Warren Sprigg

By Warren Sprigg

Travelling in the Outback: What can possibly go wrong?

Now travelling in the outback does not mean travelling the Stuart highway from Adelaide to Darwin. Yes, you are travelling through the outback, but to me, travelling in the outback with tag-along tours is about dirt roads and tracks.

Big difference, black top to dirt. Whilst you may experience a pot hole in the bitumen when you’re on the dirt so many other things come into play.

Read on for some examples.

Potholes, wash outs, flooded roads, bog holes, punctures, broken suspension, battery issues and then if it rains, closed roads and tracks. In the outback, a road can be closed for a week or more – pending rain events.

Imagine that you are stuck at William Creek on the Oodnadatta track in South Australia due to track closure. You can run out of tucker and water. You may just really enjoy the stay!

However, what happens when you are bogged on the track and no one is coming along to help you? You are now camped 150 kilometres away from Marree and it rained all night, 30 mm of rain tumbled down over night and there is more on the horizon. No one is travelling on the track as it’s closed at Maree and William Creek. I can tell you you’re going nowhere in a hurry; the vehicle will bog down again and if you are towing it. The nightmare gets worse.

Have you got at least one week’s supply of Food and Water for all occupants in the vehicle? It may take five days without rain for the track to reopen! You may be forced to sit it out as out backroads can become impassable and fines can be applied for driving on closed roads, so are you prepared? Can you sit it out safely? Have you got enough medications if you require them?

4WD outback tour in Australia

So, what do I expect every time I go on a 4WD outback tour in Australia? Murphy’s Law is what I expect, what can go wrong will eventually go wrong.

Corrugations can shake the vehicle to bits over time.

Let us look at Batteries: How old is your battery? How much load are you drawing from the battery for refrigeration for example? Did you know that a battery has a life span of approximately three years? If you work it really hard then that time span can be reduced significantly, since every charge takes just that bit out of the plates inside, reducing the life span. Flattening your battery can also reduce the life span or even kill it all together. Constant load, constant corrugations can have a major effect on your battery’s life span. So, what would you do if your batteries collapsed and the car won’t start?

You are now 400 kilometres away from the help between Alice Springs N.T and Wiluna in W.A. You are travelling on the Gunbarrel Highway, no RACV extra care out there! Next to no one out there, you may wait for days for someone to come along. Personally, I change over my cranking batteries every two years and carry a spare battery that doubles up as the rear winch power unit along with a jump starter kit, a heavy-duty starter cable and a portable solar blanket, just in case!

Suspension, bushes, shockers and springs; all these components work really hard over rough terrain. Mud is an abrasive substance to suspension components. Over time, things will wear out.

I’ve broken springs and shockers on some of the roughest and remotest tag-along tours. It’s a daunting experience!

Always be aware of your vehicle’s weight and do not overload beyond the manufacturer’s load limit. Roof racks can be dangerous as they change the centre of gravity on your vehicle. This could cause a vehicle to roll over. So far, I have covered Weather events – causing road or track closures.

Food and Water, Vehicle failures, batteries, suspension and weight issues. Let’s look even harder!

Driver error, you simply make a mistake!

You have been lulled into a comfortable place – humming along at 80 kilometres per hour for ages with your favourite music going and you start to speed creep. Guaranteed, a wash out or rough patch will appear and bang you have hit it hard. It is so easy to do, but you have bottomed out and taken out your sump, oil everywhere and you are not going anywhere. Whilst that situation may be the extreme, broken suspension is not!

Flat tyres, they just happen!

Staking a tyre on a root, screw or nail embedded in the tyre causes a sudden loss of pressure and remember that speed? Now you’re all over the track trying to keep the vehicle in a straight line, but gravel roads and speed don’t make for a great match. Can you repair a tyre? Have you got the repair kit along with the necessary tools and air compressor to fix that?

I recently encountered a rim failure, where the inner weld failed and the rim could not hold air. Things can and do go horribly wrong at the most inconvenient time and places when touring in Australia.

Wildlife is great to see, however a Roo and the Kangaroo can come over the bonnet and into the vehicle via the broken windscreen. Again speed thrills until it doesn’t! That’s a potentially life-threatening moment as a roo may well kick you to death if trapped and injured inside your vehicle.

Kangaroo, Emu and cattle, let me just say dumb and dumber! Beware all the time. Going slow is the go, give a wide berth to all animals and don’t startle them. They can and do run right out in front of your vehicle.

Driving at night in the outback is a no, no! Just don’t do it! Big bright lights help but remember that word fatigue. It only takes a momentary lapse of concentration on a dark night and the cattle in the N.T are big, really big. They are very hard to see, trust me!

I am an ex-long haul driver; I pull over late in the afternoon these days and get a good night’s sleep.

Weather events, closed tracks, food and water reserves, batteries, suspension, tyres, animals, night driving, driver error and another big one, driver fatigue!

There are over ten straight off-the-top things that can go wrong when it comes to 4WD outback tours in Australia. I could go on and on about travelling safely. In my experience, you must expect the unexpected and always be prepared.

Bad Fuel is another thing to watch out for, so always fuel in a high-volume business where practicable. Your vehicle is the right mate – means absolutely nothing when the fuel gauge is on empty and you are 200 kilometres away from the nearest fuel. Understand your vehicle’s fuel usage in soft and/or mud. If you tow, then that just adds another element to understand. Nothing is worse than watching a fuel gauge – all day worrying about the appearance of that orange low fuel light that can spoil your trip.

Communication systems not working means no card services, so always take cash just in case! Medical kits: Very important. What happens if you get bitten by a snake or have a heart attack?

Our website has a section on what I call a well-prepared vehicle. This includes recovery equipment, communication equipment, vehicle maintenance and even a camping list for you to peruse.

Ten things! I believe I have gone further and I could go on, but if you are smart, you will understand that you need to be a really good boy scout. Be prepared for whatever you can imagine to go wrong.

Some of the above could also happen on the Stuart highway, floods and truck accidents that cause chemical spills – leaving you stranded as well.

Keep safe, “Atagalong with us”!

Travel in remote areas with Atagalong Tours!

Cheers Warren.