Many visitors are unprepared for the size of Australia. Maps are deceiving, and what looks like a reasonably short drive can be much longer.
Road conditions are equally deceiving. Where you might expect a European-style motorway between major cities, you encounter single-lane dual carriageway (sadly true of large parts of Highway 1).
You might be tempted to pick up a second-hand Kombi and go free-wheeling, which is okay if you're sticking to the more populated regions. But, there's a reason 4WDs are everywhere in the Outback (remote regions) – few sedans can survive the rough terrain and harsh conditions.
Before you even contemplate jumping into your shiny new 4WD and setting off for the Outback, there are quite a few other things you should do first.
Without a doubt there are two rules which will save your life in remote regions: always let someone know where you are going to and when you expect to arrive and; always stay with your vehicle if you break down. This will save your life.
Also, if you have no experience with a 4WD and are renting one, make sure you know how to engage the four-wheel drive – failure to do so has led to some pretty embarrassing "rescue" stories.
Here's the list of basics to take with you:
Check your tyre pressure each morning before you set off with your own pressure gauge, don't let air out of tyres as heat and pressure increase it. Also, you need to deflate tires when crossing sandhills or tackling sandy tracks.
Because you can have fuel pipe problems on rough terrain, take an extra 20-liter metal jerry can or two with you, plus a funnel for filling the tank, especially if you're visiting a remote area. Never carry spare fuel in plastic containers because they can crack, use metal jerry cans and mount the cans on the back of your vehicle or carry them on a trailer. Never carry fuel on roof racks or inside the vehicle.
Try to maintain a straight course rather than dodge every pothole and if the road is corrugated, try to 'ride' the ridges. Driving in sandy areas is hazardous at the best of times, so you should learn how to negotiate sand. Reduce your tyre pressure to 15psi to cope with the soft surface and remember to inflate them immediately once you hit harder ground. Carrying a 12v compressor for this job is a must.
Overtaking is a major hazard in the outback, visibility is often poor and the chances of a stone hitting and smashing your windscreen are very high. On gravel or earth roads, the dust thrown up from vehicles in front makes it almost impossible to see. Wait until the dust has settled and if you are in a dust storm pull over and wait until the storm is over. Road Trains are another major hazard, some are up to 50m long, 2.5m wide and travel around 90km/h, take this into consideration when you attempt to overtake them.
Outback weather conditions are harsh at the best of times. Dust storms, rainstorms and intense heat are fairly standard. Road conditions can change on an almost daily basis. Before you set out for your next destination check the conditions with the locals, the tourist information center, the police, rangers or even at the petrol station.
If you are stranded for any reason the following may help:
Finally, don't panic. A ground signal for motorists needing help is simple and the following two codes should be used:
Both signals should be large enough to be identified from a reasonable height and should be formed preferably in white material.
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