Because nothing’s worse than knowing you could fix a breakdown … if only you had your tools.
Breakages can happen at any time. Sometimes they happen when you’re five minutes from home, the broken part is something minor and you’re able to limp the vehicle back to the shed to get repaired. But for those of us who weren’t born lucky, things usually go pear-shaped when we’re 500km from the nearest sign of civilisation and, if you somehow still have phone reception, roadside assistance is simply going to laugh at you and maybe offer to tell your Mum that you love her.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this – you need to have a tool kit on board for when you’re heading bush (or down to the shops) so you can get yourself out of trouble enough to get back to a repair shop or the shed. I get asked all the time: “Which tools should I have in the 4X4?” So here are nine tools I always take with me on long and short trips.
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There is no shortage of these things on the market, but for my money stumping up for a good quality unit is worth it. I remember when I first got my Leatherman. I thought to myself, “I’ll never use this thing,” but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve needed a knife, screwdriver, pliers or wire cutters and my multi-tool has been put to good use. I’ve had it for quite a while, and it still gets used daily.
2. COMPUTER TOOLS
This is a recent addition to my tool kit, and one I leave at home if I’m driving my mechanically injected diesel 4X4 … but put me behind the wheel of a late-model, computer-controlled four-wheel drive (which is all of them these days), and you can bet I’ll be bringing along some sort of software that’ll enable my laptop to talk to the on-board diagnostics (OBD2) port on the vehicle. The software is readily available for pretty much every 4X4 online, and it can make clearing faults and diagnosing problems almost foolproof. With computers causing more problems in the bush than anything else these days, it’s a no-brainer to have a device that can talk to your 4X4 stashed in the back.
3. 12V TOOLS
Wiring problems are a common issue for 4X4s in the bush. Everything from the fridge breaking down to your headlights no longer working can usually be traced back to a faulty relay, fuse, connector or a short. Having a multimeter, crimping tool, cutters and some insulating tape (as well as a few spare fuses and connectors) will get you out of trouble and back on the track in no time.
4. HAND TOOLS
I know I don’t really need to explain why this one is important, but you can tailor your sockets, spanners and screwdrivers to suit your individual vehicle. Let’s say you have a Japanese-built 4X4. You’re not going to need any imperial tools for starters, so leave them at home. In fact, most Japanese cars can be pretty much entirely rebuilt with 10, 12, 13, 14, 16 and 17 mm spanners and sockets. You’d be amazed how few tools will handle a whole bunch of jobs. The same goes for screwdrivers. A couple of different sized plus and minus heads will be all you need. Some later model 4X4s use Torx bolts (Jeep loves them), so have a check to see if you’ll need a set of bits to suit.
Oh, and carry an appropriately-sized hub nut socket; it sucks trying to nip up a loose wheel bearing or change out a busted CV without one (ask me how I know).
5. TYRE PLUG KIT
Travelling to pretty much any remote touring destination carries an inherent risk of staking a tyre. Having the ability to fix the puncture on the side of the track yourself is invaluable, and can be the difference between getting there safely and waiting for a four-figure tow. There’s plenty of comprehensive kits on the market and plugging a tyre is pretty simple once you’ve done a couple. My kit is always in the back of my 4X4.
6. HIGH-LIFT JACK
High-lift jacks are the best and worst thing in the world. The worst because they’re like the drunken brawler of the 4X4 world, just as likely to knock you out as look at you; but they’re the best thing since the shifting spanner in terms of versatility. Apart from lifting your vehicle, they can be used as a press, vice, panel-straightening tool or even a winch if you’re really out of better options. The handle has even been used in the past as a replacement steering rod. Mine has only ever bitten me once, which was operator error … but I still treat it with a healthy amount of respect and suspicion these days. I’ve had it for over 20 years, and have used it more times than I can count, and it’s still going strong.
7. SHOVEL AND AXE
A long-handled shovel is useful to have for a variety of reasons. You can dig fire pits and bush loos; and even dig your truck out of being bogged in soft sand. You can use it as a high-lift jack base, a skid tray for a stuck camper trailer and (if you’re desperate) even as a makeshift BBQ plate.
As for an axe, they’re great for getting firewood (duh) and can help to clear fallen trees that are blocking the track. You can use the flat edge as a hammer. And your axe has a whole host of other uses too. We went camping up Pebbly Beach not so long ago and realised we’d forgotten our sand pegs. Out came the trusty axe – and a short time spent with some inch-thick branches later we’d whittled ourselves a set of sand stakes that lasted for the week we were there without a worry.
8. BRAKELINE CLAMPS
It’s the worst feeling. Going to step on the anchors and your foot goes right to the firewall. You coast to a stop and, sure enough, you’ve split a rubber brake hose. Luckily you read this article before your trip and you have a line clamp or two in the tool box. Throw the clamp on the line above the split, top up the brake fluid and away you go … albeit a little slower than you were travelling before.
9. METAL PUTTY
This stuff is great for holed fuel tanks, radiators, windscreen washer bottles, overflow tanks … anything that’s meant to hold fluid but doesn’t really. A mate of ours snagged his fuel tank on a rock on a trip through the High Country a few years back. As we watched diesel drip steadily into the bucket we’d thrown underneath his vehicle, we thought that it was game over for him and that we’d be waiting hours for a flatbed. Nope, he dived into his tool kit, grabbed a rag to clean the surrounding area and a tube of repair putty – and five minutes later we were back on our way. He later told us that he’d patched his radiator a couple of years before with the same tube and it was still holding up. While I’m not sure about the wisdom of not replacing the radiator (or at least repairing it properly), I couldn’t argue with the results. Since then, a tube of metal putty always gets thrown into my 4X4 kit.
Words By Dex Fulton