I try to keep all my 4x4s in fine mechanical order. But as an off-roader at some point, you are going to be faced with mechanical issues. We’re pretty good at creating tough off road rigs these days, but the Aussie environment can be harsh on even the most well-built machines. These issues can be small and nothing more than an inconvenience or something more debilitating.
I break them down into four levels.
- Broke but still going strong
- Limping by still mobile
- Immobile and close to a town (or a person)
- Immobile and far away from anything and anyone
These issues can feel anything from an inconvenience to holiday ruining to life threatening. Apart from 4 which might see you grabbing for your EPIRB with some calmness, a little wisdom, and some positivity. Mechanical issues can often turn from emotionally crippling nightmares to a unique memory of your off-road adventure that you’ll tell in the pub for years to come.
On a recent trip to Fraser I was reminded of the roller coaster that is a significant breakdown. Before we left, I had a gut feeling that my clutch was on the way out. It had a few KM’s under its belt. My model 105 has the smaller flywheel and clutch that its auto and younger brothers, and I had felt a tiny bit of slip. Knowing that the Frazer sand is going to expose any vulnerability in my 4wd, I remembered clearly thinkiing if I should change it before we left.
It wasn’t until smoke poured out of the clutch as I was recovering another rig, I knew for sure, I probably should have acted.
While it smoked up a smelly storm, it didn’t let go completely. I was able to cruise around Fazer for another couple of days. Through Indian head, north towards the lighthouse – no worries. It was when though I got it back the blacktop I realised she was never going to make it home. We still had a couple of thousand km’s to drive, a few days to spend at Hervey Bay and the Gold Coast.
This trip was important to us for reasons I won’t go into, and as I drove up the road and the clutch slip-slip-slipped down the road, I thought out trip was ruined.
I found it hard to share with the rest of the group. As we set about trying to find a solution though, the reality of the situation seemed much less catastrophic.
We have Total Care
As tourers around Australia, we made the decision to invest in RACV total care. It’s for Victorians, but you might have an equivalent. For a few hundred a year, they’ll cover a big chunk the cost of getting you and your vehicle (and trailer) home or to a mechanic anywhere in Australia. So even if we had to bail from our trip, it wouldn’t cost the earth to get home.
More than your mechanic can fix things
We all love our local mechanic (or our shed), but there are good mechanics (and people) everywhere. Before we said ‘tow-the-thing-home’, we decided to try to get it fixed. A clutch is a straight forward but a big job. Given I’d have to do at home anyway, if I could get it done in QLD, we could enjoy the rest of our holiday.
This is of course much easier if you have factory warranty and you can just take it to the local dealer and say fix it.
Step 1: Phoning a friend
Before I started talking with local mechanics, I dropped in a call to a mechanic that my father knew. He was 4 hours further north and could do the job, but I was hoping more that he would know a few people in the local area. He gave me one piece of advice I wouldn’t have naturally considered.
Use a nationally authorized mechanic
I don’t want to be pulling out gearboxes all that often so he said to use if possible a Repco authorised repairer or other nationally supported company. That way, warranty issues can be sorted locally rather than from two states away. I ideally hoped to find someone good enough wouldn’t need a warranty claim, but it was still good piece of mind and good advice
Step 2: Phone around
It was a public holiday, which gave me some time to come up with a priority list of mechanics to call the next day. It started with two Repco repairers in Hervey Bay, a specialist independent clutch and brake mechanic finally a whole host of people in Brisbane. At 8:00 AM the next morning I started making calls, and it only took two to find Chris at the Urangan Service Centre.
I described what I needed over the phone, and he said he’d get it done the next day for me. It was perfect timing as that’s when we were due to leave. I said I’ll bring it down now and 15 minutes later I was handing over the keys.
You might say I was in a vulnerable position being so far from home, but you could tell pretty quick that Chris is a nice (and knowledgeable) bloke. All his team was in uniform. The workshop was clean and tidy. It just felt like a good setup.
We drew up a plan, and a said I’d catch him tomorrow.
Early the next day I dropped back in to put something in my car and to make sure he’d found all the parts he needed and to my total surprise he said — mate she’s done.
He’d been able to get started on it earlier.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that with a mechanic before and was totally over the moon. We’d broken a clutch and not been delayed by an hour.
And for the cost. It turned out cheaper than a clutch I had replaced on a similar Landcruiser about three years ago. Not only did they for it quickly, but they also didn’t try to take advantage of my predicament.
Huge props to Chris and the team.
We got back underway and it didn’t miss a beat all the way home. Smooth gear changes all the way, I reflected on a few things.
- Piece of mind starts before you leave your house. Good car prep and roadside assistances coverage is worth it in the long run.
- When it brakes, it’s fixable, and you plan to fix it at home, you might as well try to find a way to do it where you are so you can keep going.
- Get as much local advice as you can and get one phone early
- Not all of us are bush mechanics, and modern day 4×4’s don’t lend it themselves to trackside tinkering. And that’s okay.
- Remeber, breakdowns are part of 4x4ing. Don’t let them get you down.
But let’s still all hope for some trouble-free trips for a while.
Feel free to share your experiences with on track breakdowns, to show others there’s life long after a broken this or that.