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How to Drive a 4WD


4WD adventures are hands down one of the best ways to experience the untouched beauty Australia has to offer. Not experienced with driving 4WD cars? Don’t worry, we have you covered! Here are some 4WD driving tips from our expert team that will ensure you are safe when travelling by four-wheel drive – helping you make some incredible memories on your Outback 4WD adventure.

Oysters Family at the beach Salad

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Why you should hire a 4WD vehicle from Britz

While you may know us for our fleet of campervans, Britz also has a number of 4WD vehicles available for hire. Deciding on the right vehicle for your trip can be the difference between a good holiday and a great one. If you are on the fence between the two, here are a few reasons why you may want to consider hiring a 4WD vehicle for your upcoming getaway:

  • 4WD vehicles are great for reaching parts of Australia that are not accessible for 2WD vehicles for safety reasons
  • 4WD cars open up a whole new world for exploring Australia’s wild spaces
  • You will be able to access and see places you wouldn’t normally be able to see in a 2WD
  • Have your 4WD exploring vehicle and accommodation in one

Overall, a 4WD is perfect for anyone looking to adventure a little more off-grid and is especially great if you are interested in exploring the Australian Outback!

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The best 4WD trips in Australia

There are plenty of incredible attractions and outback camping destinations to explore in a 4WD. Here are some of our top 4WD itineraries to see some of the top hidden gems of Australia:

Red Centre

This 4WD Red Centre travel itinerary is an Outback dream! Over nine days, this itinerary winds through some of Australia’s most iconic attractions like Uluru, Kings Canyon, and allows you to test out four-wheel driving on the Mereenie Loop.

Top tip: Be sure to brush up on your Aussie bush etiquette before adventuring out into the Outback!

Alice Springs

Soak up the rustic red beauty of the Outback with this classic Alice Springs 4WD road trip. Kicking off at the Britz Alice Springs branch, this 7-day itinerary traverses the Aboriginal heritage of Uluru, the arid beauty of Ormiston Gorge, the tranquil refuge of Kings Canyon, and so much more.

The Outback Way

If you have been dreaming of a cross-country adventure, look no further than the Outback Way 4WD travel itinerary. Beginning in Winton, Queensland, this travel itinerary traverses three states, 3000 km and finishes in Western Australia along the Great Central Road. Along the way, you will have the chance to see the Dinosaur Museum, Uluru and the gold fields of rural Western Australia.

The Savannah Way

The Savannah Way is an iconic Australian 4WD road trip that traverses across the top of Australia from Cairns to Broome. Along this 15-day route, you will have the chance to stop at classic Australian attractions such as the Undara Lava tubes in Queensland, Katherine Gorge in the Northern Territory and Purnululu National Park in Western Australia.

4WD for beginners

If you’re new to 4WD, we’ve got you covered. In this blog, we will take a deep dive into everything you need to know to get you adventuring on these iconic Australian 4WD roads. We will cover everything from handling a 4WD to learning how to prepare for a 4WD Australia road trip and more! Let’s dive in.

Top tips for handling a 4WD

Travelling around in the Australian Outback is a whole new level of fun when you’re travelling in a 4WD. However, there are a few things you need to know before heading off-road. Here are some of our top tips for handling a 4WD for beginners:

Keep your thumbs outside the steering wheel on rough sections

Sometimes when driving a 4WD van, if you hit a sudden pothole, the steering wheel can rotate suddenly and strongly without warning. If you have your thumbs hooked over the inside of the steering wheel, this can strain your thumbs and could give you a painful injury. To prevent this from happening, ensure that you drive with them outside the hub of the wheel.

Understand the vehicle's abilities

Before setting off on your road trip, it’s a good idea to understand where the lowest point of your vehicle is, so you can anticipate any parts of a road that may not be crossable. Checking this can be as simple as having a quick peek underneath your 4WD van to get a visual idea of how much clearance you have.

Don’t be too ambitious

While 4WD cars are more than capable on bitumen (sealed roads), most 4WD cars may not have the overtaking ability of your normal car when exploring off-road. If you are overtaking on dirt, keep this in mind and don’t be too ambitious. Also, avoid pulling in too sharply after overtaking on dirt roads. Take it easy and keep it smooth.

Reduce your tyre pressures on rough tracks

Your 4WD van tyres will come with standard road pressures checked by us according to the specification of that tyre (this is around 270 kPa/ 36 psi). When you are ready to take your Outback 4WD off-road, taking this down to around 170kPa (25psi) will improve your 4WD ride and give you more traction, especially on corrugated roads. The easiest way to release air from your tyres or re-inflate them is with a 12v compressor (available for hire from Britz branches).

You don’t always have to use the brakes when going downhill

Unlike a regular 2WD car, in 4WD cars you don’t always have to use the brakes when going downhill. Instead, you can simply engine brake! In an automatic diesel 4WD car, simply by selecting a lower gear when you are stationary before you start a descent, the vehicle will operate at a slower speed. However, the effect is not as marked as with a manual and you should give the auto transmission a rest by going back to the brakes periodically.

