The perks of breaking down

By: John 'Roothy' Rooth, Photography by: Anthony Warry/LowRange


A breakdown doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Sometimes it’s where the best adventures begin.

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Breaking down on the side of the track is virtually every traveller’s nightmare, yet, in my experience, it’s actually pretty rare these days and, when it does happen, it can lead to all sorts of new adventures!

I was only running through this the other night with the old Mudflats crew down here at our local. We’re a tight bunch of mates, probably because we’ve had some pretty hectic adventures together over many decades and there’s plenty of stories to share. And, as usual, most of the best ones happened so long ago nobody’s totally sure what really happened. But hey, most pub conversations are like that, aren’t they? Certainly are down at the Mudflats Hotel...

Here, in these hallowed and slightly mouldy halls, we’ve experienced all the highs and lows of mateship – plenty of laughter, all sorts of practical jokes and more than a bit of sadness, too. There’s been a few wakes here, and not just after the pummelling we all copped the night the Capalabians beat us at darts. Push turned to shove turned to punch and, all of a sudden, what should have been a friendly game of darts turned into world-class tennis. Sort of a breakdown-of-the-human-nature type of thing, I guess, although fortunately it was that late at night it broke up in cuddles all-round.

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But it’s also the mateship you find in the outside world when things go wrong. More than once, I’ve forged lifelong friendships after bailing some other traveller out or being helped myself. I don’t keep score because I’d probably find I owe more than I give. You get that when you drive old bombs for a living!

And that’s why breakdowns are rare, too, I guess – the sheer quality of modern products. Take tyres, for example. Thirty years ago, you’d pump them right up on the basis of the more air they’ve got in them the less chance there is of it leaking out. Plus, you needed to protect the sidewalls – the weak point in any tyre. By keeping any chance of punctures to the tread area alone, you at least forced that sharp rock/nail/stick/rusty tin to try piercing the thickest part of the tyre.

That was before the new technology of bias belted side walls, which has meant we’re now running around on soft tyres as soon as things turn to dirt. At least those of us with American-made rubber are. For those who aren’t in the know, the differences between tyres are more than just price and clever branding. Here’s my very simplified take on it, given my mates think I’m pretty simple anyway. In fact, it’s a briefer version of the rant they forced out of me at darts last week...

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There are three basic types of tyres available to us Aussies – Japanese (Asian), European and American. Asian rubber is designed to make the vehicle ride well and sound good on the road, mostly because their biggest market is new car manufacturers and so the test drive is priority number one. European rubber is designed to do that, too, while also excelling in rain and snow conditions. American rubber is made for long miles, big fat trucks and big fat loads (my apologies to all the thin Americans out there who like to travel lightly…)

So, along the way, the Americans perfected strong sidewalls and, while tyre manufacturers tend to follow the leaders a bit, this has resulted in the better American-made tyres being far more suited to Aussie conditions. And if you don’t believe me, ask my mate Fat Kevvy. Having run his old 75 Series ute on a second-hand set of Mickey Thompsons for the last decade, he reckons he’s done really well. You do need to know that Kev rarely goes further than the Mudflats to Main Beach on Stradbroke Island, but those Mickeys have been sitting on 18psi since day one.

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Recently, I tried the new Coopers Pro STTs, the first offroad tyre to feature a real silicon/rubber compound. This technology was pioneered in sports motorcycle tyres but our ever legally-conscious Yankee cousins saw the benefits in wear, stiction and control and immediately pioneered bigger, heavier versions. The result? The best offroad tyres I’ve ever used on a wet road and even the old truck steers and brakes well with them. Plus, and here’s the biggie, like all the Coopers I’ve used in the last decade or more, I’ve yet to score a puncture!

Touch wood. Ooh, that’s a breakdown waiting to happen isn’t it?

Okay, so while tyres have improved, so have bearings, seals, sealed bearings (almost self-evident, I guess) and every other old-school ‘breakable’ like fan belts and radiator hoses. By the time you chuck in modern lubricants and coolants, you’ve got reliability of a type no traveller ever experienced a few decades ago. Take a look at those grooved fan belts they use these days. Short of picking up a rock – and they’re usually shrouded really well – they’re almost un-bustable this side of 100,000km or more. Compare that to an old school V-belt, which, given more than a couple of birthdays, would harden up and crack apart just from the under-bonnet heat.

Yep, things have never been better for us travellers but, even so, there’s always that chance of a breakdown along the way. When it does happen, sure, be disappointed, but then look at it as an adventure because chances are it’ll turn into one before long!

I remember, many years ago, pushing a motorcycle with a flat rear tyre into a small town in Victoria. It was about lunch time on a Saturday and the only garage was still open, even if it looked like half the town’s footy team was sitting in the workshop enjoying a beer.

"Can I borrow some levers and a patch?" I asked, after a round of ‘g’days’.

"No worries mate, but you’ll have to have a beer with us first. Stewie’s getting married tomorrow and today is his bucks party."

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One thing led to another and it wasn’t until Monday that I finally patched that tyre and left town. Yep, my speech at the wedding mightn’t have been that good but it was probably better than the dancing I did with that lovely bridesmaid...

And new friends made for life – all off the back of a flat tyre!

Right, so you know what’s next, don’t you? Yep, just get out there and go travelling, you’ll be so glad you did!

Check out the full feature in issue #98 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.