it was installed. It’s pretty rare to have a bit of aftermarket gear of reasonable quality just fail because of poor design or manufacture. It does happen but not often. Aftermarket manufacturers don’t have millions of dollars to spend on testing. Most of the testing is done in the field by the customers. That is part of the reason for your warranty even though that will never be stated or voiced. Most vehicle failures can often be traced back to poor attention from the owner or whoever does the maintenance, folks don’t like hearing this sort of thing but in my experience it’s true. With a little bit of patience and some minor mechanical skill most problems with good aftermarket gear can be avoided.

   Sometimes aftermarket gear is the only way your vehicle will be capable of doing such and such a trip or whatever. Fuel capacity would be the best example here. Sometimes you will need fuel for 2-3 weeks or more than 2000kms in one hit. Once you add a safety margin that means a lot of fuel and no vehicle can carry enough in standard tanks for some trips. The same is true for weight carrying. Standard springs do not last long if you are anywhere near your GVM for more than short periods of time. Having seen plenty of cracked chassis, it is true. If a loaded vehicle sags in the rear then the springs are not good enough, period. On the other hand bolting on to much gear is not very intelligent. It costs a lot of money for all of that stuff (better spent on fuel in the bush), takes away valuable payload (makes the bus heavier) and for desert work you actually don’t need much "stuff", you really don’t.

   From our experience as long range tourers & expeditioners most of the folks who are against aftermarket modifications don’t actually do much real long range work so never really see the need for changes to a vehicle. Normally just a bit of extra fuel capacity and some heavier rear springs is all you need for long range work. You could hardly call that over accessorising a vehicle or making it needlessly unreliable. We don’t like to see vehicles with every conceivable accessory bolted & wired into a vehicle the same as we don’t like to see a bare bones standard vehicle loaded up for a month long trip west of the Stuart Highway. As with most things there is a comfortable middle ground, it will just depend on whether you need to get there.



      Anyway we did have a few problems in 2016, we’ll have to hope our luck gets better next year.......

Mick Hutton
Copyright : July 2017




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