Andrew and Peta Murray from Top Wire Traveller recently had Peta’s brother, Lance join them for 2 weeks on the road. Lance is the proud owner of a new Range Rover Sport and was keen to get it dirty. Given a luxury 4WD is rarely sighted in the bush, Lance was faced with some unique challenges when preparing for the trip. This is what he learnt.
Not Your Average 4WD
When’s the last time you saw a Range Rover Sport in the outback, pushing along a rough corrugated road with red dirt billowing in its wake? If you’re like most people, your answer is most likely, “Never.”
Home turf for the Range Rover Sport, and indeed most luxury 4WDs, is the affluent inner city suburbs. The once wild and untamed Range Rover is now domesticated… tamed to the point where a coating of red dust on your pride and joy is almost unthinkable. And it’s a shame because this is a seriously capable 4WD.
Peta’s brother Lance lives in inner-city Sydney and needs a car every day for work. He keeps his vehicles for many years, so is happy to pay a premium price. And he can afford some luxury. So a Range Rover Sport suited Lance’s needs… 99% of the time anyway.
For the remaining 1% of the time, Lance loves outback trips. Sleeping under the stars in a swag, sitting around a campfire, experiencing the outback first hand. And this is where things get interesting.
What challenges did Lance face when preparing his luxury 4x4 for off-road travel, and how did he overcome them? There are some valuable lessons here if you’re considering doing the same thing.
The first thing you should do is talk to your dealer. Ask lots of questions, like:
- Can I take this vehicle on rough, rocky, corrugated dirt roads in the outback? No doubt they’ll say yes. Push them a bit harder. Ask if they would take their luxury 4x4 on road dirt roads in the outback.
- Are the tyres suitable? If not, what are my options?
- Can I get a long range fuel tank?
- Does the manufacturer’s roadside assist package cover me in these conditions?
- If I break down in the middle of nowhere, will I be fully covered for all costs?
- Does my insurance cover me off-road? You might have to check with your insurer on this one
Ask as many questions as you can, to establish whether your vehicle is actually suitable for outback travel. While marketing departments love to show vehicles conquering mountains, the reality may not match the hype.
Virtually all luxury 4WDs spend their lives on bitumen, so standard tyres are unlikely to be suitable for off-road travel. For example, Lance’s Range Rover Sport is shod with 275/45R21 tyres.
There are three problems here:
- No tyre store outside of major cities will stock 21” tyres. They are not readily available
- On-road tyres are not designed to withstand the rigours of sharp rocks and sticks
- The “45” in 275/45R21 refers to the height of the sidewall (that’s the side of the tyre that faces you when you’re standing there admiring your rims… the face with the writing on it) as a percentage of the tyre’s width (in this case, 275mm). While low profile tyres look great, they are easily damaged off-road.
Land Rover had an alternative for Lance. They supplied five new 20” rims with 285/50R20 Cooper LTZ all-terrain tyres. Surprisingly, the 5 tyres and rims were affordable. At least, more affordable than being stranded in the middle of nowhere with 2 blown tyres.
These all-terrain tyres are a far better option than the original tyres. However, they’re still susceptible to damage.
In case you’re wondering, 20” rims are the smallest that will fit over the huge disc brakes. So the tyre choices really are limited. Even so, the Coopers are still pretty fragile on rough roads. With such a small sidewall, one bad encounter with a rough grid (and there’s plenty of those!) could see you instantly wiping out 2 or more of these tyres.
As an emergency backup, Lance also carried one of the original tyres as a second spare. Oh, and talk to the tyre manufacturer. Ask what tyre pressures they recommend on bitumen and on dirt roads.
Read The Manual…
Luxury vehicles are bristling with electronic aids. If you want to get the best from your luxury 4WD, find out what these aids do.
How? Read the manual!
- Understand the various off-road modes like mud ruts, sand, gravel, rock climb and snow before you need to use them. Then find somewhere to test some of these functions.
- While your head’s buried in the manual, find out how and where to top up the various fluids… Adblue, windscreen washer and so on.
- Finally, check what lights come on inside and out when you unlock the vehicle, open doors and so on. Courtesy lights, folding mirrors, parking lights, LED displays and so on will suck power from your battery. If you’re camped in one spot for a few days, be careful you don’t flatten the battery.
Learn what the various off-road modes do. Lance’s Range Rover, for example, has three height levels.
Many luxury 4WD companies offer complimentary 4WD courses. For example, Land Rover offers a full day training course. They take you out for a day into the bush, where you learn the capabilities of your 4WD.
Take advantage of this. It’s the best way to gain confidence in your vehicle. You might be surprised how capable your luxury 4x4 is.
- Learn how to change a tyre. Do this at home. Use the jack, take the spare tyre from its compartment and so on. Become familiar before you leave home.
- Don’t rely on roadside assist in remote areas. You probably won’t have phone reception anyway. Even if you do, the nearest assistance could be half a day’s drive from you.
- Take your vehicle to the dealer and ask them to show you how to perform basic checks, for example fluid levels in windscreen washers.
- If you are new to off-roading, test your car in a “safe” environment. Find some dirt roads and go for weekend drives to test yourself and the vehicle. If you have a mate who is an experienced off-roader, ask them to teach you the basics.
- Pack some basic tools - a pair of pliers, a few spanners and screwdrivers. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to use them. If you’re broken down, someone might come along and be able to use your tools to get you going again.
Your 4WD is fallible… even an expensive luxury one. Treat it with care and respect, and it will be a loyal servant. Treat it with contempt? Sooner or later it will let you down.
Slow down and be patient. Be alert and concentrate on what’s in front of you. Avoid rocks where possible, slow down at every grid and take it easy.
Back off when on dirt. Lance’s Range Rover Sport soaks up bumps and corrugations with ease. However the tyres and suspension are likely copping a pounding. Just one rock could destroy an expensive low profile tyre or damage components under the vehicle.
Keep in mind too that a luxury 4WD is more susceptible to underbody damage. Why? Simply because so few are taken off-road. Therefore bash plates and guards are not always as durable as they should be.
With preparation and care, you too can explore our beautiful country from the comfort of your luxury 4WD.
Making The Grade
We’re pleased to report Lance’s Range Rover Sport passed the outback test with flying colours. Lance’s thorough and well thought-out preparation meant he could take his luxury 4WD to places that most people just dream about.
So yes, your luxury 4x4 can take you to those amazing remote destinations you’ve always dreamed of… probably. Just be sure to do your homework first.