Top 10 4X4 Touring Tips

10 Top Things this 4X4 Tour Guide Wouldn't be Without

I'm often asked by my training customers about what upgrades and gear they should get before going away on an extended trip.

So here’s my 10 tips worth.

1. Upgraded Suspension. First of all you have to understand that a standard 4X4 vehicle is not suitable for extended periods of dirt road or off-road driving. Extensive Outback road driving on corrugations for days on end, for example, is a sure-fire way to destroy your suspension. Even brand new vehicles are not fitted with suspension components that will withstand the rigors of the Outback.

Solution: Upgrade to heavy duty shocks and springs. This will usually give your vehicle about a 2 inch body lift as well, giving it better clearance in rough terrain. The type of suspension you get should be matched to the weight you intend to carry. This is a bit of a trade-off between what you carry fully loaded for touring and unloaded around town.

Heavy duty shocks and springs are designed to withstand the punishment dished out on lengthy overland trips.

2. Decent tyres. There’s no point having all the other mods if you’re going to drive off-road on passenger (P) rated road tyres. They just don’t cut it. The sidewalls of P-rated tyres are as soft as butter and a sharp rock or stick will tear a big hole in them. Go for a reputable brand of Light Truck (LT) construction tyre and these will take you most places without dramas. 

3. Bullbar. The amount of times people have told me “I don’t need a bullbar” is quite incredible. My answer is simply that if you hit a roo or an emu (I call them “Suicide Chickens”) and it puts a hole in your radiator, then you’re off the road until you get it fixed. Not the easiest prospect when you are 500kms from the nearest mechanic. A bullbar will hopefully prevent this from happening. Yes, the bar might be damaged but at least you can still drive the vehicle.

4. Lights. “I’m not going to drive at night.” Usually the reaction from the people without the bullbar, but sometimes even those with one. My rationale is that if you do end up driving at night, then it might be an emergency situation or just that you got sidetracked. The risk of hitting an animal at night is greatly increased. Worse still, the risk of swerving to avoid hitting an animal and then hitting a tree is greatly increased. LED spotlights and lightbars are incredible these days and also not that expensive.

5. Comms. Now you’ve got that flash bullbar, it’s a great place to mount a UHF aerial. Get a radio and aerial installed by a professional, then you know it’s going to work properly. Bad comms on a group trip is frustrating. You want everyone to hear what’s going on - "oncoming roadtrain", "cows on the road", "left turn ahead", that kind of thing.

Along with comms goes sat phones, PLBs, trackers and 2-way satellite texting devices. I used a Spot 3 for years all over Australia and while it’s great for people to keep track of you, it is very limited in what it can do. The new generation Spot X or Garmin inReach are, in my opinion, far more useful than a sat phone. You can send and receive text messages, get weather forecasts, track your progress and alert the calvary if things go sideways.

6. Drawer System and Cargo Barrier. Being able to arrange your gear inside the vehicle in a well designed drawer system will make your whole touring experience more enjoyable. There are some cleverly designed systems that make great use of space. Find one that incorporates a fridge slide and a pull out bench so you don’t have to constantly move stuff from one side to the other to open another drawer. Electrics in the wings are also a great idea. Light switches, chargers and a compressor can all be fitted in here.

Black Label Storage Solutions 4WD Drawers

"Do I need a cargo barrier?" Hmmm, let's see.

Legendary Outback Guides Dave and Irene tell the story of a rollover that occurred at the end of one of their trips. After everyone had gone their separate ways, they came across one of their customer’s wrecked vehicles. It had rolled about 6 times and all of the gear that was inside the vehicle was strewn over 100m of road. ALL of the gear. EVERYTHING. The fridge, the drawer system, the recovery gear, everything. What saved the two occupants was their seatbelts and the cargo barrier. Without a barrier in a rollover, the chances of losing your head are fairly high.

7. Roof Rack. A great place to put all of the stuff that doesn’t fit in your vehicle. You obviously don’t want to put a bunch of heavy items up here, but often there’s nowhere else for the second spare or a gas bottle. Buy a big waterproof zip up bag and put all your bedding up there, or the folding chairs, or the kids if they won’t shut up. (Oops, did I say that out loud?!) It’s also a great place to mount some small flood lights which make setting up camp in the dark so much easier. And of course the awning. The 270 degree freestanding types are the best.

8. Tyre Deflator and Compressor. The rapid type deflators that remove the valve are great but you need to learn how to use it. It’s also recommended to carry a spare valve or two just in case you get it wrong. Reducing your tyre pressures on dirt roads and off-road greatly reduces the chances of getting punctures, helps your suspension by taking some of the shock away and increases traction in rough terrain.

There’s no point in going to the trouble of getting the right tyres and dropping pressures to suit the conditions if you can’t pump them back up again when you hit the seal. You get what you pay for, so don’t get one of the “toy” ones for $40. They will just overheat and die.

9. TPMS (Tyre Pressure Management System). This is a vital piece of equipment for touring. Having a constant read-out of your tyre pressures makes you aware of the changes in pressure throughout the day and also gives you peace of mind that if you don’t see the pressure dropping due to a slow leak, then the alarm will let you know. When a tyre is run flat it overheats then the sidewall explodes. This can have catastrophic consequences for the occupants or other vehicles.

10. Fuel Pre-filter. You’re almost certain to pick up some dirty or water contaminated fuel in the Outback at some stage. The new diesel engines really hate this. For the sake of a $300 pre-filter, you can stop worrying. The other piece of advice is don’t fill up if the fuel tanker is at the station filling the tanks. This stirs up all the rust and gunk in the tanks. Go somewhere else or wait a couple of hours before you fill up.


So there you go. There’s a bunch more things that come along with me on tour (that’s for another list) but with these items, your touring will be safer and more enjoyable.

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Cheers, Tony.

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