Is Modern 4X4 Tech Too Much?

Modern 4WDs are jam-packed with technology already, but many are obsessed with getting the latest tech as they add more and more accessories to their 4X4s, new or old, whether it be for modern convenience …

Club 4X4 Insurance
Mar 30 2023

Modern 4WDs are jam-packed with technology already, but many are obsessed with getting the latest tech as they add more and more accessories to their 4X4s, new or old, whether it be for modern convenience or just to be the cool kid at camp. Technology is constantly evolving and provides amazing possibilities for the 4WDer, many of which we would have never thought possible.

Looking back at what we had available to accessorise our 4WDs back in the day, life was extremely simple in so many ways. For most people, you might have just wanted to get out there and enjoy your 4WDing and camping. For us, we loved exploring and when you got there, at whatever time that was, you set up camp.

The modifications to your 4WD might be suspension, wheels and tyres, a bullbar and driving lights, plus maybe a roof rack and storage systems. The tech you brought along may have included a dual battery system, a fridge, an inverter, some exterior lighting for around camp, and that was about it. If you were going to be exploring, you might have travelled with a GPS for coordinates, which provided waypoints to tell you where you were lost. You would still need to be able to read a paper map to understand what these lats and longs meant, and it was nothing like the turn-by-turn GPS navigation we have today, but this kind of tech was simply amazing at the time.

Wow, to think how much things have changed.

I must admit, I have always been big on utilising technologies to assist us to create bigger and better things in photography and filming. I have also pushed many boundaries by utilising technology to assist us with our 4WDing adventures. After all, the tech available can make your life so much easier when travelling.

In the modern 4WD, you can speak a location and your vehicle will start talking to you, assisting you with directions and finding better ways to get there faster. This is a lot safer than back in the day when you would be driving along referencing a UBD map book sitting on your lap whilst checking street signs and still trying to control a vehicle. How on earth did people get away with this?! Estimating time to a location was a simple guess.

Today, I have tracking systems that will alert me if I am travelling above speed, cameras inside and outside of the vehicle recording everything that happens, including speeds, location etc etc. We have satellite, mobile and UHF communications. We have all sorts of mapping systems, all able to assist us in doing what we do, better.

But is this just going too far? What was wrong with an old vehicle and no modern technology?

I met an old bloke the other day, standing with his 40 Series LandCruiser, and he started telling me how much he admired my 79 after seeing shots of it traversing the desert. At the same time, he told me: “You know Michael, we used to drive the Simpson Desert in these old 4X4s with none of this stuff you have on your 79. We didn’t need all this modern gear on our 4WDs. We just made things work, and if things went wrong, we would fix them and hopefully keep going”.

I love hearing these stories of early adventurers who did it tough and with extremely low levels of technology on board. Admittedly, we have driven the Simpson Desert with basic GPS systems, no sat phone or EPIRB. We still made it across, but what would have happened if we had some serious troubles?

Today, the modern 4WD has better technology to assist you in your adventures. But thinking about it, if you were to pick a modern dual cab ute to take across the Simpson Desert in 15 years from now, which one would you pick? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

There are so many electrical systems in these vehicles that are essential for the vehicle to be driven. Sometimes, a tiny electrical glitch could bring you to a standstill. If you really wanted to take a modern dual cab with 15 years of wear and tear across the desert, you would want to take a team of technicians with you. Plus, a scan gauge and tools, and way more spares than would be expected with the older vehicles. I’ll give you a great example. Years ago, whilst shooting the ‘4WD of the Year’ awards for 4WD Monthly, we had a group of brand-new vehicles heading to the Cape, and the Land Rover Discovery dropped to the deck with a suspension sensor failing. There was nothing we could do about it but wave it goodbye as we crossed the Jardine and left it behind. This was my first real negative vision of technology being a hinderance to your adventure. This thing was worth a fortune and was performing amazingly on the tracks for a standard 4X4, until this happened. But if you took an old Hilux from yesteryear, after servicing it and giving it a pre-trip inspection, it would have gone further.

With an old vehicle, if something went wrong that wasn’t a major mechanical failure, there would be a bunch of fuses to check, maybe filters, and then away you’d go again, heading for the Cape.

Today, we can just purchase a 4X4 that is perfectly capable of travelling across Australia in factory form. If you’ve got the modification bug like I do though, it’s hard to resist attempts to make it even better, especially with the plethora of amazing 4X4 gear on the market these days.

A great example of this is a 70 Series LandCruiser. The design is a little old school, but it still has a fair bit of tech when compared with older vehicles, and I know you could drive it straight out of the showroom and across this vast country, but why would you? It would be so much better if you added components and technology that would make it drive better for a more comfortable and enjoyable experience.

4X4 accessory companies help us make modern 4WDs so much better in the way they do things to meet your expectation, but also allow you to customise it to make it your own.

Sure, if you’re hitting the rough stuff, upgraded suspension, which I recently wrote about, along with larger off-road-oriented tyres, diff locks and other driveline modifications can drastically increase capability, but there are plenty of gadgets that can benefit any 4WDer, from beginners to bush veterans. Mapping systems, lighting, USB ports, fridges, batteries of all kinds, systems to charge the batteries, systems to monitor the batteries, systems to monitor airbags, tyre pressures, engine performance and key vitals… we have the ability to add all sorts of systems.

I guess the question here is, does technology assist us in creating a better experience when out there 4WDing, camping and exploring? I say 100 percent yes, as long as it all works. When it doesn’t… it can be extremely frustrating and often stop your trip in its tracks (hello off-road recovery cover).

I have seen so many examples of bad gear ruining a family’s 4WD adventure. People stuck in the middle of nowhere with a fridge that has stopped working, or battery systems that have failed, electrical issues that they simply can’t figure out. There are certain brands of gear that we see fail more than others, but how do you ensure the accessories added to your 4WD work effectively on your big trip? I am a firm believer of the phrase; “you get what you pay for”. Good gear installed correctly will make the world of a difference to a successful adventure.

So do we fill our vehicle with tech? I always will as I am addicted to technology.

My biggest recommendation is to create a wiring map of where things are plugged in and the location of fuses for each accessory. It’s quite easy to do and keep in the glovebox so that when something does go wrong, you can cut through the panic to head straight to the source of the problem, figure out the issue, switch out a fuse and be on your way.

Enjoy your adventures people, with or without your tech. Many have strong opinions on this polarising topic, so I’d love to hear yours in the comments.


-Michael Ellem

Offroad Images

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