DAVID COOK — 7 October 2013

Four-wheel drives. We love ‘em, don’t we? 4WDs take us wherever we want to travel in the bush, unfailingly fording streams, climbing over boulders, edging down precipitous slopes, breasting sand dunes. There seems to be no end to their capacities, and they do it all while hauling along that tonne of camper we call our home away from home.

The fact they cost twice what we paid for our first home, consume fuel at an alarming rate and seem to be a bottomless pit for expenditure on all manner of necessities — you know, bullbars, winches, roof racks, spare wheel carriers, rear bars, suspension lifts, radios, towbars and so on — is mere froth. In fact, the hours spent cleaning up after a trip to the Outback or crashing through mud are almost therapeutic.

And don’t you just love that mud? Do you remember the first time you approached a wide grey patch of mud in your first 4WD? Suddenly you had options: to creep through at a sensible rate or plunge in at the speed of sound to see what would happen. If you had any sort of resolve of course you hit the throttle with every ounce of energy your right leg could muster and hung on for the ride.

If you were cautious you got out, inspected the hole, assessing the likelihood of hidden obstructions, and then eased through at a walking pace or slower.

As a result of the former I’d estimate you spent a day to a day-and-a-half hosing under the guards, around the chassis, gearbox and diffs, and considerable time scraping the gritty muck baked rock hard to the engine bay. And let’s not talk about the limping radiator burdened by a stubborn mess on the cooling fins.

The same might be said of your first confrontation with a dive over the edge of a steep drop-off. From the driver’s seat all you could see was sky and distant hilltops. To exit the vehicle and examine the likely path downwards was to admit misgivings about your ability to handle absolutely everything, so of course you drove straight ahead, knowing in your heart it can and will be done.

Meanwhile your partner, wide-eyed and with both feet planted firmly on the dash babbles, “Stop”. Of course, it’s hard to read fear when the subject’s face in firmly planted between two hands. Bemused, you spend half your journey strewn downhill looking sideways and taunting your beloved, innocently asking, “Is there something wrong?”

Some people just don’t understand.

You can’t expect everyone to enjoy 4WDing. I mean, the time you decided to take the kids for a drive along that beach, you’d think the 40 minutes spent stopped in the 35ºC heat lowering tyre pressures was an imposition. And then to complain when you rolled the tyre off the rim as you showed the kids how to do doughnuts in the sand! Of course, the little bottle jack wasn’t going to work in the soft sand, and yes the tide was coming in, but you had a case of beer. Surely this would entice a fellow beach comber — one who was better equipped — to winch you out and jack the front end off the ground so you could change the rim.


And speaking of winches…well, it’s not your fault the cheap, dust-covered winch hidden at the back of the 4WD show stand would blow all the fuses the first time it was used. Or its $2400 replacement — well worth every cent — pulled over the first tree you attached it to breaking the windscreen and denting the centre of the bonnet.

These are all pretty standard hazards of 4WDing, and that’s why they build these cars tough, so they can withstand the rigours of the bush. The carpets are nylon, not wool, to avoid rot just in case water from a fast flowing stream forces its way through engineered door seals.


This brings up another good point about 4WDs. Most people think cars sink. Well you’re here to knowingly assure everyone they float. The time you crossed the water course in the Flinders Ranges at night, after heavy rain, you weren’t to know it was 80m wide and 2m deep. How was anyone going to know that? But the old fourby floated away, a bit nose down, and despite the seepage around the doors you were right to tell your partner and rug rats not to panic. As sure as Uncle Bob, the front wheels touched bottom as the water rose around your feet and after three or four minutes bobbing downstream you drove out.

That’s the thing about 4WDs: get you out of any little inconvenience. And in style.

Originally published in Camper Trailer Australia 65, May/June 2013.


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