A newbie planning to cross the Simpson Desert east to west alone.

Submitted: Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 at 22:20
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Please help me with advice or with discouraging arguments against my plan.

I will try it in mid-April with my Freelander 2 SD4 SE, 18” stock rims/tyres, following the French line (or any other easier rote?). How much extra diesel and water to take for about 4, 5 days? Is it actually possible?

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Reply By: Idler Chris - Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 at 22:31

Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 at 22:31
I am very experienced and with a very well prepared vehicle set up for such trips and I would not do this trip by myself. Yes it is possible but why take such risks and possibly place others at risk who may have to come and rescue you. Your a newbie with a stock vehicle = trouble. If Jeff from Mt Dare replies and says its OK he will be thinking of the 10 grand he will charge you to come and rescue you. And at 10 grand he would be letting you off light.
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Follow Up By: Vesko P - Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 at 22:38

Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 at 22:38
Looks like I'm a dreamer… Perhaps I should change my mind and plan to avoid the possible ten grand expenditure ?

Thank you Idler Chris.
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Follow Up By: Idler Chris - Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 at 22:45

Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 at 22:45
Don't dream, get some mates, do some research, do a few mods (lift essential), ask lots of questions, and go for it, it is a great trip but don't take a trailer.
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Follow Up By: Ozrover - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 09:37

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 09:37
$10.000 for a recovery... I wish, no your freelander should be okay to get across, but do not do it alone!

Your 18" standard tyres will be marginal, & there will be no replacements available!

You will need to carry at least 120litres of diesel + food/drink + at least 30 litres of water + spares, tyres etc...

Make sure you get the best roadside assist avaiable as it may not cost $10.000 to get you out, but if it goes tits up, the recovery costs will be substantial!!!

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Follow Up By: Idler Chris - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 10:33

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 10:33
Vesko I dare say that Jeff knows more about the Simpson than the rest of us put together, listen to him first second and third. Look at his saying, it says it all.
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Follow Up By: craigandej - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 12:37

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 12:37
So whats a recovery cost, do you charge by the km? Im sure lots are interested.
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Follow Up By: Vesko P - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 20:08

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 20:08
Hi Jeff,

I really appreciate your words of wisdom. Reading the comments below I now understand that my enthusiasm for the desert is a bit naïve. I need more experience and better equipped vehicle. Nevertheless, I still want to see the desert, perhaps driving just to the Big Red and back.

Very good point about my tyres. I plan to carry 3 spares, one on the rim and two extra to minimise weight. I wander if there is some drive where I can just “brush” the desert with minimum risk on my way to Uluru?

Thank you Jeff.
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Follow Up By: Vesko P - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 20:11

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 20:11
Hey Idler Chris,

Unfortunately, I discovered, that I function best alone. With company I become too complicated. :-)
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Follow Up By: Ozrover - Friday, Mar 15, 2013 at 08:18

Friday, Mar 15, 2013 at 08:18
Vesco,

If you do a loop out of Birdsville to Big red, & maybe a couple of dunes in, you will soon know how your vehicle will perform in those conditions.

Alternatly, the late Adam Plate made a small 4wd loop out of Oodnadatta to hone your skills on if you go through that way.

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Reply By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 at 22:42

Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 at 22:42
Hi Vesko

Firstly it will still be quite hot out there then, in the high thirties - low forties.

You will find that there will be sections of track that will still be blown over from last year, so a good eye and moving map will be handy. The sand will be powder soft, so make sure that you have a long handle shovel and use low pressures in your tyres. At that time of the year, tyre pressures should be around 12 - 14 psi, and any higher and you will be making quite hard work for yourself.

A set of MaxTrax will be very handy. If in the afternoons, if you are having trouble with the steeper dunes, call it a day and the cool of the next morning will make that same dune so much easier. Take extra water and fuel will be a hard one. If you are using your vehicle correctly, you should not use much more fuel, but if you are getting continually bogged, then it will be a different story. Work on for a safety margin of around 150 litres, but in actual fact you should use less.


Cheers



Stephen
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Follow Up By: Idler Chris - Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 at 23:25

Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 at 23:25
What do others think of road tyres at 12-14psi. Me thinks lots of punctures.
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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 at 23:50

Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 at 23:50
Hi Idler Chris

On one hand you say you are very experienced, now you are asking for what others think?

Sounds like you have not ventured out into the Simpson either. High tyre pressures out in that soft sand and see what happens, bog after bog.