Use 4WD to track better on dirt

While 4WD is great for hills and slippery conditions, it is also a great tool to help track better on dirt. Even on flat (especially on a sandy track or corrugations), you’ll find the 4WD car points better and slides less, even at lower speeds. Engaging 4WD in this scenario will also help you hold your line and keep to the correct side of the road in corners.

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Safety tips for driving a 4WD

When adventuring so far from civilization, it’s important to know the safety 4WD essentials. Everything from wearing the right clothing to checking the forecast can make a huge difference when exploring these more wild spaces of Australia.

4WD essentials

In addition to your regular campervan packing list, a 4WD adventure requires a few additional functional items. Here are some of our 4WD camping must-haves:

  • Footwear - If you are heading out into areas with water, remember to take water-appropriate footwear so you can check water depth before approaching a 4WD water crossing
  • Clothing - Dress accordingly for where you are going (e.g. for Outback Australia, you will want a mix of light layers, warm clothing, as well as wet weather gear)
  • Satellite Phone - Cell service is quite patchy in much of Outback Australia. As such, a sat phone can be handy in an emergency.
  • First aid kit - This is a non-negotiable for an Outback adventure. If you are far from help, a first aid kit can be a lifesaver!
  • Food and water - Come prepared with non-perishable items (canned goods are great for this!) and spare water such as just in case you get stuck someplace and waiting for assistance

For the complete list of 4WD essentials and 4WD camping must-haves, check out our 4WD packing list.

4WD checklist

Before setting off on any 4WD adventure, there are a few additional precautions to consider to ensure you have a fun and safe trip:

  • Check the forecast - Looking ahead for possible flooding warnings will help you be prepared and avoid getting stuck on muddy roads. Checking early on means that you can create an alternative plan if necessary.
  • Tell someone where you are going - When travelling through remote Outback Australia, it's important to let someone in the local area know where you are going. That way, if you get bogged somewhere remote and can’t reach anyone, they can alert someone to find you.
  • Get to know your vehicle - Before heading down any 4WD tracks, it's important to know how everything works. Take some time on pick up to get accustomed to your 4WD, so you can ask the Britz team any final questions before departure.
  • Know where you are going - Downloading offline maps, pre-planning and researching your route ahead of time will ensure you stay on track.

Keep to the left

This is another one that sounds like a no-brainer, but it is easy to slip up on. Driving on dirt roads is great fun, but many have blind corners or corners that are tighter than they first seem, and there isn’t always a sign to warn you. As such, it can be easy to find yourself on the other side of the road. These tight corners are an easy recipe for a collision, so take it easy and always keep left.

Engaging a 4WD vehicle

When you pick up the 4WD it will be in the standard H2 gear. This gear is the standard operating gear for normal 2WD driving on regular, dry, paved/sealed roads. When you find yourself entering a 4WD road, you will need to engage 4WD mode to handle these rougher sections.

On a typical 4WD, you have several gear selection modes available to choose from, each with a specific use:

H2 = 2WD – For normal driving on regular, dry, paved roads

H4 = 4WD – For driving ONLY on off-road tracks that permit the tyres to slide, such as gravel/dirt/mud/sand tracks

L4 = Low-range 4WD – For climbing or descending steep hills (un-sealed), off-road driving and hard pulling in sand or mud

Top tip: Do not use “H4” or “L4” on regular, dry paved/sealed roads, this will cause damage to the vehicle.

Safari Auto & Outback

If you are looking at hiring a Britz 4WD, there are two vehicles to choose from: the Safari Auto and the Outback 4WD. Regardless of which you hire, the method for choosing gears on these vehicles is the same:

To engage H4: STOP the vehicle. Put the gear in neutral. Turn the dial to H4. Wait until the gear is engaged (when the four-wheel symbol appears on the dash). Begin driving again.

To engage L4: STOP the vehicle. Put the gear in neutral. Push the dial in and turn it to L4. Wait until the gear is engaged (when the “4LO” symbol appears on the dash). Begin driving again.

To re-engage H2: STOP the vehicle. Put the gear in neutral. Turn the dial back to H2. Wait until the gear is engaged (when the four-wheel symbol disappears on the dash). Begin driving again.

To get your confidence swapping between these gears, we recommend choosing an easy area to practice before setting off down any long 4WD tracks. That way, you will have a handle on the gears when you need them most! With a bit of practice (on gentle 4WD roads), you will be a pro in no time!

See all of Australia’s hidden spots on a 4WD adventure

Driving a 4WD can really be simple and fun when you get a handle on the gears as well as these other 4WD essentials. Ready to see all of Australia’s hidden spots on a 4WD adventure? Hire a Britz 4WD in a branch or online today. For more 4WD essentials and tips, such as how to approach a 4WD water crossing, the ultimate packing 4WD checklist and 4WD van travel itinerary tips, check out the Britz blog.

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