TAKE A 4WD COURSE
With increasing numbers of RVs being sold in this country, more and more people are hitching up a caravan or camper trailer and heading off for some adventure. But many, particularly those first-timers, have little or no understanding of how quickly it can all go wrong – especially offroad.
If you’re planning to head into the never-never, with or without an RV in tow, it’s best to go prepared – and that means learning how to drive to the conditions and how to recover yourself and your vehicle should something go awry.
There are accredited 4WD training and towing courses in all states of Australia and it’s highly recommended to attend one before you and your RV hit the rough stuff.
CARRY RECOVERY GEAR AND HAVE IT READY
Every 4WDer heading into rough and tough areas should carry good-quality recovery gear in case your vehicle becomes bogged or stuck halfway up a track.
If you’re travelling through an area you know might be dicey, it also pays to have your recovery gear close by and handy in case you need it in a hurry. Just ensure it’s secured well enough so that shackles and snatch blocks don’t become missiles!
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
The best way to stay out of trouble is to know – and respect – your limits; both yours and your vehicle/RVs. Understand your capabilities, strengths, weaknesses – and those of your vehicle – and don’t exceed them.
Keep an eye out for changing road and weather conditions and make constant assessments as to whether it’s safe to proceed.
When choosing tracks, don’t forget you’ve got 1000-3000 extra kilos on the back tow bar and make sure you account for the size and weight.
TRY A SHOVEL OR TRACTION AID FIRST
If you do find yourself in a sticky – or sandy – situation, try a shovel or traction aid in the first instance. Together, they’ll get you out of many, many situations.
In soft sand or ground, clear a path in front of the wheels and scoop sand out from the belly if it’s beached. If you don’t have a shovel (although you should!), traction aids such as MaxTrax can double as shovels.
WINCHES AND SNATCH STRAPS
Winches and snatch straps are seriously effective recovery aids, however, they can be dangerous – even fatal – to use, so prior experience and training is vital before you use them out in the field (that’s where a 4WD course comes in handy!). If your shovel or traction aids have proved ineffective and you’ve got the advanced recovery gear and know how to use it, you’ve got a good chance of recovering yourself and your vehicle.
USE LOAD-RATED RECOVERY POINTS AND SHACKLES
When attaching recovery gear to your vehicle and RV, make sure you only use designated and rated recovery points or hooks. This is something you’ll need to find out before you leave town, as you may need to check with your vehicle or RV manufacturer or a 4WD specialist.
Shackles rated to the conditions are another essential when you’re attaching snatch straps to the vehicle and/or RV. A rating of 3.5t is generally sufficient for most situations.
In some cases, it may be necessary to separate the vehicle from the RV and recover the two separately. This is especially important if your only option looks like recovering the whole rig from the rear of the RV. If that’s the case, it’s best to disconnect the RV and car and recover the two separately.
Always try and recover from either the A-frame or from the chassis of the trailer, not the tie down rails – they’re often not rated for the entire weight of the trailer.
Getting bogged in sand places a lot of load on your 4WD and recovery equipment, but there are a few things you can do to help reduce the strain. Using an equaliser strap is highly recommended for sand recoveries as it helps to spread the load across two recovery points rather than one, which not only reduced the strain on the recovery point itself, but the whole chassis of your vehicle.
Secondly, you’ll find you can almost half the amount of resistance created by the sand by clearing a path in front of all your tyres, including those on the camper trailer.
And third, remember to keep your wheels straight! Having the wheels cocked sideways means you’ll have to drag them through the sand making things twice as hard.
If you get stuck halfway up a steep hill, you want to avoid rolling backwards in freefall. If can’t reverse back safely, you need to make sure the vehicle is safe and secure and can do this by securing your vehicle to a tree via a winch extension strap, or/and to chock the back of the tyres up with rocks or logs.
Another way is to use the stall recovery technique. You basically let the engine stall while it’s still in gear on the hill. Keep your foot off the clutch and engage the foot brake and handbrake. This ensures the vehicle won’t roll backwards on its own as it’s still in gear. Then, with the engine still off and your foot hard on the brake, select reverse and take your foot off the clutch. With your handbrake off, and low range/reverse selected, start the engine in gear and let it slowly idle backwards. The end result should be a smooth and controlled descent using the engine to guide you down.
On a hill, stick to the existing ruts as best you can as they’ll help guide your down instead of jackknifing.
The biggest problem you’re likely to come across when recovering a 4WD from big rock or deep ruts, is either clearance issues or slipping into nasty angles. For big rock steps, one top tip is to build a ramp using smaller rocks to give you that extra clearance. If you find the hole is too deep for your tyre to touch the ground, and fill the hole up with whatever you can get your hands on. Pay particular attention to the camper during recovery efforts as they have a nasty habit of sustaining damage when hung up against rocks.
TOP TIPS FOR RECOVERIES
- The driver of the stricken vehicle should call the shots, as he can see more of the scene.
- All bystanders, except vehicle drivers, should be cleared from the area before using a snatch strap. They should all be at least three vehicle lengths away.
- When using traction aids be sure to use them at a 30-degree angle for best use.
- Carry recovery gear even if you don’t know how to use it. The person in the next vehicle along might have to use them!
- Use radios to communicate during the recovery
MEET THE AUTHORS
An RV journalist working across Australia’s premier caravanning and camping magazines for the past five years, Laura is also a judge at the annual Best Aussie Vans awards. She has been camping in the great outdoors since the of two, when she was packed, by day, into a Toyota LiteAce van and, by night, into a brown canvas tent with her parents and two siblings for an extended trip around the vast playground that is northern Western Australia.
Michael “Borgy” Borg
Borgy’s one of those blokes who lives and breathes offroad adventure. He’s travelled to almost every extremity of the Australian continent, built 4WDs and camper trailers from the ground up and tackled some of the most epic adventures Australia has to offer.
Being a mechanic by trade, he’s customising both of his Toyota LandCruisers, ‘Toot’ the Troop Carrier and ‘Uncle Grump’, his big red 80 Series Cruiser. With plenty of tough low range kays under his belt, you can bet your bottom dollar he’s learnt the art of bush mechanic fixes. In fact, Borgy reckons relaxing around the campfire after an epic day on the tracks is what 4WDing is all about, not to mention that feeling of freedom you get when you lock in the hubs!