Question: SUV/softroader limitations in the Outback

Hi all,

I am organising a fundraising project that involves travelling through the Outback (Red Center, Top End, Kimberley, WA...) and am seeking advice from the experts on 4 wheel driving that you must be. Apologies in advance if my questions are dull, I am definately a newbie to the world of 4WDs.

My question is about the type of 4wd that would be suitable for this kind of trip, knowing that it will involve going off road. What are the limitations of the modern SUVs/softroaders in terms of the type of road they can tackle?

I know theylack ground clearance for the most hardcore roads and deep soft sand but for instance, would it be possible to take a Kia Next Gen Sorento, a Hyundai Santa Fe or a Peugeot 4007 on the Gibb River Road or in Arnhem Land in the dry season (would travel in May/June)? Note that I would be carrying a lot of items in the car for this charity trip (camping equipment, water tank, etc.)

If not, is it possible to lift these cars so they have higher ground clearance?

Thanks a lot for your advice, it's all for a good cause ;)

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Reply By: Member - Phil G (SA) - Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 07:15

Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 07:15
IMO the biggest problem you'll have is tyres. Sure most of the SUVs are capable of doing the tracks, but they all seem to take different size low profile tyres or have spacesaver spares.
AnswerID: 506148

Reply By: Patrol22 - Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 07:18

Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 07:18
Yep what Phil G says the limitations on the roads like the Gibb River Rd are the tyres on most SUVs. If the vehicles were running a higher profile LT construction tyre they would have no trouble.
AnswerID: 506149

Reply By: Van K - Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 07:23

Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 07:23
Hi guys, thanks heaps for your replies.
To solve the problem, do these type of soft roaders take other, stronger kinds of tyres, regardless of the spacesaver spare? Sorry again, I'm truly a noob in four wheel driving (I'm originally from Europe, didn't leave me much room to pratice...).
AnswerID: 506153

Reply By: Echucan Bob - Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 07:52

Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 07:52
Hi Van K

Until you have driven on a corrugated bush track its hard to comprehend the stress this puts on a vehicle. And we are talking hundreds of kilometers, well away from assistance.

The SUV is deceptively shaped like an off road vehicle, with car like suspension components (light weight), low clearance, and with low profile tyres. It may have a 4WD system but this serves to further confuse it with an offroad vehicle rather than confer off road ability.

A few kilometers of corrugations will destroy tyres, destroy shock absorbers, break suspension components and cause stress to the owner way in excess of any benefit from participating in the event. Furthermore, low ground clearance will have the vehicle hung up on jump ups and river crossings, and expose undercar components to catastrophic damage.

By way of example, as well as a capable off roader, I also own a Diesel X5 (35D). It makes a great highway tourer, but it only leaves the bitumen after the greatest provocation. A look underneath reveals suspension components made with coat hanger thin rods, exposed fragile bits, and tyres that keep the rims about 2 cm off the bitumen.

Rather than destroy your SUV, consider hiring a UTE for your trip. In a real cost comparison it works out surprisingly effective. And instead of worrying about the destruction of your car, you can get on and enjoy what yo are doing.


AnswerID: 506154

Follow Up By: Van K - Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 08:41

Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 08:41
Hi there,
Thanks for you very detailed reply :)

The thing is, this is a fundraising trip and without entering into too much detail, we are requesting the donation of a car to different brands against sponsorship. So we might end up with a SUV... Which is why I'm trying to figure out their limitations (might need to skip the Gibb River Road considering your message), or figure out how to strengthen them (new tyres, lift them up to get more ground clearance, etc.).

I have seen reports of people tackling these kinds of roads with their SUVs in the dry season, flattening their tyres, so I'm wondering how much stress and damage they put on their cars.

I'll try to primarily obtain a true hard 4x4...
FollowupID: 783103

Follow Up By: garrycol - Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 15:07

Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 15:07
Bob your argument is very valid but applies equally to most full size 4wds straight out of the show room. Most have P rated tyres, many are lower profile, have weak springs and poor shocks and have just as many issues if over loaded - when most buy a new 4wd to actually go offroad they head straight to the accessory shop to get their vehicle up graded.

The same should apply to a softroader - I had one for 8 years and had LT tyres on it - in my case a suspension upgrade was not needed and the ground clearance was no worse that some of the new full on 4wds - but you do need to know your vehicle.

If outback touring and not intending to do "technical" 4wding then I think a softroader is fine as long as you make the same mods as you would a full on 4wd - the main issue is their smaller size and lower load carrying capacity - the question will be can you carry all the gear that you need too and not be overloaded.

