Do I need a 4wd for family lap of Oz?

Submitted: Monday, May 24, 2021 at 21:11
ThreadID: 141821 Views:6274 Replies:8 FollowUps:4
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Thinking of getting a small pop-up camper for minimum 6 months on the road seeing as much of Oz as possible (not Tasmania), with possibility of extending. Should we invest in a 4wd to really enjoy the free camping and best bits? We get around offroad camping just fine in Tas with current vehicle (but never with a trailer). Neither partner nor I know how to do any sort of real 4wd-ing, so wouldn't be going anywhere too remote/difficult, but don't want to spend too much money on commercial/big camp grounds.
I know we could manage the lap without a 4wd, but would my heart break at foregone beachfront camping??
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Reply By: Member - Warren H - Monday, May 24, 2021 at 21:29

Monday, May 24, 2021 at 21:29
It's more a question of choosing the camper you want and then a vehicle capable of legally and safely towing it. Being right at the limits of the vehicle's capability is not a good idea. First familiarise yourself with the terminology used for these considerations an example here . Then you will be in the best position to make a decision and not be bamboozled by salespersons. I don't really know much about non 4wd tow vehicles especially now the go to towing workhorses in the Falcon and Commodore are no more.
PS: Many are caught out by tow ball mass limits on a vehicle that otherwise seems to fit the bill. A friend was caught out when a vehicle salesperson assured him that the vehicle could be fitted with a factory upgrade only to discover that it was discontinued on the latest model.
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Reply By: Member - Cuppa - Monday, May 24, 2021 at 22:48

Monday, May 24, 2021 at 22:48
If you just want to get to off road camps & use dirt roads here & there, 4wd will give confidence , but good ground clearance is probably the most desirable feature over the actual 4wd capability.

To be honest - on the basis of what you say in your final sentence I reckon you already know the answer to your question. ;)

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Follow Up By: Jannette A - Wednesday, May 26, 2021 at 10:22

Wednesday, May 26, 2021 at 10:22
Thanks Cuppa.
I think you're right re that last bit!
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Reply By: Nomadic Navara - Tuesday, May 25, 2021 at 00:09

Tuesday, May 25, 2021 at 00:09
A lot will depend upon which beachfront campsites you wish to frequent. If you install the WikiCamps app you will find out which campsites require 4WD for access. Have a good look at the possible sites you wish to stay at to see if you can get a good selection of them. There are a lot of these sites where you can get into them but only to the sites away from the beachfront.

What tow vehicle do you have now?
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Reply By: qldcamper - Tuesday, May 25, 2021 at 07:57

Tuesday, May 25, 2021 at 07:57
Hi Jannette,
If you plan on towing anything in loose sand then a couple of shovels and knowledge of good recovery gear you should have is recomended. Especially on the beach as you have a choice, fluffy sand or firm but below high water sand.
4WD is essential towing in any sand, even crossing dry creeks will be murder on rear tyres going up a creek bank even with a LSD.

Apart from traction the big advantage of 4WD is low range when towing off road.

I have seen a lot of the country and most of it would not have needed 4WD but probably about a dozen times it has got me out of sticky situations a lot easier.

When I was a young fella I was taught to use 4WD to get out of the situation you get into in 2WD, if you get stuck when your in 4WD your really stuck. But that was in heavy vehicles.
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Reply By: Alan H11 - Tuesday, May 25, 2021 at 08:50

Tuesday, May 25, 2021 at 08:50
Interesting how local terminology varies - to me a "pop-up camper" is a single vehicle with a pop-up roof (e..g., the LC70 with the roof which pops up).

Anyway - I agree that ground clearance is more important than 4x4 to get to most places, and also that the vehicle is not overloaded and has strong suspension. Roads vary but as an example the access to Purnululu is rough/corrugated (and we met a couple of Norwegians who had broken the suspension on their AWD, athough you could easily handle it with a 2CV).

