Prepare your 4×4 for the big trips

By Unsealed 4X4 7 Min Read

The days are counting down to that big trip you have been planning. You’ve spent an eternity poring over maps and itineraries, ensuring you’ve got the right mixture of distances and downtime, with all of the sights you want to see. Now, how’s that 4X4 going?

Your desert-crossing machine might also be your daily driver. Has the daily grind got it down? You’d have rocks in your head if you didn’t give your bus a big service and inspection before leaving on that trip of a lifetime. I have been going through this process myself for my upcoming Madigan Line big trip and have put together some points and tips that might help you in your trip preparation.

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Suspension

There are two important things that you need to think about with your suspension before you go. Firstly, what sort of condition is it in? On my Defender, the springs and shocks looked to be OEM spec, and probably over 10 years old. Rather than winging it and half expecting to blow a shock along the way, I got it changed over with some quality aftermarket stuff. There are plenty of options on the market, I chose King Springs and Bilstein shock absorbers for my Defender 130.

This leads into the second part: is your suspension suited to the trip? Desert crossings typically bring with them corrugations and big hummocks for the suspension to cycle over, paired with big loads in the back of the 4X4. If your shockie looks more like a bicycle pump than a damper, it’s probably not up to the task. Get something decent under there, and you have one less thing to worry about.

A big, thorough service

This should be an obvious one, but it isn’t always the case. Do every fluid and filter possible on your rig, and see if there are any tell-tale signs with the stuff that comes out. Look for metallic, milky or burnt oils, and you might be onto an issue. Grease anything that has a nipple, and if it isn’t a replacement job, give it a good inspection. Eyeball your steering joints, for example, and test your suspension bushes with a prybar and don’t forget to give the brakes the once over while you’re under there.

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Be preventative

Change things before you go, if they are suspect or unknown, before they break. Belts, universals, master and slave cylinders should all be in your firing line, for a start. The good thing about changing things before they break or die is that now you have a good, known spare for your kit. My tip here is to just spend an hour or two crawling around, inside and under your 4X4, and having a good old-fashioned sticky-beak. Push, tap, twist and poke things; you’ll learn so much about your vehicle’s condition by just poking around.

Know your vehicle

No single 4X4 is perfect, no matter what the diehards say. Sometimes the trick isn’t finding and fixing a weakness with a heavy-duty or upgraded replacement, but rather just knowing the weakness, being aware of it, and treating your car accordingly. Weak diffs or axles? Just be a bit gentle on the throttle, especially in low range. Got no power? Lower your tyre pressures more than normal, and rely on low gearing to get over obstacles. We’ve lost count of the number of problems and breakages we’ve seen out in the bush that wouldn’t have occurred if the vehicle was driven with a bit of mechanical sympathy.

Get your 4×4 checked by good mechanic

You might think you are the MacGyver of home servicing and repairs, but the truth is that 99 per cent of us would benefit hugely from a visit to a ‘real’ workshop. Pick an actual 4X4 mechanic and someone who has specialist knowledge in your make and model if possible. Any competent workshop can do a fairly complete pre-trip inspection, and they have skills, tools and diagnostics that the DIYer doesn’t have. They’ll check the condition of your hydraulic fluids and pressure check your cooling system, for example. Even just getting the car up onto a hoist is a good idea.

Prepare yourself with skills

Alright then, your vehicle is nicely sorted out now. You’ve gone all preventative, and you have a good list of spares and tools loaded into the car. There’s one tool you’re forgetting though: the one behind the wheel. Changing mechanical components or attempting repairs for the first time in the field is far from satisfactory. Instead, have a practice run at home in the driveway. Get your hands on an old tyre and practice using your repair and removal gear on it. Take your drive belts on and off, and anything else you feel dicey about. That’s just repairs, as well. Get trained up with first aid before you go, and consider doing a recovery or driving course if you’re inexperienced or a bit rusty. It could easily make the difference between driving out under your own steam, or under somebody else’s.



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