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4wd: Choosing The Right Vehicle

Overall Size

Don't choose something that is too big, but don't buy a unit so small that you will overload it. Small vehicles can often access areas that are inaccessible to large vehicles. They are also easier to park. Small, light vehicles, have advantage on beaches and soft ground. On the other hand, larger vehicle can carry heavier loads and pull large trailers or caravans. Large four-wheel drives include Toyota Landcruiser, Nissan Patrol, Land Rover and Range Rover, Medium four-wheel drives include Ford Explorer, Mitsubishi Pajero, Holden Jackeroo and Holden Rodeo, Toyota Hilux, Nissan Pathfinder and Land Rover Discovery. Small four- wheel drives include Suzuki Sierra, Daihatsu Rocky, Toyota Rav4 and Land Rover Freelander. Units such as the Subaru Forrester and Liberty, four-wheel drive Corolla and some Honda vehicles are referred to as sedan four-wheel drives.

Vehicle Style

Choices include forward control or a conventional bonneted vehicle, a station-wagon, a ute with a tray back or hight sided with or with out a canopy. A dual cab tray is to sort to sleep in, but it will be fine if you need to carry five passengers and some firewood as well, for couples, the extra-cab or king cab version of utilities offer more cabin space, a storage area for valuables and much improved seating . For those people that are wondering what is a forward control vehicle, it is like some of the combies buses such as a Toyota where you sit close to the windscreen.

Carrying or Seating Capacity

If you intend carrying back-seat passengers, don't be fooled by the overall size of a vehicle some back seats aren't roomy (look for intruding wheel arches) or comfortable. Remember to try before you buy . When you're travelling over rough roads, snug seats with good head, thigh and lateral support are invaluable, and plenty of space above the head is a bonus.


More power requires more fuel. If you need to pull a horse float, caravan then power may be an issue, otherwise you might be better off with a less powerful vehicle. While a more powerful four-wheel drive generally has a larger fuel capacity, your running costs will be higher.

Ground Clearance

More clearance- the distance between the surface and the lowest point of the vehicle- means less chance of the underside components striking the ground All designs bring benefits as well as limitation: a low centre of gravity gives High stability, but reduces ground clearance; high clearance means grater risk of topping over, but the ability to travel over boulders and through gullies. Several factors alter the ground clearance. One is the wheel diameter; little Wheels usually means little ground clearance. Another is the style of suspension Clearance is also affected by the profile of the tyres. There is four kinds of clearances that should be checked.

VEHICLE'S LOWEST POINT - The lowest point is usually the differential housings of one of the axles, or the protective bash plate under the engine area of the smaller vehicles.

RAMP-OVER ANGLE - This is important when going over ridges-short wheel base (SWB) vehicles have better ramp-over angle performance than long wheelbase (LWB) vehicles.

APPROACH ANGLE - This describes the steepness of approach surfaces that the vehicle can manage Poorly fitted bullbars and nose overhang are detrimental to the approach angle.

DEPARTURE ANGLE - What you don't see behind you can cause harm. Tail overhang, sagging or flattened suspension from overloading, and low towbars are all likely to contact the surface. Although rarely thought about, the departure angle is extremely important if you are trying to back out of a bog or into a gradient.

Type of Fuel

(petrol / diesel / duel fuel) Petrol engines are very responsive and yield more power than LPGas (autogas) or diesel, but petrol is explosive and vaporises at high temperatures. It is almost universally available in leaded and unleaded forms; some remote seyylements only sell unleaded petrol, but many of these offer avgas (aviation fuel) as a substitute. Dual fuel - petrol/ LPGas installations offer economical travel if you cover distances long enough to result in savings that will overcome the costs of installation.

The down side of dual fuel is that LPGas is not always available. Sometimes dual fuel installations accommodate the gas cylinder by replacing the original fuel tank with one of a smaller capacity, thus limiting your rang when away from gas supplies. Outback travellers should avoid gas installations that use rigid copper lines: these fracture with body flexing. Note that autogas is not the same type of LPGas as that used in cooking, lighting and heating appliances.

Diesel is the most common fuel used in the outback. It will not ignite quite readily, so it is safe than petrol or gas. However, because of acid formation, a by-product of combustion, diesels need more frequent oil changes. They also need frequent fuel-filter changes - especially if it form 200 litre drums - and better preventive maintenance than petrol engines.

