Understanding Mechanics

It might just save you a bundle and add to some fun on the tracks.

Gday, Chris here again.

There’s been a few drinks between yarns, as the wife and I have been busy making some plans to travel a bit more, down the road a little though. I guess you could say we’re practising what we’re preaching about getting Australia On Track.

Our travel plans are still a little vague at this early stage, but in some ways I like it that way, as in just go with the flow and see what happens. But I must admit I’m as pedantic as hell about making sure my gear and vehicle is set up right. After kicking off a lap back in the nineties with much less knowledge and experience, to being a part of the 4WD scene and industry for a couple of decades, I’ve learnt that there are no excuses for poor preparation.

Occasionally you will hear of someone complaining about the high price of repairs in the outback towns, the cost of recoveries, the ruined holiday sitting in an outpost waiting for spares…. You know the ones. A lot of them could have been avoided with better planning and preparation of the vehicle and/or whatever you’re towing. This blog may be titled ‘Understanding Mechanics’ but I’m not talking about having empathy for the bloke in tattered overalls and greasy grimace as he tries to explain what the missing bits do.

My own vehicle is my beloved Toyota Landcruiser 80 series, a 1997 model we picked up near new. I know it back to front and she has relatively low kilometres on the clock. But I’m not complacent about servicing and prepping. It is coming up to its 250,000km service, which is only 5000km since its last service. It has been almost a religion for me to keep her in top order, and its paid off.

Now I understand not everyone has the skills, equipment, resources or space to do a thorough vehicle service on their own, and in most cases it is best left to the professionals. But what the average traveller can do is understand what is important in vehicle maintenance, what aspects to keep an eye on during travels and how to do regular inspections. This only takes a willingness to learn and appreciate its in your best interests, without suggesting you become an overnight mechanic by the book.

Let me provide some examples. You call your preferred mechanic or dealership to arrange the next service, but let them know you are planning an extended trip away and want the vehicle checked over accordingly. This is important info because a number of issues can arise during a long or arduous trip that can be averted pre-trip. Brakes for example. I recall a story of a fellow who had an easy 20,000kmn left on his brake pads (measured by remaining material thickness) but utterly destroyed them within weeks of a service because his subsequent trip included hundreds of miles of working the vehicle through difficult mud, dust and dirt. The grinding paste created in his brakes wore down the pads ultra quick. Had he shared the details of his impending trip with the service outlet and had those brake pads been dealt with during the prior service, a great deal of expense could have been avoided.

So understanding your vehicle, its systems and components, and considering where you are going and what you are doing can really save you a lot of money and wasted time. There are lots of other examples I can share having listened to many stories during my couple of decades in the 4WD scene in one capacity or another, but I’m sure you get the idea.


Take the time to be familiar with your vehicle and how it works and operates. Sure a brand new vehicle might be a simple way of avoiding issues with ageing components, but its not a guaranteed ‘Get out of Jail’ card in the outback. Things break, wear much quicker, and can cost even more when new vehicle parts aren’t as accessible.

If you are not mechanically minded, grab a workshop manual for your model vehicle and familiarise yourself with the basics. Do a TAFE course and attain the knowledge. Get down under and inspect the vehicle thoroughly, looking for anything that doesn’t seem right. It may be the first time and you don’t know what to look for, but the more you do it, the more familiar the ‘normal’ becomes so when something is out of place, cracked, broken or simply missing, you will pick it up straight away.

Some of the people I have met along my 4WDing journey in life are damn clever. I had an astrophysicist wander in one day. He did a lot of outback travel to look at the stars in a newish Hilux. I showed him all the dust that had accumulated at the intake turbine of the turbo and subsequently fitted a snorkel and better filter. That dust was going to kill his engine if something wasn’t done, and you can bet it’d do it in the middle of nowhere. Spending a few hours reading his vehicle manual and taking a look around wouldn’t be difficult for him, but he has to want to do it.

So if you are thinking of venturing out across this wide brown land of ours, great stuff!! Go for it and have a ball of fun. But do some homework first, read up on vehicle mechanics as much as sightseeing tours. Get some grease under your nails and add to that volume of knowledge and memories you can draw on.

It might just save you a bundle and add to some fun on the tracks.

Enjoy your travels.


This article was originally posted by  Australia On Track.

Comments 1

  1. John Marsh

    Thought this info might save others the trauma we experienced. Vehicle: 2004 MK 2.8turbo Mitsubishi Triton with about 194000 kms. Bought new. Towing small 1100kg caravan up the coast from Toowoomba and across to the Gulf. Series of overheating events until finally towed in to Normanton and eventually relocated to Mt Isa. New head, radiator, water pump, thermostat, belts, hoses, 7 weeks and $6100 later headed home only to limp into Winton still overheating. Thank goodness for being in the top cover under RACQ who delivered us and the vehicles home. Local mechanic took about 30 secs to diagnose the problem as being the viscous coupling in the fan. New fan clutch for $316 and problem fixed. Moral of the story-if your engine is at operating temp and you can easily spin the fan-get it fixed (or replace with and electric one)

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