To modify or not to modify a 4X4? And by how much ? That is the question.
Being more of an AWD than 4X4 owner, I haven’t had a lot of experience modifying 4X4s. But I know it costs a lot.
I have never spent much on mods for the 4X4s I have owned, but when a friend of mine purchased a pretty stock Nissan Navara, up came the question of what to do.
He decided on the Navara after doing the research we all do, and then, buying the one he thought looked the best. As the car dealers say, “It’s an emotional purchase”. He bought a 2012 model with a few KM on the clock so perfect for his budget, his towing and his plans. He figured if he bought one without all the mods it would more likely be in better condition as it hadn’t already been beaten up. Then he could modify it how he wanted. But what were his plans?
When I asked him what exactly he wanted to do with it he wasn’t sure. So I changed tack. Where do you want to go? Now he is more of a chardonnay sipping tourer like me so the thought of spending a couple of hours doing two kilometers of tough track didn’t really appeal.
“Whats the toughest track you have done?” he asked. “Wrong question” I replied because tough tracks come in all forms. There can be steep tracks, rocky tracks, muddy tracks, sand tracks or just roads that shake your 4X4 and trailer to bits. And each track requires different modifications.
Now let me be clear, I am no expert on this so I told him to speak to a few people and get a feel for what they think he should do. This way I get out of any responsibility of offering advice. It’s called covering your arse. And having delivered my disclaimer proceeded to have the discussion.
So I started at the front and moved to the back. Spotlights, winch, bullbar, electronic ‘dual battery’ control system. As opposed to the ‘Duel Batteries’ you see advertised. I always wonder, do dueling batteries duel with swords or pistols? Oh come on, you get it.
Moving on. UHF radio, lift kit, 33” muddies or just all-terrains, compressor, diff locks, canopy, roof racks, two of the “Dueling” batteries if they aren’t under the bonnet. Water tank and larger fuel tank. Drawers, fridge slides, roof racks, tow bars…and more more more. In no particular order. I am sure I missed a few but it was enough to drive home the point.
And then there’s the accessories that you carry with you. Spare radios, EPIRB, Maxtrax, shovel, chainsaw, recovery straps, etc etc etc. There’s a reason Uniden, Narva, TJM and ARB are in business.
So “where do you plan to go and how much money do you have?” is the real question.
He then asked. “So when have you been stuck”. I have been stuck a few times but I now have some rules.
- Always carry Maxtrax and a shovel.
- If it’s real 4X4ing ALWAYS go with friends (convoy). And one who has a winch.
- Always test the track by walking it if unsure. If you can’t walk it you most probably can’t drive it.
- And last of all you can always go a different way. Discretion is the better part of valor.
I have been stuck in the usual muddy and sandy places but winches and Maxtrax always sort these out. The real issue is when you screw up because the conditions changed and you never planned for them.
Coming out of a station off Gibb River road many moons ago I was presented with a big, and I mean long and wide, about 50m x 50m, muddy patch. On this trip, as I wasn’t going to do any serious off-road work, I didn’t have much recovery gear. Also I was just learning back then.
I stopped, checked out the track, worked out I couldn’t go round, saw a number of other vehicles had been through all the way and figured that had compacted the mud so everything should be okay. Wrong.
I got about half way through when I was up to my hubs in mud. When I got out I sank into it and just stood there. It was greasy, thick, wet, muddy McMudMud. I had never seen mud like this before. After dragging the shovel out of the ute I started to dig out the track in front of the wheels. 15 minutes later and part way into a heart attack I stopped for a breather. The mud actually sucked at the shovel like it was a mud monster that was trying to stop me leaving.
As I leaned on my shovel like every road worker should, my wife leaned out her window and said “Well???”
“Not very” I replied still gasping. “How long?” she said.
“I reckon at this rate about a week. Don’t worry someone’s bound to come along” I said pointing out that if I did have a heart attack there would be a hero arriving soon to save the damsel in distress. Plus her two young boys.
To cut a long story short someone did come along. Sitting unnoticed to me, well I thought it was just parked there, was a huge bulldozer parked at the end of the mud and off to one side. When I got stuck there was no one around. But after thirty minutes of digging a ute turned up, parked beside the bulldozer and the driver got out and wandered over to the edge of the mud.
I can’t actually write what he said so I will summarise. “You dickhead. You are the third dimwit (he didn’t use the term dimwit but you get the idea) to get stuck in there today. WTF (abbreviation) is wrong with you people. Why didn’t you wait for me to come back. I was just getting morning tea”. This is true. He actually thought I should know he was off getting morning tea.
In my defense I pointed out there were tracks already going through the mud, all of who got stuck he pointed out, and I didn’t know there was anyone working here and that he had just gone for “morning tea”. The bulldozer was the little hint I missed. Apparently.
Anyway. He backed up his bulldozer, we hooked up a wire tow rope and he pulled me out. I thanked him, offered him 20 bucks for a beer, which he declined and we drove off. Now that happened on a trip where all I was doing was a few gravel roads and thousands of kilometers of tarmac.
You just don’t know what is going to happen as soon as you get offroad.
So based on my mates mostly on-road Aussie touring ambitions I offered the following advice.
- Bullbar – Wandering stock and kangaroos can kill a car, or even worse, the occupants.
- Driving lights – A spot and a spread essential for any night driving.
- Winch – Learn how to use it and unwind and wind it up every couple of months.
- Recovery kit – Very handy for you and anyone else you need to help out.
- Maxtrax – Most used piece of recovery equipment I have.
- All-terrain tyres in light truck construction – Road tyres turn to slicks in the mud.
- Air compressor – and get one that will actually move a lot of air.
- Canopy – You have to store the kitchen sink somewhere.
- Dual Batteries – Essential for running your fridge.
- UHF CB Radios – Get two handhelds as they can be useful.
And a shovel.
That’s about $10,000 worth of upgrades that I would recommend if you are traveling on your own and want to go off the beaten track, but not too far off the beaten track. I have left out the diff locks, rocks sliders, lift kits, 33” muddies, drawers, fridge slides etc. for the extreme stuff.
But what’s off the beaten track? What’s offroad?
When I owned my Ford Escape I called Ford and asked if the Escape that they advertised as an off-road getaway vehicle could actually go off road. Had they actually tested it off-road and what were their findings and recommendations?
After 30 minutes of talking to three different people at Ford I never got an answer. Basically they were too scared to say anything in case I came back and sued them. The best they said was that the advertising was filmed on gravel and sand roads that were beside the sealed road. So that’s what they recommended.
Check out this advertisement from 2004. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqZEW6oYiD0
Once you stop laughing play it again and check out the “Bad Boy” and his extreme off road track he is driving on. Even this could turn to mud. But at least you’re close to a road.
I took my Escape up the Oodnadata track, along the Plenty Highway, Down the Birdsville track and up Big Red. But that was with friends. And I didn’t buy it because of the advertisement. It liked the way it looked, and it was a good deal.
So if you’re looking for adventure and the extreme stuff, go speak with an expert or submit your question to Practical Motoring 4×4.
And for my mate, and anyone else about to do some light touring off-road, tuck about $10k in your back pocket for some mods to your 4WD, or buy one with most of this stuff already done. Or, do what Ford recommends.
Only drive on gravel roads 5 meters from the highway and just to be sure have about 15 of your biker mates beside you as a support crew in case you get stuck!