In water crossings, petrol engines are soon affected by spray and moisture unless extensively prepared, but if water is ingested into a petrol motor it usually survives the ordeal and can be returned to service without a lot of trouble. On the other hand, although a diesel motor is not stalled by water mist or vapour, direct entry of water can sometimes mean dismantling and replacing items such as pistons or connecting rods - not an everyday roadside repair.

There is a reluctance on the part of those who live in the real outback to buy modern petrol four-wheel drive vehicles fitted with computer-managed electronic fuel systems - this is because the petrol management fuel system is not serviceable on the road side if they fail. The fail rate for these systems is quite low, but you may be a long way from anywhere on a rarely used track in the event that the vehicle does fail.

Service and Parts

If there are doubts about availability of spares or the service network has a poor reputation, don't buy! To be fairly sure you will get any parts you need even if you are way out in the scrub, buy the kind of vehicle that lots of people have been buying for years.


To a certain extent, expect quality and price to be related. It could be cheaper in the long run to pay more for a vehicle with fewer kilometres on the clock and with a compete service history than to buy a low priced unit that has travelled a long distance and is due for high maintenance. If you are looking at used vehicles, avoid those with signs of rust. Get an expert assessor to check out all aspects; four-wheel drives are more expensive to repair than regular cars.

There are a quite a few lemons on the second hand market - makes or models to avoid. Chat with people in four-wheel drive clubs, read motor magazines and visit displays to become aware of the strengths and weaknesses of specific makes and models. An equivalent diesel units will cost more to buy than a petrol unit either new or used, and although diesels have lower performance interms of acceleration, long-distance drivers generally favour them for their longevity and reliability.

Running Costs

Big vehicles cost more to run than smaller ones. Tyres for bigger four-wheel drives cost about two to three times more than sedan tyres, but those for small four-wheel drives are only a little more expensive. All fast -wearing components seem to cost more and there are more components in a four-wheel drives. In addition, because these vehicles are more likely to be driven over ground, they usually require more suspension servicing, more frequent shock absorber and spring damper replacement and so on.

Bigger four-wheel drives use more fuel than smaller ones. Select the unit that best suits your expected needs. Ask about maintenance and service cost before you put your money down. Shop around for insurance, but read the fine print, there may be a limited cover that explains the reason for a lower premium. Check what happens to the premium after you make a claim. Some common four-wheel drive situations, such as travelling in a desert area, might be excluded from the policy coverage. Four wheel drive clubs may know specialist insurers.


The choice between automatic or manual transmission is personal, but here are a few points to consider:

Automatics provide smoother operation, but use more fuel.

Automatics do not provide the same level of engine braking on steep descents or when towing a heavy load.

You cannot select the gear you want with an automatic; it does that for you.

Leaving an automatic vehicle engaged in Park on a steep slope may in result in the locking of the transmission, requiring another vehicle to ease the load off before being able to move out of park.

If towing with an automatic, an adequate transmission oil cooler needs to be installed.

To rock an automatic-transmission vehicle out of a bog is almost impossible.

In manual transmission vehicles, it is an asset to have synchromesh on reverse and first gear to make rocking out of a bog possible.

Don't expect to use overdrive very much when towing something heavy; overdrive should be regarded as a 'bonus' gear.

If it is necessary to tow an automatic, either tow very slowly, lift the driving wheels, or remove the propeller shaft's check the vehicle hand book on towing.

Ride Quality

Four wheel drive vehicles can be rugged or luxurious, ride as well as looks and appointments. Some units are built to carry a substantial load and consequently have firm suspension, which makes for unpleasant ride and poor controllability over rough ground when the vehicle is unladen. Longer wheelbase units produce less pitching than do short wheelbase vehicles.

Generally, coil suspension ride more smoothly than leaf suspensions, but not always. Try the ride of several units over the same piece of rough road before you buy; salespeople who have confidence in their vehicles will be pleased to find a rough surface to demonstrate the ride quality. Remember that the front-seat traveller, when seating halfway between the axles, has the best ride, so before buying try riding in the back seat if you expect others to.

Load Capacity

Because many four wheel drives are nowadays destined only for intermittent off-bitumen travel, manufacturers tend to build with the highway drivers who seek a good ride and carries little weight-in mind; serious, long term outback travelling, with water tanks, long-rang fuel supply, cooking gear, food and camping gear may require upgrading of springs to safely carry the load. Establish what your payload will be, and the suspension; most have a heavy -duty suspension option. Alternatively, talk to an experienced four-wheel drive suspension specialist.

Equipment Level

Some items are highly desirable as factory-fitted equipment, but for others is a greater range available and they can be bought less expensively as after market equipment.

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