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Home > Tips and Hints > Starting Out Index > Off Road Caravans > Travelling off road and on unsealed roads

Off road and unsealed road travel

 

Off road usually refers to travel other than on maintained roads, rather than travelling where there are no roads at all as someone out gold prospecting might do.  These unmaintained roads are usually known as tracks.  Many roads colloquially referred to as tracks such as Tanami, Birdsville and Oodnadatta tracks are now in reality roads of adequate width and are periodically graded. Sometimes off road means anything other than a bitumen road and Australia has many networks of gravel, clay or other forms of unsealed roads.  A long and corrugated road such as the Tanami Road is in most cases far more damaging to a rig than travelling cross country. 

 

Dust is common on Australia dirt roads.  This can obscure other traffic, so extra caution is needed in overtaking, and it is wise to travel with headlights on and dipped.  Parking lights only will not be visible to other motorists.  If your rig is dustproof, dust ingression may only be through the gas vents in the caravan door.  Putting sponge or cloth between the door and the screen door whilst travelling will help.  If you have a bathroom and find dust comes in through the shower drain, fit a plug.  Fine white dust is more penetrating than the inland red dust, and it will travel further across your caravan or trailer, however sweeping and wiping over ledges in you caravan each time you stop is not a difficult task regardless of the colour of the dust.      

 

When travelling on long corrugated roads, travel slowly and periodically stop and check your rig.  Check everything that can comes loose or unscrewed each day.  Check water tanks and delivery lines for stone damage. 

 

Limiting factors for off road and track travel include the size of your rig; height, length, turning circle, weight of rig on soft surfaces, and ground clearance of tow vehicle and trailer.  You may be limited by depth of water crossings, deep and steep valley crossings, deep ruts and washouts. Always check water crossing before entering as you cannot see what is underneath.  There may be an optimum path for the vehicle, with either side of it being much deeper.  On flooded roads, a washed away culvert or road surface will not be visible. Do not walk across in areas where there is a danger of salt water crocodiles.   

Tyre pressures:  On well formed and maintained unsealed roads, normal road tyre pressures can be maintained.  A more comfortable and less damaging ride on rough and corrugated roads will be obtained by dropping the tyre pressures on tow vehicle and trailer. The amount will depend on the road, the type of tyres and your load.  Those will rear duals on their tow vehicle will not be able to drop tyre pressures much as the tyres will touch.  We found with a fairly heavy vehicle and caravan, 25 psi (cold) gave a good ride all round on corrugated roads and 27 30 was suitable for roads where there were frequent changes between sealed and corrugated unsealed surfaces.  The theory is that inflated tyres are the equivalent to bouncing a basket ball, and likewise your rig and particularly the trailer, will bounce up and down doing damage to the trailer and contents.  Partially deflated tyres are like a basketball that has lost much of the air; it will not bounce.

 

Reducing tyre pressures on both tow vehicle and trailer is also necessary on roads with soft surfaces such as sand.  This will give more traction and the tyres will not sink in so much so an easier ride and less chance of becoming bogged.  Lower tyre pressures are safer when travelling on sharps stone roads and tracks.  This is bit like popping a balloon easy to do with a pin when fully inflated, but when the balloon has only a little air the pin pushes the soft balloon in some way before it will pierce the balloon.  Fear of sidewall damage to ballooning low pressure tyres is somewhat unfounded, but it still can happen.  Sidewall damage generally cannot be repaired. 

 

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Do not travel on clay surfaced dirt roads after rain, as wheels can sink in leaving deep ruts which are difficult if not impossible to grade out and these ruts may remain for many years making travel difficult for others.  Large fines can apply for travelling on a road which has been closed due to rain, aside from the risk of becoming bogged and/or becoming stranded. 

 

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When travelling in remote areas, particularly with a trailer, the cost of recovery in case of a breakdown can exceed $10,000. Consider the risk before you go.  Also ensure you have adequate communications, fuel water and food if travelling in remote regions. Fuel consumptoin will be much higher than usual on soft surfaces and tracks where the going is slow and low gears are being used. 

 

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The track in to Roma Gorge Aboriginal Rock carving site winds along the stony bed of the Finke River.  Travel is very slow and requires a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle.  Trailers may be left at a small parking area near the road. 
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This chart on the Peak Hill Caravan Park website is a useful guide to tyre pressures:  Tyre Pressure Guide Chart
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