Cover all the bases when you’re behind the wheel of your 4WD on that long-distance trip on bitumen

Despite the old chestnut about “Toorak tractors” clogging up urban roads so “soccer mums and dads” have a better view over the traffic, I think most four-wheel- drives are sold to people who want to go off-road.

So the irony is even frequent engagers of 4WD probably still spend 80 or 90 per cent of drive time on the blacktop. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of bitumen between most of our suburban homes and the track to the special camping destination or perfect fishing spot.

This means it’s important four-wheel-drivers consider the impact of long-distance touring on bitumen — as well as how to handle their fourbie in the rough stuff.

Unlike the family sedan or neat little city commuter, keep in mind your fully laden fourbie is big and heavy.

Although modern powerful engines and braking systems make it seem easy — hurtling up to 110km/h or braking hard to avoid a roo requires a lot of effort to defeat the inertia of a couple of tonnes (or more if you’re towing).

Allow yourself enough time to enjoy the journey and enough space to brake safely in an emergency. You bought a 4WD to enjoy off-road and trying to keep up with a sports-performance car on a winding road is hard on tyres, punishing at the bowser and may result in a far-too-close inspection of roadside scrub.

If you’ve sensibly slowed to enjoy the drive, be courteous to faster-moving vehicles. Stay firmly left, give them a flick of the indicator to confirm when it’s OK to overtake and slow down even further when they do, so they can pass quickly and safely.

Even if you are an excellent driver fully capable of handling conditions when clouds burst, assume other drivers have less skill and slow down anyway. You’ll be better able to take evasive action if they mess up.

Fatigue is a killer. Driving long, straight roads is boring — in fact, the Eyre Highway crossing the Nullarbor made a guest appearance on a TV show as one of the world’s most dangerous roads.

Fight fatigue with regular stops, driver changes, loud music, cold air, coffee and power naps in roadside pullovers. Assume other drivers also are struggling and make sure you have your lights on even during the day for maximum attention grabbing.

Adjust your focal point regularly — up and down the road, check the rear-vision mirror for a speed demon waiting to pass and scan the roadside for foolish wildlife thinking about waddling across the dry black river.

Consider doing an advanced driving course — preferably with a company that will allow you to bring your 4WD along for at least part of the session.

Wouldn’t it be good to find out whether you can really handle two tonnes of sliding missile within the safety of a controlled skidpan?

Just make sure you arrive safely at that special destination.

© The West Australian
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