Having the right gear on board is paramount, but only if it works…
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There’s been an attitude growing in the 4X4 industry in the last few years that has seen punters shovelling money hand over fist into the arms of the aftermarket, just to make their rigs look the part. You see it everywhere you look… from big tourers sporting twin wheel carriers despite never using a single spare, through to mud-covered el-cheapo LED driving lights that rarely light up more than the driveway after soccer practice.
It’s partly driven by the sheer volume of budget brands out there, partly driven by the ‘I need’ attitude. I need X to do this, I need Y to travel there. Sure, some gear is a safety net just in case, but are there better alternatives? Remember its not just a matter of set and forget either.
Do you live and breathe beach driving; live just a few kays away from prime fishing spots that only low-range sand work can access; head off into the deserts alone and constantly find yourself bogged? Then you can ignore this. For everyone else, put the credit card down, get off eBay, and stop dreaming about sand anchors.
They’re horrendously heavy and expensive, and they take up a lot of awkward space in the back of your 4WD. In most situations they can be replaced by a pair of Maxtrax – giving you a quick and easy recovery. If you’re travelling with a second 4X4, or spend the majority of your time in forested areas, you’ll literally never need one. If you ever find yourself bogged solo and all the other tricks have failed, half an hour with a shovel burying your spare as a winch point will get you out of strife.
FIRST AID KIT
A box of Band-Aids and a fistful of aspirin in a Velcro bag tucked under the passenger seat doesn’t save lives; training does. Most four-wheel drivers will have a reasonably stocked first aid kit somewhere in their vehicle, and absolutely no idea what to do with any of its contents. The whole thing gives us a false sense of security which can have lethal results if things turn pear-shaped… desperately searching through the pack trying to work out which medical adhesive strip cures snake bites, rather than giving much-needed treatment.
Do yourself a favour. Ditch the $5 first aid kit you picked up while doing your weekly grocery run; and book yourself into a remote first aid course. The things you’ll learn in one day will stay with you for life, and could very well save yourself or a loved one… plus give you a much better idea of what you actually need in your kit.
We all know how useful snorkels are right? They raise your engine’s air intake up to the vehicle’s roofline, allowing it to keep running through deep water crossings and keep it out of the dust when travelling trough the desert – in other words, they’re pretty much mandatory for a touring 4X4.
However some snorkels are created more equal than others. Take the classic factory Toyota LandCruiser unit for example. It’s actually designated as a ‘raised air intake’ and not designed for water fording thanks to the two-piece design. It actually leaks like a sieve – not something you want to find out halfway over Nolans Brook. We’ve seen other cheap snorkels that if you hold them up to the light, you can see it shining through the paper-thin plastic!
A quality aluminium, stainless or sealed and moulded UV stabilised plastic unit is the only way to go here. Put the PVC pipe down…
Not many of us consider a tow-ball a recovery device. You’d like to think the two were very unrelated – yet weekend after weekend all across the country uninformed or flat-out unintelligent people are slinging snatch straps over them and yanking harder than a teenaged schoolboy hopped up on energy drinks.
Your standard tow-ball will generally be rated at around 3,500kg. To put that into context the smallest snatch strap you can buy is 8,000kg. The tow-ball can snap – sending a flying hunk of metal directly at an onlooker – before the snatch strap is even using 50% of its maximum load. And that’s not even taking into consideration that the tow-ball is rated for a static load, not a shock load. In other words, they’re simply not designed for use in recovery situations.
The worst part is the tow-ball is generally attached to something that will hold up to the abuse of a snatch recovery. Using a tow-ball is essentially adding a potentially fatal weak link for absolutely no benefit. Don’t do it!
If you’re the kind of 4X4 owner who prides yourself in owning cheap gimmicky gear that deserves a special place in Hell (like microwavable bacon cookers), then you might be a folding shovel kind of person. It still baffles me how these ever became popular. Sure, at first glance they do seem to serve a purpose. You can use them to dig yourself out of trouble; they’re good in sand and mud; they make a perfect companion for walking into the bush with a roll of TP. But a long-handled shovel will do all of that with far less effort and no risk of it folding in half when it’s time to get serious.
What’s more, a long-handled shovel isn’t exactly a difficult thing to store. They easily strap to the sides of roof racks, in behind spare tyres on a rear bar, or even across the front bar if you’re after that travel-the-world kind of look… and well away from gazetted roads.
THE WRONG RUBBER
So you’ve just bought yourself a brand new shiny 4WD, and are keen to get it out into the bush and have some fun with the family. While this is actually a great idea, spare a thought to the Highway Terrains that are likely on your vehicle and whether they’re up to the job.
Y’see, apart from having next to no grip in the mud and sand, almost every new 4X4 comes with a Passenger construction, rather than the preferable Light Truck rating. The difference is basically in the carcass of the tyre, with the Passenger constructions being made a hell of a lot lighter. While this is preferable for on-road driving, it also makes them about as handy as Bill Gates in a bar brawl when off the blacktop. If you want to tick some serious trips off, invest in some LT rated tyres.
Alright, put your pitchforks away… we’re not talking all 12V winches – they’re essentially a ‘get out of gaol free’ card. What we’ve got in our crosshairs is winches that aren’t going to be there when you need them to be. These can come in a few different shapes and forms.
Think about a winch that isn’t sealed and accumulated a motor full of water from that river crossing a few weeks ago, only to seize up when you needed it. That old second-hand clunker you grabbed off eBay and installed without testing it. The fancy new Warn you purchased eight years ago; and haven’t looked inside since almost as long. Or even the budget online jobbie that came with a free tyre deflator and a solenoid that craps the bed the first time it’s connected to power. If you don’t have a winch that is good to go at a moment’s notice with someone’s life depending on it… then you don’t have a winch; you’ve got deadweight.