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Vehicle Preparation   including tour Vehicle Report links & tips

Vehicle, Koni and Communications



    These are just the main problems we see with vehicles when travelling in the western deserts. All of them can be avoided with good thorough preparation & maintenance.

    Some of the problems are caused by poor design; most of it though is from a lack of understanding of the conditions or the amount of conditions due to the very long distances that have to be covered in the western deserts.

    Vehicle maintenance issues also crop up fairly often, in general these days vehicles are exceptionally reliable, but they can and do still fail. They still need maintenance and the more travelling you do in harsh areas the more maintenance will be required. Let’s face it, gear does wear out and the more weight you carry in a vehicle the faster it will wear out. It is not rocket science.

    If you do a lot of travelling and as yet nothing has happened, think about it this way, every day out there you are a day closer to the time when you will have trouble.



    This is the most obvious & simple problem and yet the reason for it happening seems to get overlooked in many cases. I have lost track of the number of things we have picked up during our travels, tools, camp gear, vehicle accessories, number plates, sunglasses, all manner of nuts, bolts & washers (which are very handy and get added into my box of bits-n-pieces). One time we even found a GPS unit, it worked and we still use it as a spare! You may not have lost anything at all, but everyone has had to tighten something up during a big trip, it is a fact of life for the traveller.

    Anything you bolt on to a vehicle has the chance of coming off; bullbar, roof rack, spare tyres, driving lights etc. You name it they can fall off, and they do. The easiest thing to do is put some type of thread locker goo onto every accessory nut & bolt on your vehicle. Now be sensible and use a thread lock product that you can actually undo when you have to, don’t use full blown Loctite. Go as far as the screws that hold your number plate, the screws that hold on your turning indicators, bullbar bolts, anything actually. Again don’t use full blown Loctite, use stuff designed to stop nuts rattling loose and coming off bolts etc. If you’re getting gear fitted professionally ask if they use goo on the nuts and bolts, if they don’t make sure they do.

    Another way to avoid this is to actually check your vehicle over carefully while on the trip and not wait for something to fall off. Combine both methods and you will have some pretty trouble free outback touring.



    Occasionally we’ll see shock absorbers that are well past their use-by-date, more often it will be the bushes, washers and nuts that hold them on. Unfortunately when people check shockers the poor old bushes get neglected. Have at look at them yourself, if you can see some little cracks in the black rubbers or the coloured poly bushes they are worn out. If you pull them off and they stay flattened and feel rock hard, they are worn out. It is a combination of workload and time that does this.

    You should be able to source new bushes, washers & nuts for your shockers, give the blokes who handle shockers a call, or where ever you got them from originally. If you fit them yourself pay close attention to the instructions and follow them.

    The better quality and more heavy duty shock absorbers will usually outlast a set of bushes & washers.



    We have lost count of the numbers of shock absorber failures we have heard about over the years. A fair percentage will be because of old stiff bushes giving up under the strain and letting the shock bash itself to death on the chassis mounts. The other very common reason is when the shock can’t handle the workload, generates too much heat and cooks the seals out of the unit. That’s when the oil or the gas/oil pours out of them and you have a buggered shock absorber that can’t be repaired. Then without a spare you’ll just have to do without.

    The remedy for the above is very simple, good tyre pressures and sensible travel time. In other words slow down and also pull up now and again to let your shocks cool off a bit, particularly in corrugation country. Most folk will have a glance over their tyres when they pull up. Few bother to check the heat of their shock absorbers.

    Something else to consider is the fitment of Air Bags, particularly to the rear axle where all of the weight is normally. Air Bags were designed to help with load carrying, but a good side effect is that they reduce the workload for shock absorbers as well, something to think about.



    Suspension bushes are a very hard worked item and to be honest I doubt many folk think about them at all. Again much the same as the gear mentioned above, time and work will wear suspension bushes out. Suspension bushes will not last the life of the vehicle if you do outback touring.

    Get under your vehicle and have a good hard long look at all of those black rubber bushes scattered throughout the suspension. If your vehicle has independent suspension, then keep looking because there should be quite a number of them. If any or all of them show signs of cracking, or are out of shape at all then they will need replacing. Don’t do just the one, do all of them because they will all be the same age won’t they?

    Good suspension bushes are essential in keeping your hardware from wearing out or cracking. Chances are the vehicle will drive and feel better with new bushes and your suspension will feel more supple and responsive, or at the very least those funny little noises when the suspension flexes should have disappeared.

    You can also include in that the engine mounts and the gearbox/transfer case mounts. They are rubber also and don’t last forever if you are doing a lot of rough road work carrying weight.



    Eventually over a number of trips you may begin to notice that the back end of your vehicle doesn’t quite sit up as high as it used to. You guessed it, springs wear out as well. Whether it is coil or leaf they will all relax with enough time and work. All heavily loaded vehicles have to maintain a good amount of suspension travel. That’s the amount the axle housing or wishbone can travel before it hits the rubber bump-stop.

    The trick is to measure the height of the vehicle when the springs are new and check it every year, but keep in mind you need to be loaded the same when you do this otherwise the measurement won’t mean much at all.

    A great many of the Independent Suspension systems are going to coil springs these days, moving away from Torsion Bars. I don’t have experience with torsion bars at a maintenance level, but nothing lasts forever so I suspect they lose twisting torque as well.

    Pretty simple way to solve this one, get new springs.



    This can be a major problem, be aware it does happen and it is not uncommon. The reason for cracking can usually be traced back to lack of maintenance, in some cases though the vehicle will have some sort of engineering fault or what is known as a stress raiser, where the engineering or construction focuses strain on a particular weak point and it ultimately fails.

    Now the only way to avoid this problem is to keep the suspension with plenty of travel, keep all of the suspension & shock absorber bushes in very good order, drive sensibly and the most important, load the vehicle sensibly, it is that simple. Even just slowing down a bit will go a long way to prolonging the life of gear under a huge amount of stress.

    Always inspect you vehicle for cracks in the chassis and look for oil leaks from the diff’ housings and gearboxes etc. Get in the habit of looking for these things and ask your mechanic to do the same if he doesn’t already.



    The advice normally with tyres is to have a new set on the vehicle for your big trip. Very rarely have I seen or read where they have said why that is a good idea. In a nutshell the more tread depth (less worn) the tyre has, the more rubber cushion will be between the sharp rocks & sticks and the steel belt of the tyre. Looking at it from a different angle, if the tyre has the legal limit of 1.5mm of tread left then the steel belt of the tyre has only a very thin layer of rubber protecting the tyre construction plies, steel belt and cords from those same sharp rocks.

    So if you’re belting down some outback road heavily loaded and run over a sharp stone or thousands of sharp stones then it makes sense to have as much tough rubber between those rocks and the strong but sensitive carcass construction of the tyre. That should make sense, and that is what the experts are trying to say when they recommend new tyres for that big outback trip.

    If for whatever reason you can’t use new or near new tyres then the only option is to use tyre pressure very carefully and travel at a slower pace.


Mick Hutton
Copyright : November 2009







Travel Information - general guide to touring with us
Vehicle Preparation - important basics
Road Conditions - what to expect
Tyre Information - detailed help regarding tyres, tubes and repairs
Vehicle, Koni & Communications - choices and help with common problems
Interest Pages - includes Len, Anne, Desert Articles & Updates plus Handy Links



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