Preparation and Hints for Travel in Your Off-Road Caravan
- Road and Track Conditions
- Vehicle Checks – Maintenance and Parts
- Tyre Repairs
- Battery and Power System
- Packing for Off-Road or Outback Conditions
1. Road and Track Conditions
Always check with the local authorities if there is any doubt about road and track conditions.
Outback Tracks and Corrugations
Reduce tyre pressure and speed. As a rule, your tyre pressures on the vehicle and van should be reduced by about 20% of the normal highway pressure and likewise you road speed should be reduced to 60 kph to 70 kph.
Severe corrugations cause shock absorbers to build up excessive heat (exceeding 200 C) causing eventual failure; therefore stopping frequently and allowing your shock absorbers to cool will reduce the risk of premature failure.
Reduce tyre pressure. Depending on the sand conditions e.g. long stretches and or dunes your tyre pressures may be dropped by more than 20% / 35%+ of the normal highway running pressures, however you do need to keep in mind the vehicle load. In extreme sand driving conditions tyre pressures of 16psi to 18psi may be necessary.
If caught in sand you may be able to compact the sand by reversing backward and forward over the sand. Early morning dew will also help hold the sand making it a firmer base to traverse.
Sand ridges on some outback / development roads are caped with clay and you often find that the clay surface will have broken through (usually over the crest) forming a large hole that hit with speed may cause significant suspension damage.
When travelling outback tracks and dirt roads you need to keep an eye out for signs that there is danger ahead. I’m not talking about signs put out by maintenance crews etc but tell-tale bush signs such as a branch laying across the track, a tyre standing upright, a stick standing upright with a plastic bag or something attached, any other unnatural or out of character object. These and other “signs” can be taken as a warning that is danger ahead.
2. Vehicle Checks – Maintenance and Parts
When travelling Outback and Off-Road your vehicle should not be taken for granted as remote area travelling will place additional stress and strain on the mechanical components.
You should make it a daily habit of checking under the bonnet and under the vehicle.
We recommend the following checks as a minimum:
- Look for oil leaks from the engine, transmission, and shock absorbers.
- Check radiator coolant level.
- Check brake fluid level.
- Check battery terminals for tightness.
- Check battery fluid level.
- Check engine oil level.
- Check auto transmission oil level.
- If you have been travelling on rough corrugated roads check under the vehicle from time to time to make sure everything is in order. Listen to your vehicle as you travel, investigate unusual noises.
- Carry the following oils and fluids:
- Engine Oil
- Transmission Oil
- Hydraulic Brake Fluid
- There is no point being stuck in the middle of nowhere with an oil / fluid leak (or total loss) and you have no way of replenishing, so carry sufficient to enable a complete refill.
- Also, carry the following vehicle spare parts:
- Coolant hoses
- Fuel line hose
- Transmission hoses
- Hose clamps to suite the different sizes.
3. Tyre Repairs
See your local 4×4 outlet such as ARB and purchase a good quality tyre repair kit and tyre pump. Also purchase two quality spare tubes even though you may be using tubeless tyres, as a tubeless tyre may only be repairable with a tube.
Mobile phones are all but a useless form of communication in remote outback areas except in major towns and some mining and community locations.
A Satellite phone will give you Australia wide coverage and therefore emergency contact. Make sure your Sat phone is easily accessible in the front cab with you, should the vehicle roll you may need to be able to get to it easily.
On the other hand an affordable EPIRB emergency beacon is an ideal safety device that should be carried by every remote area traveller. Only to be used in a life threatening situation. (A broken leg is not necessarily life threatening) When activated, the device sends out a radio signal that can be picked up by aircraft and satellites and then relayed to a Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre.
Another device well worth considering is the Spot Tracker which is also an EPIRB and a personal GPS tracking device.
HF radios (commonly known as Flying Doctor Radios) provide another option in long-range communications. Membership of VKS-737 Australian National 4WD Radio Network Inc. will enable you to keep in communication on a daily basis if necessary, listen to road and weather reports and have access to assistance in an emergency.