Most of the way across the French Line is sand, sand and yet even more sand, with no other vegetation on the track what so ever, thus no sticks etc to cause punctures.

It is people that go through the Simpson with high tyre pressures are the ones that cause all the damages. When Vesko asked for advise, he wanted to hear from people that have been through there at that time of the year and know what they are talking about.

If you think that those pressures are low, you have not driven up Big Red at that time of the year either, when 8 - 10 psi is the norm of the day.


Over to you, experienced Simpson Desert Traveller.



Stephen
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Follow Up By: Boeing (PER - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 00:22

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 00:22
Idler Chris,

I must agree with Stephen, you say that you are experienced then on the other hand you want a back up to what you say.

Vesko, the Simpson is not the place to start your 4wd adventures if you have no or little experience. There are lots of places that will teach you without becoming a nightmare and costing you a fortune.

Cheers

Mark
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Follow Up By: Vesko P - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 07:07

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 07:07
Hi Stephen,

Thank you for the sound advice. I was experimenting with the tyre pressure at the Stockton Dunes and found that the Freelander is going well at about 16 – 18 psi (it’s quite light), but then again as you say, the sand at the desert might be softer than the Stockton Dunes?

I’ve got a set of MaxTrax, air-jack, hand winch and the long handle shovel. I also have the TOPO Australia installed on my Garmin.

Can I ask you: on the French line are there many creeks/water crossings?

Thank you for being positive and thank you for your blog – I enjoy the stories and the photos.
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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 07:50

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 07:50
Hi Vesko

To be honest, I have never driven the dunes at Stockton, but from others that have, our desert dunes are softer to travel across and in almost every dune crossing in the Simpson, you cannot use speed due to the dune faces being cut up.

My preferred direction of travel through the Simpson is also an East - West crossing. You will be starting with the steeper and higher dunes, so you will learn quickly what will suit your driving conditions. I personally use high range and on the steeper dunes, just take my time in 1st gear, just take your time and keep the power on. Do not back the power off when at the top of the dunes, as almost every dune will have a tight turn at the top, not just a straight drive over, so you will not know if you have to do a quick left or right turn, so if you have the power backed off it is possible to get bogged right at the very top,just when you think you have successfully crossed the dune.

To save weight, I would leave the hand winch at home, as by fare the best item will be the long handle shovel, and then if you are having real problems, then use the MaxTrax. The sand will be soft, no questions asked and if it was me, I would start at 14 psi and go from there....not higher though.

The only creek crossings as such will be on the QAA Line, being Eyre Creek, which when in times of water, has either a northern and southern detours. The Swales in the eastern section of the desert are very well spaced, with some times many kilometre between dunes, while the further west you travel the dunes will get much closer together.

Even after all my crossings of the Simpson, there was one dune that we had crossed many times on previous crossings, but the sand was just too soft, and try as I did, we retreated to an early camp as the 42 degrees made that sand just so soft. Next morning in the cool of the day, that very same dune was no problems what so ever, to the point that if you said that it could have been a problem, I would have been the first to say the person does not know what they are doing.

Take you time, drive slow to the conditions and you will have an interesting trip.

I hope this helps you out.



Cheers


Stephen
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Follow Up By: olcoolone - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 08:00

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 08:00
Beach sand is different to desert sand..... and I agree with what Stephen said.

We have run 10 psi in the desert on year due to conditions.

The tracks your more then likely do are like super highways, the only problem I would see you having is 1) ground clearance, 2) no low range, 3) The rockys section at the start of the Simpson from Mt Dare.

One other thing is the conditions in the Simpson can change very quickly.

For an experienced 4WDer or for the first timers in a real 4WD who are travelling with experienced 4x4ers it would not be a problem but for you with your experience and vehicle you might want to give it a miss for now.

Remote desert trips are different to a fun days drive in some sand hills......
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Follow Up By: Idler Chris - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 10:22

