Hitch Your Wagon
WRITTEN BY: DAVID WILSON
Long-haul towing may seem terrifying to greenhorns, but it needn’t be, says I-Venture Club’s 4WD guru.
In August of 2019, I celebrated two Isuzu I-Venture Club trips in Western Australia with a great bunch of people all sharing a common bond: their love for their D-MAX or MU-X. With the events spaced a fortnight apart it made sense to me that rather than fly over twice, why not drive across from Adelaide—my home base—and tack on some time afterwards? That’s how my wife Rose and I ended up on a near-15,000km return road trip from Adelaide to Exmouth. Our steed? Her mighty MU-X. Perfect.
Now, road tripping with a trailer or a van is a different driving experience to towing around town, so you need to keep a few principles in mind.
The first is simple: pack light. Space is limited and many first-timers will literally pack 10 times more clothes than they need. So leave as much behind as you can—and then leave a little more. Clothes are bulky and heavy, and if you get caught in something Biblical, most towns have an op shop where you can land a fashion statement for peanuts. Keeping the weight down will help you later—but more on that in a moment.
Vehicle preparation is generally a good place to start in earnest. If it’s a really serious trip, and you’re carrying some weight, consider trotting your vehicle down to your local Isuzu UTE dealership for a thorough service before you go. The last thing you want is your 3-litre turbo diesel engine slugging it out into a headwind with dirty oil and filter, or a fuel or air-filter-warning light aglow. A proper check-up might include fresh auto transmission fluid and a check of your brakes and suspension, as well as a look at the condition of your tyres.
Without going into too much detail about overloading, you want to make sure your towed vehicle isn’t ridiculously heavy, nor should your Isuzu itself be carrying too many extra kegs. That combo can create all sorts of issues that might leave you stranded. Make sure you are within the GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) of your ute or wagon and that the GCM (Gross Combination Mass) of your Isuzu and van/camper is within the safe, stated bounds. If you’re in any doubt, take a trip to the local weighbridge.
Good tyres are crucial. If your rubber is near worn-out, or unsuited to where you’re going, you’ll be setting a trap for yourself. Switching to a light-truck all-terrain 4WD tyre will give you plenty of peace-of-mind when you’re out on a gravel road or worse. Remember: the standard tyres fitted to your vehicle were designed to appeal to the 90 per cent of folk who don’t go bush. If you’re really going your own way, a decent tyre will give you additional strength when the surfaces are poor and the load’s big.
Oh, and don’t overlook the valuable pressure advice seen on the vehicle’s tyre placard. Folks have differing opinions on this, but I can swear on a stack of Bibles that I practice what I preach when it comes to those recommendations. Because of it I don’t have tyres that fail and they regularly run right past 80,000km of life, whereas other owners seem to wear them out ahead of time and/or cop plenty of punctures.
Our timeframe for our Western Australian jaunt was pretty tight. There was a lot of driving in that space of five weeks, and while we managed to jam plenty into it, we would have liked more time to smell the wildflowers. We had deadlines. You should avoid them. Unrealistic timeframes are the undoing of plenty of trips when you’re flying solo, even without towing a camper or a van. With them, everything takes a bit longer.
If you’re doing the planning and thinking about 800km transport days, wind that back to 500–600km distances. That way, when ‘four-o’clock-flatfoot’ comes around—that time of day when travellers start getting anxious about locating a campsite, and the speed goes up as the sun goes down—you’ll have some time in reserve. It shouldn’t be just about beer and skittles either. And this is where my years of experience really tell.
Try to find a place in your vehicle for a chiller—I like an ARB Elements fridge—to load with essential foodstuffs, such as a selection of good cheese to go with some fine South Australian wine. When you’ve parked atop that sand dune and you’re watching the sun go down on yet another ripper day you need to celebrate it. Cheers!