The West

4WD: Be prepared for long haul
Clear vision, correct tyre pressures and driving to the conditions will improve the safety of your trip.

Many drivers would be familiar with the dilemma of whether to put in a long day of driving to get to their distant summer holiday destination or break the journey into more manageable chunks and suffer the pain of setting up overnight camps along the way.

If you're heading off on a long drive next week you probably don't have time to fit custom seats, upgrade your suspension for a more comfortable ride or install new driving lights for less eyestrain at night. But the following may make the journey safer and more comfortable.

·While the comfort of the driver steering a couple of tonnes of metal and plastic hurtling down the highway is critical, don't neglect rear-seat passenger comfort because it will minimise the impact on the driver from the nagging persistence of "Are we there yet?"

Everyone can benefit from experimenting with wedge cushions and lumbar supports, such as the mesh products popular at four-wheel-drive shows or cushions sold by Clark Rubber.

·Wherever possible, rotate drivers regularly. While the off-duty driver might not be able to sleep, the downtime from concentrating on the road is essential. And take time to adjust your driving position.

Vehicles with electronic memory seating make it easy to adjust positions. Without this, mark seat positions with coloured sticky dots on entry scuff plates or lumbar support dials for each driver to rapidly reset positions.

·Some drivers stay alert and focused for two or three hours, others can only manage one.

Caffeine is a proven aid to increase alertness and fight fatigue but while a coffee or Red Bull is a good idea for the driver; ensure back-seat passengers don't indulge unnecessarily. There's nothing wrong with them quietly dozing.

·Never underestimate the importance of a clean windscreen. Dusty glass might be OK in bright sunlight but come dusk and oncoming headlights, forward vision can deteriorate rapidly.

·Regardless of in-car distractions like travel games, portable DVD players or game consoles, plan on stopping after a maximum of two hours to allow kids or dogs to stretch and run for 10 minutes.

Everyone can have a drink or snack and the comfort stop will help maintain sanity over a full day's travel.

·Tyre pressures aren't a case of set and forget. A fully laden 4WD running 45psi over corrugations generates rapid suspension oscillations, causing the vehicle to skip over the surface, impeding control and rapidly fatiguing the driver as they constantly correct direction.

It also takes its toll on steering and suspension as the tyres aren't absorbing vibrations. Deflating tyres too much smoothes out the ride but can result in the vehicle tracking surface irregularities and generating dangerous levels of heat, leading to tyre failure.

Cooper Tires produces an excellent glovebox reference guide for a range of terrains, freely available from

·It's a good idea to carry a fast, reliable air-compressor to minimise aggravation deflating and re-inflating tyres for changing off-road conditions.

The ARB dual-air compressor is worth a look. It's proving itself to be a reliable and effective unit.

Most importantly, always drive to the conditions - sometimes the best option is to simply arrive later than planned.

The West Australian

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