Outback Driving Skills - What You Need To Know Before Heading Out
The best thing about driving a 4wd is you can get away from it all, and if you’re in Australia that goes double. The Outback is about as far away from it all as you can get without actually leaving the planet. As soon as you turn away from the coast in Australia you’re basically driving towards a desert, and sooner or later you’ll get there. That makes for some amazing driving, and the deserts have become popular destinations for off-road enthusiasts, but they’re not just an adventure playground. They’re really big and they’re really dangerous, and if you don’t know what you’re doing you can soon find yourself in a lot of trouble.
A modern 4wd wagon or Ute will take you just about anywhere you want to go in Australia but before you venture into the desert you need to be fully confident in yourself and your vehicle. Don’t just throw yourself into an ambitious journey – start out with a few one-day trips to get a feel for the terrain without going too far from civilization. Remember that you’ll find many types of landscapes out there, so try to check out as many as you can. The same driving style won’t work everywhere and the more experience you have the better. Your vehicle needs to be fully serviced, because a long desert trip is going to put it under more strain than anything else it’s ever done. Check out your suspension, steering, cooling system, electrics and wheel bearings to make sure they’re all in perfect condition. Then check everything else, too. Make sure your toolkit and spare parts stash contain everything you’ll need. If you replace any parts that still have a bit of life in them add them to your supplies – a slightly worn part is better to have than no part.
Once you’re in the outback you’re on your own – you need to be completely self-reliant, because even if you manage to call for help it could take a while to reach you. You’ll need serious amounts of water and fuel. Allow 5 litres of water per person per day, then an extra three days’ supply as an emergency reserve. Your fuel consumption will be higher in the desert so work out your normal off-road consumption and add 15% to that, then add a reserve. If you don’t have long range tanks fitted this might be a good time to do it.
When you’re driving in the desert a compressor and tyre deflators aren’t a luxury; you’re definitely going to need them. To cross sand you’ll want to drop your tyre pressures to about 25 psi – maybe even lower – to get a grip. Soft tyres won’t do you any favours on firmer ground though, especially with a heavily loaded vehicle, so you need a way to reinflate them. On the subject of tyres take at least two spares with you.
Actually driving in the desert is a big enough subject for a book. In fact there is a book. The basics are simple though. Just remember that the desert conceals a lot of hazards. Even if the ground looks flat and firm don’t race along – you never know when you’ll find a rock or a soft patch. If the ground ahead looks tricky stop, get out and explore it on foot first. Never cut corners. Whether it’s going ahead on foot to check out the rocks or lowering tyre pressures, time spent on preparation isn’t wasted if it saves you a few hours digging yourself out – or a real disaster like a smashed transmission. Driving on sand dunes is fun, but it’s also dangerous. Crossing slopes at an angle is just asking to roll, so always approach them straight on and when you’re coming down one keep the speed low – otherwise you’re likely to tear up the sump or smash the radiator. When climbing dunes keep the power and revs up and don’t be timid – even if your vehicle’s starting to wheeze half way up the worst that can happen is you’ll roll down again, so go for it. Just in case you meet someone else going for it up the other side get a flag on your radio antenna so they’ll see you coming.
Driving in the Outback is a real challenge that needs serious preparation, but it’s also great fun. Get your vehicle properly sorted out and build up some experience of desert conditions first, then get out there and enjoy yourself!