4WD Accessories - What do you Need? (Part 3)

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What accessories does your 4WD need to turn it into a viable and independent proposition for tackling Australia's nastiest terrain?

Long Range or Dual Fuel Tanks (essential)

There are a lot of positive reasons for increasing fuel range and if you plan on really exploring this country then the addition of a second fuel tank is probably the simplest and safest way of achieving this. Many vehicles travelling Australia are towing caravans, boats or both and find that fuel consumption increases dramatically. Four wheel driving in soft hungry sand can increase fuel consumption by up to 50%. We're not huge fans of carrying jerry cans of extra fuel on roof racks and behind rear cargo doors, especially in the desert like conditions of some parts of Australia. Diesel is a dirty insidious product that leaks out of and into everything while petrol with its highly volatile and expansive nature makes for a poor travelling companion. On remote bush tracks like the Canning Stock Route, where fuel stops are few and far between, there is often no alternative but to carry fuel in portable containers. However, in most cases the installation of a second fuel tank which increases vehicle range upwards of a thousand kilometres is enough to get you to your next fuel stop. Country fuel prices can fluctuate wildly and it's nice to be able to drive past blatantly extortionate tourist destinations and roadhouses and buy fuel at a cheaper location.

Another positive offset of increased fuel capacity is that it buys personal freedom. Extra fuel equals extra opportunities and the ability to deviate from a planned route in search of new discoveries makes the cost of the tank pale into insignificance. Twin fuel tanks also deliver the added bonus of creating an inbuilt safety factor. We prefer two fuel tanks acting independently of each other, each with it's own separate fuel line. This way, if you have the misfortune to hole a tank or damage a fuel line then the second tank can act as back up and you can continue driving. On vehicles with both mid and rear mounted fuel tanks, it often pays to empty the rear tank first, leaving it a quarter full (for backup). 80 litres of diesel in the rear tank weighs around 70 kilograms and by maintaining weight towards the mid section of the vehicle, ride quality can often be improved. Utilities (utes, pickups) usually travel better with weight in the tray and you may find the reverse situation (emptying the mid tank first) creates a better ride.

The price of fuel in towns is normally much cheaper than at roadhouses and stations. Large fuel capacity brings about the ability to shop around for the best fuel price which becomes a major cost when covering long distances, especially in remote areas.

Dual Batteries (essential)

The modern four wheel drive often comes armed with an arsenal of aftermarket electrical goodies. There is enough reserve in a modern car electrical system to accommodate the usual array of accessories like small power inverters, GPS systems, average driving lights and the odd small work light. But start adding current hungry items like big power winches and car fridges and the need for an auxiliary battery becomes almost mandatory. Good quality, heavy duty batteries come with a price tag in excess of $200 and it's one area where it's wise not to scrimp. Popular 4WD batteries like Century's NS70 (not an endorsement) have an average lifespan of between two and three years, depending on conditions, and are central to the operation of your 4WD's electrical system.

The usual configuration in a dual battery setup is to have a heavy duty 'cranking' battery as the primary power source for your car. A second 'deep cycle' battery is added to the wiring loom and the two are connected by a switch with the original vehicle alternator sharing charging between the two.

Cranking batteries don't tolerate constant discharging and recharging well, while deep cycle battery's handle the task admirably. Conversely, deep cycle battery's don't have the necessary grunt to continually start an engine.

The batteries can be connected by a manual switch, which allows the driver to divert alternator charge from one battery to the other based on estimated need. Automated systems are also available which are basically switching solenoids controlled by a small microprocessor that detects battery voltage levels and disperses the charge accordingly. An extravagant alternative is to install a second alternator and feed each battery a dedicated supply.

Much like adding an additional fuel tank, the installation of a dual battery system brings about the added benefit of a backup power supply in case your cranking battery dies or discharges.

Power or Electric Winches (optional)

A power winch mounted to the front a heavy bullbar certainly looks the part but is it really an absolutely essential piece of 4WD kit? We don't believe so. We wouldn't consider going into serious off road terrain without a hi-lift jack while the addition of a power winch really only adds push button convenience and labour saving efficiency. Consider any given situation that requires some sort of vehicle recovery and you would be hard pressed to imagine an electric winch saving the day where a hi-lift jack couldn't. On the other hand a winch won't jack and raise a vehicle (without some fantastic pulley arrangement) and it won't serve the multitude of functions capable of a quality hi-lift jack

An electric winch relies on powerful electrical current to operate and has the added complication of both a mechanical system and an electrical one in its componentry while a hi-lift jack relies solely on a simple gearing system.

Power winches are fantastic devices. They are fast, convenient and easy to use and make an eye-catching accessory. However, if budget considerations are a real factor then we would opt for a suspension lift over an electric winch. A suspension lift will eliminate many problem situations requiring an electric winch to be called into service. Combined with a good jack and a willingness to put in a bit of effort then most things can be accomplished with these two items alone.

Driving Lights (optional)

Driving lights play a vital role in reducing fatigue during night driving and reduce the danger of hitting roadside animals by highlighting them long before your approach. How many people really have a use for them though? Many caravanners pull up stumps at 9am, wander through a couple of towns or tourist stops during the day and have settled in somewhere new by 3 or 4 in the afternoon. They rarely find the occasion to turn on their high beam, never mind a powerful and expensive set of driving lights.

Drivers who find themselves breaking camp early (pre-dawn) or covering distance at night will certainly appreciate the immediate impact generated by the longer, wider beam thrown from good driving lights and could consider them essential accessories.

For those unlikely to drive at night spotlights can be just one more expensive, frontline accessory on the vehicle at risk of damage.

We talk about driving lights in depth here.

Diff Locks (optional)

Differential locks are great. There is nothing better than pushing a button or two and clawing your way out of a snotty predicament. Standard 4WD diffs aren't a magical panacea and they come with a couple of inherent shortfalls. Diffs, including limited slip differentials are designed with self preservation in mind. Rather than have all 4 wheels rotate at the same speed some 'slippage' is required to allow individual wheels to turn at differing speeds. If you attempted to make a turn without this feature then tyres would bind and driveline components stressed to breaking point. Consequently this diff 'slippage' means that the wheels with the least resistance (ie: the least traction) get the most engine power. Not a perfect situation off-road where you want the tyres with the most grip to drive the 4WD out.

Diff locking systems, as standard equipment, are creeping into more new 4WD's but for those without them, an aftermarket diff lock, that drives all four wheels at the same rate, can be an attractive proposition.

Diff locks are expensive. They constitute a fairly large mechanical upgrade to the differential centres and wiring and/or compressor systems need installing or modifying. They are a fantastic upgrade and they will drive out of situations many regular equipped 4WD's struggle with. For push button convenience that immediately and dramatically increases traction nothing beats them.

However there are few situations where a little effort and ingenuity can't recover a vehicle in trouble.

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