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Reply By: Member - Core420 - Tuesday, May 25, 2021 at 09:45

Tuesday, May 25, 2021 at 09:45
In the days before 4wd became popular people traveled all over Australia in their stationwagons. Yes, they traveled at lower speeds, but iconic tracks like Gibb River Road, Birdsville Track, Oodnadatta track etc. were no big deal. Even today I have encountered sedans on these tracks. Your main constraint is your camper, it can't go places a normal car could go, unless you get a dedicated offroad model.

So, I don't think you need a 4wd to see the outback. But you have to prepare your vehicle well; make sure you have the best tyres and shocks money can buy and consider underbody protection. Depending on your driving routine you don't even need a bullbar. I have travelled for many years in the outback and still don't have one. Don't have a snorkel either, as there are very few deep river crossings in the outback.

In terms of towing a van, I prefer to freecamp in a tent whenever possible. It is light weight and I can set it up anywhere where vans can't go. You can always find a sheltered place to setup camp and you can always use the car as a wind break.

If you consider beach camping, learn how to travel across various sand types before setting off. A 4wd course may be the answer. Having a 4wd is no guarantee that you don't get bogged. In fact in may give you a false sense of invulnerability which could get you in trouble. Look for Inskip Point videos on YouTube and you'll get the drift.

Good luck and safe travels.
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Follow Up By: Member - Warren H - Tuesday, May 25, 2021 at 10:09

Tuesday, May 25, 2021 at 10:09
Agree absolutely, but what's out there nowadays eg Kluger, Subaru Outback, some of the Korean SUVs, 2wd Japanese ute's. Some have tbm values less than 10% of the towing capacity. Cub campers and similar fit the bill but most of the imported forward fold campers are heavy on the ball. It pays to be well informed.
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Reply By: ExplorOz Team - Michelle - Tuesday, May 25, 2021 at 14:56

Tuesday, May 25, 2021 at 14:56
Hi Jannette,
To our family's mind, the "best bits" are those places where you have freedom to be alone under the stars, to not be restricted to a designated site to setup camp, to be completely self reliant, to hear nothing but nature - no traffic sounds at night, no one's generator, and no one's laughter or music. These days, these places are never the ones you see promoted but are rare finds. Once you realise that travelling Australia is a mainstream past-time and everyone is wanting the same experience you have to consider how you can get away from what everyone else is doing. You have to avoid peak travel periods if you want to visit a specific hotspot, and accept that there are fees charged and bookings required for the majority of national park sites so the more flexibility you give yourself the more content you will all feel on your trip. For this reason, I would encourage you to get a vehicle built to handle offroad terrain - an AWD with some ground clearance or a 4WD. It is rare to need to engage 4WD unless you specifically go looking for it, but the extra capability of a robust 4WD chasis, engine, and wheel base will give the extra comfort and capability for handling the majority of dirt roads that your family will wish to travel.
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Follow Up By: Jannette A - Wednesday, May 26, 2021 at 10:29

Wednesday, May 26, 2021 at 10:29
Super advice. That peace and escape is definitely what we're looking for. Thanks so much Michelle.
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Follow Up By: Member - Cuppa - Wednesday, May 26, 2021 at 11:09

Wednesday, May 26, 2021 at 11:09
And don't forget that having a 4wd is not just about huge off road remote area treks, it is also often about being able to get the extra 500metres to peace along the river bank that the 'hordes' can't reach in their conventional vehicles. .
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Reply By: Jannette A - Wednesday, May 26, 2021 at 10:35

Wednesday, May 26, 2021 at 10:35
Thanks so much everyone for your insights and advice.

We will upgrade our car for peace of mind, and so we don't get close to some amazing places we may never get to again but miss on out the best bits due to our vehicle, and so we can get away from the crowds. Also want to be able to tow a camper trailer with full water tanks, and all our gear (inc bikes etc) and will feel a lot more at ease if that's not right on the edge of the vehicle's towing capacity the whole time.
Now the search for something with decent road clearance and towing capacity begins! :)
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