CB Radios, UHF sets (the later sets have 80 channels) are only good for vehicle-to-vehicle communications over short distances (10 to 20 km approx) and can’t be relied upon to get a message out in an emergency. Repeater stations (channels 30 to 38) cover some outback areas and you may be able to make contact with a local property owner if somebody is listening.
Have you any first aid training? When travelling in remote areas first aid knowledge and certification is an essential ingredient to ensure your safety. More than one person should know how to apply First Aid and how to use the HF radio or Sat Phone to call for assistance.
6. Caravan Battery and Power System
The deep cycle batteries fitted to your caravan provides power to the lighting and any 12-volt appliances.
You should treat the battery as a reservoir from which you draw 12-volt power, the more lights and 12 volt items you use the lower the reservoir will get and the only way the reservoir can be filled is through supply from a powered site, from the towing vehicle and solar panels if fitted. A generator may be an option.
The more you empty the battery (reservoir) the longer it is going to take to fill; you should be conservative with your power usage as you are with water usage.
For Best Battery Performance
Check the level of the electrolyte frequently (if it’s a wet cell battery) to ensure the plates are covered. The amount of use will depend on how frequently the battery will require topping up with distilled water.
Keep terminals clean. Dirty terminals will cause a drop in voltage supply.Keep the surface of the battery free from red dust. In WA the red dust contains iron and can cause the battery to short between terminals.
Fully recharge the battery after use.
When not being used; recharge the battery/s every month or two.
7. Packing for Off-Road or Rough Outback Conditions
All items packed in the van will bounce.
All items packed in the van will rub.
Every item which might be damaged needs to be separated from the next with wadding / 1⁄2-inch foam plastic / non-slip matting, or similar. A hint from a client – many plastic bottles (oil, cordial etc.) fit closely inside an empty milk carton, which provides a good protective jacket.
”Wet-suit” type stubbie-holders also work well.
Where possible, use break-resistant plates and containers.
Storage jars should have tight or screw-top lids. (A bouncing item next to it can force off a snap-on lid.) When travelling very rough roads check screw-top jars regularly – they can unscrew. You may need to tape the tops.
Aluminium cans such as soft-drink and beer cans will quite quickly wear through if they are rubbing against each other or against other items.
Cartons – long-life milk, custard etc., – will wear through and burst if not wrapped as will wine casks.
Thin plastic bottles, e.g. some cooking oils, cordials, disinfectants, are prone to splitting; choose the thicker and smaller bottles or decant into stronger containers.
NOTE: Label Your Containers Well
Any containers that might leak, such as washing-up liquid bottles and soap powder boxes, should be placed in zip-lock plastic bags just in case. Store upright.
We do not recommend microwave ovens for outback travel, but if you do have one installed make sure that you remove the turntable before travelling, and pack securely elsewhere.
If you are going to be travelling very rough roads, remove any blinds (fully rolled) and store safely – e.g. in bedding.
Double-check for items left unpacked, e.g. on gallery shelves.
Keep eggs in the carton and put an elastic band around it. Eggs are usually safe if the carton is stored right way up, but for extra security you may want to wrap the carton.
Milk is best stored in a screw-topped container, but it is fairly safe in the carton if it is not full, if it is pack firmly, and if the top is clipped tightly. A strong clothes-peg is good, or a bulldog clip.
Check that the refrigerator door is properly secured, (then check again!).
DO NOT PLACE HEAVY ITEMS IN THE DOOR – REMEMBER 1 LITRE OF DRINK WEIGHS 1 KILOGRAM.
- Bottle Opener
- Camera – Digital
- Camera – Video
- Can Opener
- Clothes Line and Pegs
- First-aid Kit
- Hand Cleaner
- Insect Repellent
- Maps GPS
- Notebook and Pencil
- Power Lead
- Rubber Boots
- Spare Keys
- Toilet Paper
- Wet Weather Gear