Offroad towing checklist

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


Nip the predictable consequences of towing offroad in the bud with common sense, the right gear and a respect for routine.

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Chooka brought it up the other night during our weekly training session for the Australian Olympic darts team down at the Mudflats Hotel. Yes, you’re right, none of us have actually made it to the Olympics but then half of us are lucky just to hit the board. It just sounds so much better when you’re explaining Thursday night to your wife, though...

Chooka and Loretta are planning another big trip bush for the winter season and, with a brand new Goldstream RV in tow, things have kicked up a notch from the old blanket-under-the-trees travel of their courting days. He’s done plenty of adventuring in his time but, while there are no worries the Goldstream will handle the job, Chooka’s main concern was what might change given the extra work involved towing.

Of course, Kevvy chimed in with his own advice, mostly centred around how much more food and beer they’ll be able to enjoy with all that extra space. And Porker Baton had a bit to say about it, too, like how much more quality fishing time a bloke could enjoy knowing his wife was comfortable back at camp.

Yep, my mates are pretty useful if you need a hand with a big plate of prawns or knocking over a free keg, but when it comes to the more serious stuff, well, they’re prepared for it but are pretty good at avoiding it, too.

And that is pretty much the crux of towing big-time offroad – be prepared for trouble but go out of your way to avoid it! There are always plenty of detailed reports in these pages on the same subject but seeing as I had to get my head around it for Chooka, I figured it’d be easy to share it with you as well. Some of it, anyway, at least as much as I can fit on these beer coasters...

DAILY RITUAL

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Towing anything means the vehicle is working harder than normal so the first thing to do is a fluid check each morning. That means lifting the bonnet. On most modern cars, you can eyeball the brake fluid and it’s not hard to dip for the oil and steering fluids. The biggie, of course, is the transmission fluid in an auto because it’s responsible for powering the torque converter and tightening the bands as well as lubrication. And more load means more work.

So if the transmission fluid is down a tad then there’s less oil doing the work which translates to the heat that kills an auto. You probably know that and have fitted a transmission cooler already but it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking a few kilometres up a Fraser beach or climbing out of the Finke – once you add a soft surface and a few dips, you’ve got a recipe for cooking more than fish!

Fluid checks should be right up there first thing with a look at the wheel nuts, a check of the hitch and wiring, and a shake of the safety chains. But the biggie once you’re doing a bit of offroading is to have a good look underneath the entire rig. You’re looking for oil leaks on the ground that tell their own story, depending what they’re under and also any sticks jammed up under the chassis. It doesn’t take much of a stick to rip out a brake or fuel line and they have a habit of doing nothing for ages until they suddenly decide to pole vault off a rock.

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Tyre pressures are important on-road, but absolutely crucial offroad. A decade ago, nobody ever considered letting the pressures on the trailer tyres down but now most of us realise a flatter footprint reduces load when you’re travelling on sand or loose gravel.

Plus, we’ve gone a long way from the old belief that the harder a tyre was, the less chance there was of a puncture. That furphy has been reversed (mind you, Kevvy still reckons you’ll get further after a puncture if there’s more air to leak out and pumps his up accordingly).

It’d be possible to fill a ute with tools and still not have the one you need, so the trick is a bit of versatility and no doubling up. My own golden rule – based on a lifetime of ‘do-it-yourselfing’ – is to always carry whatever’s required to fix the last thing I fixed. But hopefully you’re leaving home in something a tad more modern, eh?

A SAFE RETURN

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Oh boy, I’m in deep water here, and not just because it’s after closing time and I forgot to call my wife. I’ve opened up topics here that could take books to address and we’re running out of space! But the one thing I absolutely have to mention was the first thing Chooka and I covered.

If you’re adventuring, you need to be prepared to recover the vehicle. And after this last year of LowRange DVDs where Kenno either towed a camper or a van on all the trips, it’s pretty obvious that the first vehicle to get stuck will be the one pulling a trailer.

So two things are required – one, the common sense not to go travel stupidly impossible tracks (not always a big component of making good television!) and two, really good recovery gear. You don’t need a winch with the lot – although it’s almost mandatory if you’re travelling on your own – but you do need quality gear. Given the extra strain of a trailer, the most dangerous thing on earth can be a recovery involving stuck vehicles and big weights.

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Given the cotton-wool-wrapped nature of life under a government trying hard to outlaw common sense, you’d think snatch straps, shackles and things would have to be covered by legislation. They are, but bureaucratic laziness and general lack of real-life experience mean that legislation comes under the ‘crane slings’ standards. Now there’s a world of difference between static lifting a few tonnes and twanging the same out of a creek bed bog!

Not that long ago there were only a few companies supplying offroad recovery equipment and they all had reputations to consider and customers they wanted to come back. These days, you can buy stuff that’s often half the price from all sorts of online shops and the like, and while it looks the goods, if it’s cheap it’s probably not. The reason is polyester – cheap to make, looks the part but has exactly the same flexing characteristics as those nasty blue plastic tarps and the same horrible habit of losing its integrity with a bit of sunlight and age. The real things are made with nylon – much more expensive but with built-in flex and longevity, too. Pay more, but live to come home!

Phew, and I haven’t even got around to the difference between genuine recovery points on a vehicle and the ones welded on at the factory to facilitate tying said vehicles down on transporters. Maybe we’ll look at that next time, eh? If I’m still alive at any rate. I can hear my wife and her Morry outside, not too hard, seeing as I still haven’t fixed the tail pipe, and both of them are roaring.

See what happens when you try and help a few mates?

Check out the full feature in issue #99 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.