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 10:22
The purpose of these forums is to help others. No one person knows everything and for most situations there are many variables which are not stated so a variety of responses is what is the most helpful. By asking others what they think is to encourage other opinion to help Vesko. For the record I have crossed the Simpson 3 times, Big Red twice, and I use to live in Nelson Bay so know the Stockton Dunes like the back of my hand. My vehicle is 3.5t so I am use to pressure higher than on a lighter vehicle maybe I should have mentioned that. I would agree that 8 - 10 psi for Big Red is very realistic but for the 100's of k's across the Simpson I would suggest is asking for trouble. Of course you may have to go down to these pressures to get over some of the more difficult dunes, but be very careful as there is usually a turn at the top making it very easy to pull the tyre off the rim. I have seen tyres staked on a Simpson crossing so I still say it is something to consider. Vesko mentioned 12 - 14 psi and I understood him to mean this pressure for the whole distance which I still would say is to low. If he meant those pressures just to get over some of the tougher dunes then I would wholeheartedly agree.
We now find out that Vesko is not a total newbie he has got out there to find out for himself by trail and error what pressures work for his setup. This is a very sensible move and better equips you to understand the comments on this forum and find out what works for you. I believe that the big dunes at Stockton are closed at the moment did you do your testing before the closure? If it has been recently maybe its not a fair test.
Overall the comments here are very good and so should be of value to you.
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Follow Up By: Vesko P - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 20:17

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 20:17
Thank you Stephen again, your input is most useful. I will remember it, especially the approach of the tops of the dunes, plus taking it easy, leaving it for the next morning, when not possible the previous afternoon. :-)

Cheers!
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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 21:34

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 21:34
Hi Idler Chris

There still a few things that I can not comprehend from your above statement. I do not know what way you have been across the Simpson, even though there is only one through Queensland and 3 for South Australia, but the one that we are referring to if the French Line.

I still believe that I have given very sound and accurate advise for the following reasons, and cant not see why you still insist on :-

"but for the 100's of k's across the Simpson I would suggest is asking for trouble. Of course you may have to go down to these pressures to get over some of the more difficult dunes, but be very careful as there is usually a turn at the top making it very easy to pull the tyre off the rim. I have seen tyres staked on a Simpson crossing so I still say it is something to consider"

As you would be aware, we are talking about an East to West crossing along the French Line coming in from Birdsville and heading out on the QAA - the only way across on the public gazetted track.

Just before reaching Little Red on the LHS of the track heading west, there is the small little sign board, with information about crossing the Simpson. It is at this point that I would suggest that every traveller consider the impact on the dunes that they are about to encounter and that tyre pressures should be dropped.

One of the times when we were out in the Simpson (when travelling solo) and the talk on the UHF from one group was an absolute joke, considering that the group of 8 vehicles (we later found out) had paid very good money for a Tag a Long Tour, all being first time Simpson Desert drivers. The talk over the radio was how much harder are the dunes going to get, I have just had my third try and still can not get over. (this is between Big Red and Eyre Creek) At this point the person that had taken their good money and was their tour leader then said, perhaps you should try dropping your tyres down to 35psi.

Hearing this made my blood boil and to think they this so called leader was someone that should have never been let past the Birdsville Hotel, showing that he had no idea what so ever on how to drive in soft sand.

As you will be aware, your speeds crossing the Simpson will be between 20 - 40 kph, and those that respect their vehicles and always just idle up a dune, and not be a mad man and go like a cut snake, and in the process cut up and damage the dune face.

The swales in this part on the Simpson are well spaced, but no need to increase tyre pressures, as you will be doing this every 5 minutes and would be a complete waste of time. Ask yourself only 1 question???

Why are the dunes cut up all the way across the Simpson...

Answer....people with fare too high tyre pressures and not really knowing what they are doing and how to drive in soft sand.

There are a couple of gypsum outcrops before reaching the K1 Line but again you are only going slow, and there should be no reason to damage a tyre, the same as a few sections on the French Line near the Knolls area.

Once on the K1 Line, it is a good hard packed run down to the sign that indicates the way to Dalhousie and Peoppel Corner. From this point on, the dunes are quite close together and sand all the way, so there is no need what so ever to increase tyre pressure. After a good few days of sand driving, you will arrive at Wonga Junction and it is at this point that it is safe to increase tyre pressure, as you have now left all the main dunes behind and shortly past Purnie Bore, back into gibber country.

Even at 12 psi, providing that you are taking your time, you are still going slow enough to take the correct turn at the top of a dune, and no way of running the tyre from the rim,so if you are going to run a tyre from its rim, that tells me one thing, going way too fast and making a very sudden sharp turn of the wheel, which in turn is cutting up the top of the dunes even more damage to the soft sand.

How have those that you know of staked a tyre across the Simpson?
With very soft sand and no hidden sticks etc on the French Line, I do not know what would have caused a tyre to be damaged.

I still am a firm believer that with low tyre pressures and taking your time, the Simpson is a good easy drive in dry normal conditions. But then on the other hand if it is wet, it will be one trip that will haunt you for years to come.


