You'll do a lot of gravel driving on a trip around Australia, it's hard to avoid it. But it's your car and camper that can pay the price. Here are five easy things you can do to save yourself a whole lot of trouble.
"It's okay, no need to do anything." We still do it now. Then the road deteriorates gradually, and we get lazy, so we still do nothing. And that's the trap. It's comfy in the air-conditioned car, and the road doesn't seem too bad.
You would have saved time by dropping your tyre pressure to start with. If that was your last spare and the next tyre place is 400km away, it adds even more stress (we've been there).
Whether you've done 10 or 1000 kilometres on gravel, problems can always pop up. Some of it's pure luck, good or bad – but some of it comes down to preparation. You can definitely reduce the risk of damage to your vehicle and camper by taking a little extra care and being prepared. Here's how:
Tyre gauges cost $10-15 and they are one of the most essential pieces of equipment you'll buy. Having one means you can always consistently measure your tyre pressure. We keep ours in the tray on the driver's side door at all times.
When you carry an air compressor, you'll be more willing to drop your tyre pressure when you need to. Treat yourself to a good one that can do the job. Low flow-rate compressors will not cut it with deflated 4WD tyres, not to mention a trailer. They will overheat and you'll be there forever. You can pick up a good high-flow compressor online for $100-200. You'll need a minimum 72 litres/min, 150 litres/min is even better.
You don't have to deflate your tyres for every bit of gravel driving, but if you're in doubt at all about the road conditions…don't hesitate.
If there are sharp rocks, corrugations, or if you're going to be driving on gravel for a while – get out of the car, stretch your legs, and spend a few minutes dropping your tyre pressure.
You'll soon get a feel for the right pressure for your car and tonnage in different conditions. Here's a quick guide to start you off:
To give you even more insight, take a look at this video from Australian 4WD Action.
It's a tricky thing to manage your speed on gravel and 4WD roads. Go too fast and you'll damage your car and maybe your passengers. Go too slow and you'll feel every jerk and bump, rattling around in your head for days after. Just enough speed will give you an easier, smoother ride. Experiment with different speeds, especially on corrugations.
How your vehicle copes with gravel driving depends on your suspension, the weight you're towing, and the condition of the road you are on. Whatever you're driving, you'll feel a difference when you get your speed right.
We once had an oncoming vehicle flash us on the Nathan River Road (NT), and we had no idea why. Thank goodness they stopped and told us. We had punctured a trailer tyre and kept on towing it without noticing.
And because of the dust cloud you create, you often can't see it either! It pays to stop the car every so often to check the tyres. You may not need to get out of the car, just let the dust settle and take a good look. Otherwise you could completely shred a tyre beyond repair – and that is one expensive mistake!
Depending on how remote you're going, you could consider getting a second spare tyre for your car. We carried a second spare across the Gibb River Road, but it was just a tyre (not the rim). When we replaced our car tyres, we kept one of the old tyres that still had some tread. Our theory was that we could beg a station owner to help us get the spare onto the rim, if we needed to.
If you have the opportunity to get a second spare on a rim, that would be even better. Another option is to fit the same tyres to your car and camper, which makes all the tyres interchangeable (great solution, but potentially really expensive).
So invest in them on your trip around Oz. Get to know your tyres and look after them on gravel roads. Prepare yourself for gravel driving and you'll protect yourself against a whole raft of potential problems. Plus, you'll have a safe and more comfortable ride!