Would I take a softroader to the high country or Cape York - probably not, but on outback roads - sure (softroaders are generally superior in sand than full on 4wds) - but the 6 Ps apply Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

FollowupID: 783128

Reply By: mike g2 - Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 14:15

Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 14:15
To add to replies, its 'possible" but not recomended for all previous reasons and then some: adequete ground clearance, light weight suspension, light weight build, not same low range gearing, not 'true 4wd' in some, tyres not that good off road , air intake/filter not suited to dusty off road conditions , electronic engine control issues vs older mechanical style, and so on. this is more so as you had mentioned other areas apart from gibb rvr road . The mix of driver capability is also a factor in that some may not have reasonable 4wd experience.
consider modifying your route to areas where a softroader would be ok and not start falling apart by end of trip. good examples can be found in 4wd books ( see 'western 4wd driver') that specify tracks or trips as ok for soft roaders, also talk to group called "Variety" who run an annual charity bash from Perth WA.. forum also good for this as you are doing.
A lot depends on how much damage you and your trip companions are willing to accept at their own expense if soft roaders used in rougher terrain. Insurance generally covers 4wd off road, but remember each incident of damage at various times on a trip may be considered a seperate item(claim) for insurance purposes-this has implications as I have discovered after a trip to Pilbara.

softroaders were epecially developed by industry to tap into city dweller market who dream after doing a bit of 4wd on the w/end but with a cheaper costs compared to "real" 4wd . ( see the ads they do!) also need to consider occasional water crossing ( even in dry season) as well with ground clearance issue . wish you the best.
AnswerID: 506179

Reply By: Hema Maps - Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 14:32

Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 14:32

Essentially any car could do a lot of the tracks in Australia on the condition that it was prepared properly. The reason bigger 4WDs are preferred is because there is less work required. As someone mentioned (I cant remember who as im writing this), SUVs/Softroaders have significantly weaker parts, hence more need replacing before doing major trips. Also as it is a less common occurrence there are less parts available.

When talking to the manufactures I would recommend outlining a trip plan so you can show them that and then they can make the call on if their car would make it or not, they may even be able to tell you the cars weaker points that you would then be able to rectify.

Overall most car companies have a car that would be able to make these trips with just a couple of minor modifications, so push to get those :) (There have also been a few 4WDs just released that the manufactures may be keen to show off, new Patrol and the Colorado 7)

happy planning and Safe Journey...
AnswerID: 506181

Reply By: mikehzz - Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 19:51

Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 at 19:51
I've done most of the tracks in the Centre in my Freelander 2. Others in my club have done them in X-Trails and Foresters, this includes Simpson crossings. It is vital you have some good quality All Terrain tyres on. If the rims are bigger than 17" then think again, the range of AT tyres shrinks dramatically for smaller cars. Carry an extra tyre only spare making 6 tyres all up. The cars above can handle it quite well but will definately break easier than the big guns. Tyre pressures are very important and must be softer for smaller weaker cars. Don't overload them it's just more stress. No need to carry the kitchen sink. Stay slow, light and nimble...I've had no problem doing that. Cheers.
AnswerID: 506209

Reply By: Van K - Thursday, Mar 07, 2013 at 09:47

Thursday, Mar 07, 2013 at 09:47
Hi all
Thanks for all the replies. Seems like a bit of a dilemma really...
I will primarily try to obtain a true full 4x4 car, and if I end up with a SUV/softroader I will make sure to customise the tyres, suspensions and shock absorbers, trying to figure out the specific weakness of the car.

On a sidenote, do you guys know what the tracks are like in the Top End, more specifically in Arnhem Land where there's no sealed road. Are they similar to the GRR (corrugated, river crossings, etc.)?
AnswerID: 506242

Follow Up By: Member - Neil L1 - Thursday, Mar 07, 2013 at 20:09

Thursday, Mar 07, 2013 at 20:09
Arnhem Land is quite accessible in a soft roader with decent tyres nowadays as long as you don't venture too far off the beaten track and water levels in creek crossings have subsided. I did it in a Subaru back in 1986 and roads have been greatly improved since then.

FollowupID: 783204

Reply By: The Bantam - Thursday, Mar 07, 2013 at 10:17

Thursday, Mar 07, 2013 at 10:17
The thing that has not been addressed is the great variation in soft roader SUVs.

juts look at a Toyota RAV next to Honda CRV.......even without crawling underneath it is obvious that the RAV has much bigger wheels and more ground clearance.

Get underneath and the suspension parts of the CRV are much lighter than the RAV.

While ya under will see that the RAV is pretty clean underneath with nothing hanging down saying."hit me".

The RAV is still not a serious off road vehicle, but it would cope and survive much better than several other Softroader SUVs.

If you are carrying "water tanks".......Um right...that sound like some weight right there, and you have a problem straight away with most SUVs and even 4wd station waggons.

People are frequently running into weight limitations with even the heavy 4WDs.

Sound like you realy need a utility or a proper 4wd light truck.

Like a great many things...when you are looking for sponsorship you need to be looking for what you need to get the job done, not just anything that is offered.

AnswerID: 506245

Reply By: Wayne's 60 - Friday, Mar 08, 2013 at 01:21

Friday, Mar 08, 2013 at 01:21
Hi Van

For the last seven years we have tried (SO HARD) to get away from the ""SOFT ROADER"" tag for vehicles. COMPACT 4WD WA

FWIW a 60 Series Land cruiser is considered to be a "SUV" on some forums, Go Figure.

Do a 4WD Course BEFORE you think about going and this will give you an idea of the vehicle's capabilities. Real 4wds will "fail to proceed" when conditions are horrific.

If we can assist from here, please contact us through our website.

We wish you well on your quest.

Wayne & Sally.

AnswerID: 506298

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