The past decade has seen a significant rise in the desire to head off-road with a caravan in tow. For most of us, going off-road is driving on red dirt roads to quaint outback towns, free camping beside peaceful rivers, or visiting remote, million-acre stations and camping where the desert meets the sea. So, how do we make the dream a reality? And what do we need to prepare our cars and caravans?
The great news is, it’s less than you think. My list of must-haves for any outback, off-road caravanning trip includes a tyre gauge, time to spare, knowledge of how to change a tyre, paper maps and an emergency communication device. With those five things, you can safely travel nearly any outback road in Australia.
The tyre gauge is to let your tyres down on outback roads, which will help protect them from punctures caused by sharp stones or rough terrain. Reducing tyre pressures is also the cheapest way to upgrade your suspension. When there’s less pressure in your tyres, they absorb the bumps more effectively, taking the stress off the rest of your caravan. Plus, tyres are cheap to replace when you compare them to the cost of caravan suspension, chassis repairs, or any other component that’s at risk of being rattled to death.
With time to spare, you’ll be able to do the most important thing on any outback trip – slow down. Mechanics at the end of the famous Gibb River Road in Kununurra reported being busier than ever in 2019 due to caravanners travelling too fast and breaking things along the infamous stock route. Slowing down will increase your fuel economy, reduce the chance of breakage and allow you to take in more of the scenery.
Knowledge of changing a tyre
Even the most cautious drivers can have problems, and tyres and wheels are the most vulnerable. I once had a rock jam in-between the brake shoe and the caravan’s alloy wheel, wearing a hole in the metal. The tyre was flat, despite all our precautions. The RAC will show up if you call them, but out there, it’s probably quicker to change the wheel yourself. There are some more tyre safety tips from Tyreright following this article.
Have paper maps and guide books on hand because they’re better than electrical ones. The pages load faster, the screen is bigger, and they never run out of battery.
Emergency communication device
And lastly, an emergency communication device is essential for the ‘just in case’ scenarios. Mobile phone reception is improving across Australia, and so is the traffic along outback roads. Still, if you’re not within ‘cooee’ of a township, you probably won’t have service. I recently gave a young couple a lift 15km from their out-of-fuel car to a local station after they’d spent a cold, sleepless night on the side of the Plenty Highway. No one had passed them in 12 hours and they couldn’t call for help. Consider carrying something like a Spot Messenger, or a Garmin inReach Mini.
The rest of the things you can buy, fit, install or carry should be considered as conveniences, rather than necessities.
All four-wheel drives will benefit from a suspension upgrade and small lift, some light truck, all-terrain tyres, a bull bar and a snorkel to improve airflow into the engine. Something to prevent stones flicking into the front of your caravan will also help keep its value down the track. If you have enough fuel to travel 400km (remembering fuel economy decreases off-road), that’s enough for most popular routes, and plenty of the unpopular ones, too.
Most caravans carry enough water for a couple of weeks away from civilisation, provided you’re not showering every day. Still, water jerries are a cheap way to increase capacity. An off-road hitch is also handy because they generally rattle less. Remember that on rough roads, everything rattles, shakes, bumps and rubs, so pack it carefully to avoid damage, and check it regularly. Lastly, if it gets really rough, consider removing the weight distribution hitch, to avoid overloading it.
Then all that’s left to do is enjoy that remote, deserted campsite you’ve got all to yourself.
Tyre safety tips from Tyreright
It’s important to check the tyres on the caravan before you set out and regularly throughout your trip. Check they all have good tread and no sidewall cracks.
We recommend tyres aged five years or older be replaced. The older the tyre, the harder the rubber becomes, which could fail catastrophically when in use.
Having the tyre pressures at the correct level is also critical. The tyre pressure level will depend on the load you’re carrying. A weighbridge can help you find out what that load is.
Caravans can often sit in the same spot for long periods of time. This, combined with exposure to the weather, can speed up the deterioration of tyres, so it pays to keep a close eye on their condition.
You’ll need to pay attention to the tyres on the towing vehicle as well.
Caravan and Camping SA recommend your vehicle’s rear tyres be inflated to near their maximum pressure, as these are subjected to greater loads when towing.
It is also recommended that your front tyres are inflated to the air pressure noted on the tyre placard in your vehicle.
Having a wheel alignment before you set off is also a good idea. A wheel alignment is an essential part of your car’s maintenance, and not just because it will stop your car pulling to one side. It helps keep you in control of your vehicle, improves the life of your car tyres, and can improve fuel economy.
Need a wheel alignment or unsure what your tyre air pressures should be? Your local Tyreright service centre can provide a free tyre safety check and visual tyre inspection to ensure they are safe and wearing well.