Like you say, it is good to hear what others have to same about crossing the Simpson, and the experiences that they can share and these are my thoughts. I feel that if everyone would drop their tyres down and drive slower, that it would cause far less damage to the dunes and stress to you vehicle.


Cheers


Sep[hen
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Follow Up By: Idler Chris - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 23:28

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 23:28
Hi Stephen, we are on the same wave length I agree with what you say obviously your experiences have been similar to mine. I have a 100 series TD auto which is right on its GMV weight of about 3260kg's. On the Frenchline going west I would have the tyres at around 16psi front and 20psi rear. I approach the dunes very slowly until I get through the big dips at the start and then usually when it starts to climb a bit of loud pedal (this is in high range) till it drops into second then hold about 1800 revs until I get to the top. Usually make it but occasionally not so back down for another go with either more power or less air depending on the conditions. It does not worry me not to get over the first time every time, the idea is to get over using the least amount of power as possible so saving the vehicle and the track. I suspect the differences we may have on exact pressures will be related to different conditions at the time, different vehicles, tyres, loadings etc. As I said above I agree with your thinking. In respect to punctures I can recall three sidewall punctures on two of the trips. While I am reasonably sure they were sticks I am not totally certain. One was definitely a tree root at Peoppel Corner. The other thing I am sure about is that they were not light truck tyres but the original tyres from new. I have internal tyre monitors and I use these to have as lower pressures as possible without the tyres overheating. As you have stated many dunes have turns at the top, some of which can be quite sharp, you need to apply power so the front wheels drive you around the corner. Without power you tend to go straight even though the wheel are turned, I liken it to driving on ice. At 12 psi I get sand between the bead and the rim so it is last resort for me. What we agree on is to take it easy, go as low as you can, and look after your vehicle and the track.

You mentioned conversations you have heard over the UHF, I also have had those experiences and wondered how some people can be so stupid. There is ample information available if only you spend the time to find out. I suggested in another post that Jeff from Mt Dare should charge $10,000 for a recovery he is asked to make I assumed its these people who call on his services.

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Reply By: Member - Michael P (QLD) - Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 at 22:59

Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 at 22:59
Vesco,
The Freelanders do they have low range?
Mike.
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Follow Up By: garrycol - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 00:18

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 00:18
No - but are nevertheless with their Terrain Response system and auto box very capable - the most capable of the softroaders.

Garry
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Reply By: patsproule - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 06:55

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 06:55
We own a stock Freelander as well as an NP Pajero. Have also crossed the Simpson twice. No way I would take the Freelander! Is it possible? Yes. Is it safe on your own in April with a stock vehicle? No, not really.

It might be reasonably capable but it is really just a soft-roader. Terrain response is a PITA in sand and the 18" rims and stock tyres will be a big liability. Ground clearance will be an issue as well as the lack of low range and a proper locking centre diff. You will need to carry 120+ litres of diesel as a lot of the crossing will be high rev low speed work. Unless you take the rear seats out you will have limited space and it will be heavily loaded so sitting low. I'd also be a little suspect of cooling systems - the poms designed these things with their climate in mind, not an Australian desert in April - auto trans temps are the ones I'd be worried about.

Maybe team up with someone and at east do a few basic mods - off road tyres being the first, bash plates second. On our last crossing we saw a group of Subaru Forresters crossing. Wheels sent a Porsche over once. But they all had backup.

Pat
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Follow Up By: garrycol - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 10:59

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 10:59
I think you are getting your Terrain Response and Traction Control mixed up. TR just selects different engine and other outputs for different conditions. With sand selected in the TR the Traction Control works differently to that in say Rock Crawl or Mud Ruts.

The FL2 has higher ground clearance than a couple of well know standar dual cab utes.
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Follow Up By: garrycol - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 11:00

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 11:00
It is Stability Control that causes issues - not only in sand but other offroad conditions as it limits engine power. In any difficult area stability control needs to be turned off.
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Follow Up By: mikehzz - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 11:26

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 11:26
If you don't turn the DSC off when in sand mode then you are asking for trouble. You also need to drive in manual mode as well or you will heat up the transmission on a hot day. The auto holds onto the gears longer in sand mode which is fine for shooting up a dune but no good for flat cruising.
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Reply By: mikehzz - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 07:34

