Andrew and Peta Murray from Top Wire Traveller travel all over Australia in their truck camper. One thing they’re always careful about is checking over their truck each day. Here they share some tips on basic trip maintenance… the essential checks you can do even if you’re not mechanically inclined.
You don’t have to be a mechanic to maintain your vehicle on the road
Anyone can keep an eye on the condition of their vehicle when travelling. You don’t need to be a mechanical genius. You just need a couple of basic skills.
Trip maintenance is all about familiarity. When you walk in the front door of your home and notice a scratch, why did you see that scratch? Because you’re familiar with how the front door should look. Something’s changed, so you notice it straight away. The same goes for your vehicle.
When you become familiar with how everything should look, you’ll pick up faults really quickly. Before we go through basic vehicle maintenance in detail, let’s look at why basic trip maintenance is so important.
Off-road driving is hard on a vehicle. Whether it’s climbing the wild bushfire trails of the Victorian High Country or taking on the endless corrugations of the Plenty Highway, your vehicle is coping a pounding.
Rocks, sticks, sand, deep water and mud. Corrugations, washouts, bulldust holes and ruts. Extreme cold or extreme heat. They all take a toll on your vehicle.
Things break, it’s that simple! Far better to pick up a minor problem before it becomes a major one, and leaves you stranded in the middle of nowhere. By looking over your vehicle at the end of every day, you’ll start to see these minor issues. Then you can do something about them before they get out of hand.
So what’s involved? How should you go about checking your 4WD?
Popping the bonnet
A month or so before you go on a big trip, get to know your 4WD. Every couple of days, walk around it and just observe. Check the tyres for wear or damage and look over the body. Give your spare tyre, driving lights, snorkel, roof bars and bullbar a wiggle to make sure they’re not loose.
Then pop the bonnet. This might be intimidating at first… modern engines bays are crowded with a mass of mysterious mechanical stuff! Once again though, just observe. Understand where everything is.
Grab the owner’s manual and find the Maintenance section. There’ll be a section on checking fluid levels. You don’t have to touch anything. Look and learn where the normal fluid level is on your brake fluid, for example. Do the same for all other fluid levels.
Check belts. Your manual will show you where to look. Again, simply observe so you understand what looks normal. So if a belt becomes frayed, you’ll notice something has changed and know you need to get it replaced.
Then have a look around the engine bay. You don’t have to understand what all those scary-looking parts actually do. No, you’re simply observing.
Then if something does change, you’ll notice it. For example, if you pop the bonnet and see oil where there wasn’t oil last time you looked, you’ll know something is wrong.
You don’t need to know how to fix it. But at least you know there’s a potential problem and to keep an eye on it.
Another place to look is the underside of the open bonnet. Can you see any oil or fluid splashes that weren’t there last time you looked? If so, you know something’s changed. Look further and try to figure out where it’s coming from.
And if you’re going to be driving on dusty roads, get someone to show you where the air cleaner is and how to clean or replace it. Check it every day while you’re travelling.
Your vehicle needs to be checked daily when you’re travelling through the outback
Lying down on the job
Then have a look under your 4WD. Lie down and have a look under the front. Do the same at the back. Then slide under the middle and observe. You’re just looking and learning… becoming familiar with how everything should look.
Why look underneath your 4WD? Once you’re familiar with how it should look, you’ll notice new oil leaks, any loose brackets or hoses and sticks that may have lodged in underneath.
How often should I check?
When you’re on the road, check your vehicle after the end of every day… assuming you’ve driven it of course!
The most likely damage will be to your tyres. Check them for cuts, nicks and other damage.
Pop the bonnet, walk around your 4WD and look underneath. If all’s well, great. Sit back and enjoy the scenery. However, if you do see something, you’ll have time to check it out in more detail.
If you do discover something and you’re worried about it, ask a fellow traveller if possible. Maybe you’re alone in the bush. If you’re on a well-used track, then wait until someone comes along. Ask if they can have a quick look.
What about if you’re in one of those places where you haven’t seen another soul for days? Well at this point you might be wishing you’d packed a satellite phone. If you have, call the service department of your vehicle dealer or a mate who’s mechanically minded.
If you’re all alone with no way of contacting anyone, you’ll have to use a bit of common sense. Make a judgement call and go with your instinct. Maybe you’ll decide to go on, then stop and check it every half hour or so.
When you get back home, the first thing you should do is wash your 4WD. Some might consider a mud-covered 4WD to be a badge of honour. However, all that sand, dirt and grime damages moving parts. It acts as a grinding paste and wears parts out more quickly.
The other bonus of washing is you’ll more likely notice if something doesn’t look right while you’re washing it. If you do see anything unusual, have a mechanic check it out as soon as possible.
It pays to wash down your mud-covered 4WD before unwanted wear effects parts
Basic trip maintenance really is straightforward. 99% of the time it’s nothing more than comparing how the vehicle should look versus what you’re seeing in front of you.
We don’t recommend taking on extremely remote travel without any mechanical knowledge. In this case, take at minimum a basic maintenance course and learn the fundamentals. Otherwise, you can get yourself into a world of trouble…