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 07:34
Hey Vesko, I wouldn't really call you a newbie anymore, I've read your travels. :-) Seriously, the 18" and street tyres are a concern. I tried coming in from the west in my FL 2 with street tyres and turned around due to the large sharp gibbers. I originally had 2 spares but was down to 1 with a repair on it so left it until I got some good tyres. Mine are 17's at least. I've been out from Birdsville to Poepel's and up Big Red no problem. So I've done 2 reccy's one from the west and one the east in preparation for a full solo trip. I reckon my FL2 would make it on 1 tank but I would carry 3 jerries in case you almost get across and have to turn around for some reason. I was getting around 10 on the sand. I have a sat phone and self recovery equipment like max trax and exhaust jack. Good tip - go up to Stockton and bog yourself on purpose....take another car with you of course...but get yourself out on your own. The exhaust jack works really well on sand if you belly out and the max trax won't grab anymore. Cheers.
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Follow Up By: mikehzz - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 07:56

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 07:56
PS The big dunes at Stockton are harder than Big Red in my opinion. They are closed off at the moment.
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Follow Up By: garrycol - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 11:05

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 11:05
I agree - the car will do the trip no issue - but you need to get ATs on those 18" rims and you need to limit your weight. Ideally you should be with someone else - maybe to a tag along tour.
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Follow Up By: mikehzz - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 11:22

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 11:22
There aren't any 18's in AT available for the size. I read somewhere that General Grabbers may be bringing some in. You can get 255/55/18's in Pirelli ATR but that's a fair bit wider than standard but the same rolling diameter.
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Follow Up By: Vesko P - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 19:17

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 19:17
Hey Mike, I’m really glad to see you here. Yes, unfortunately I couldn’t find acceptably priced 17” rims to equip the fl2 with some nice Yokohama Geolandar A/T-s.

The crossing of Simpson Desert, I will give it up for now, mostly because my girl will fly to Uluru and the plan is to pick her up there for a little adventure together (the Painted Desert, Oodnadatta Track, Lake Eyre from the other side and the Flinders Ranges). I want to impress her with the outback and if I stuff it up in the desert, I’ll miss my chance with her…

However, with your post you gave me an idea to drive just some of the way, perhaps to the Big Red, try my luck with it, spend a night in the desert and then drive some easy rote around it. I will have 8 days’ time before Uluru. Can you recommend rote?

Thanks Mike.
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Follow Up By: mikehzz - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 21:04

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 21:04
Mate, I've gone up through Corner Country and Innamincka to Birdsville, Then out past Big Red and back, then to Boulia and Alice via the Plenty Highway. The car had no trouble with any of that, just hard on the tyres. Keep it slow with a few spares and I would do it in yours. You could snap yourself silly with that excellent camera you have. :-)
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Reply By: Bushranger1 - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 08:30

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 08:30
G'day Vesko,
I have done lots of very remote area travel on my own in my lifted Hilux & would normally say yes go for it BUT, I have travelled with someone that had a Freelander out in the Victorian Mallee in the deep sand & the Freelander just bottomed out in the deep sand most of the time.
So sorry to say given the vehicle you have I would have to say NO. Particularly given how soft the sand is out there, traction control won't help at all if your car is sitting on it's underbelly.

Cheers
Stu
AnswerID: 506760

Follow Up By: garrycol - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 11:08

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 11:08
Was this a Freelander 1 or 2 - completely different vehicles. The FL2 has ground clearance similar to many standard 4x4 dual cabs and better than at least one. Fl2 also has a much better 4wd system.
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Follow Up By: mikehzz - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 11:29

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 11:29
I did the Big Desert through to the Border Track and Scorpion Springs in my FL2 solo with no trouble.
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Follow Up By: Bushranger1 - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 14:13

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 14:13
Yes fair enough it was an FL1 but I still consider an FL2 a soft roader so I wouldn't do the Simpson alone in that vehicle.
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Reply By: Batt's - Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 12:27

Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 at 12:27
Go to the simpson with other people don't use road tyres and you said the car is light then load it up first put more weight in it than you'll have on the trip don't skimp on the weight your only cheating yourself and then go for a drive on stockton to see how your car reacts you'll find a big difference but I reckon you should go alone that will test your ability to get out of any bogs and your patients and how frustrated you get in a situation work the car hard see if it gets hot. Don't just do it once and think alls good load it up every time. Only reason I'm saying this honestly is because you sound very in experienced sorry but asking about taking a standard car with road tyres and no low range out west is asking for trouble I wouldn't like to see you get into a bad situation. And on stockton it's not like you can't find another car there to help and you can always call for help on the uhf. Does a freelander have proper recovery points front & rear.
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