4WD or 2WD?

by Ella
(Sydney, NSW)

We are in the process of buying a van for our 5 month long travel in Australia between November and March. We have done some research (on a number of websites) in regards to the different states, roads, climate and weather conditions during this time and we are unsure if a 4WD Van will be a must for our travels or if we should invest in a cheaper (to buy and run) 2WD Van instead.

Our plan is to drive around Australia starting and finishing in Sydney. We will be going up the east coast first, then cross the Northern Territory over to the west coast and returning to Sydney driving along the south coast.

We are unsure if all the roads have some unsealed parts to them? Or are there highways with sealed roads that can take us from A - B. Say between Cairns - Darwin - Broome - Perth as an example.

We are not sure if we want to do trips off the highways in the NT into the outback. Our main aim will be to stay along the coast. The NT will be a transport trip more than anything else.

So, the question is. Do we really need a 4WD to do our trip? Or are there ways of getting around the unsealed roads, managing with a 2WD only? What can we not see and do with a 2WD that requires a 4WD?

Many thanks for a fantastisc website. A lot of useful and helpful information!

Ella and Nina

Comments for 4WD or 2WD?

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You don't need a 4WD
by: Birgit

Hi Ella,
Sorry about this very late reply, I've been away on a long trip myself.

Well, you definitely don't absolutely NEED a 4wd just to get from A to B. But a 2WD will restrict you in where you'll be able to go. Up north it will be the highways only. If that is fine with you, there is no problem with taking a 2WD.

With the time you have available, you wouldn't be able to get off the beaten track all that much anyway, even if you wanted to.

If you don't have any particular desire to do 4WDriving, then I wouldn't fork out the huge extra expense for a 4WD vehicle. It really depends on what you want to see and do.

Also, if you buy a vehicle then a 2WD is not as restricting as a hire car would be. (At least donw south it won't be. Up north you really have to stay on the highways at that time of the year. But you already know that.)

Hire companies don't allow 2WDs on unsealed roads, but if it's your own you can drive where you want. You don't need a 4WD just because a road isn't sealed... You only need 4WD on the tracks that are open for 4WD only...

So, you don't absolutely need it, just make sure that you really do not want it!

Anyway, hope you have a great trip!

Think again
by: very experanced outback driver

If you have done your homework you will know that traveling the top end in summer can be very hot, low to mid 40C, it's also the wet season, "NOT GOOD" especially in a 2WD. If you pull off the road for a rest you could be up to the axels and stuck, may be for hours or even a day or more. I say think again and do more homework. good luck.

Not about outback driving
by: Birgit

Dear "very experienced outback driver",

Thanks for chiming in. Can I ask you to please re-read the original question?

Ella asked if any of our highways have unsealed parts left, and they don't. She wanted to know if she can avoid all unsealed roads up north, and of course she can.

She does not want to do outback driving, she wants to drive once around Australia, which involves crossing from the east to the west coast across the NT.

If she wants to just drive across on the main highway, as she says she does, then she doesn't need a 4WD.

(My other comments about using 2WD on the dirt referred to the rest of her trip down south.)

Nobody needs a 4WD if they aren't interested in leaving the bitumen.

Ella sounds like an intelligent girl. If she wants a rest I'm sure she'll stop in one of the many rest area and not on the road shoulder...

Experanced outback driver
by: John

Dear Briget,
you are right to a point, yes it very true you can drive all the way on sealed roads. I am also right by advising her not do it in the wet season, you should know that the roads even seald roads can become in passible in the wet season. Ella does sound intelligent, and i hope she takes all nessesery precautions to avoid any mishaps, it would be a shame if her trip ends in desaster because she overlooked something.
I still think winter would be a better time to travel, say July to November.

I have been working in the outback for 35 years so i do speak from experiance. Anyway i wish her the best of luck and a sefe trip.

2wd... what can I see?
by: thomas

I am a backpacker from Belgium. At this moment I am in Sydney and I want to buy a 2wd (my budget is around the 5000$). I am going to drive across NT in the end of this year during the spring.
I want to see things like Uluru, Kings Canyon, many gorges in West MacDonnell NP and waterfalls like the Florence Falls, Wangi Falls, ...
Can I reach places like this with a 2wd or should I work a little more and buy a 4wd??

Sealed roads all the way
by: Birgit

Hi Thomas.

The places you list are major tourist attractions along sealed roads. Sure, any 2wd is more than sufficient for places like that. After all, the big air-conditioned coaches stop there, too...

You just have to drive from Kings Canyon to the West Macs the long way round instead of the Mereenie Loop Road.

Please also see:

West MacDonnell Ranges

Litchfield National Park,
Visitor Information for Litchfield NP
Attractions in Litchfield

by: traveller

To say my dad lived in Darwin for 7 year s and you would defiantly need a 4WD! Now most roads are paved over but many are still dirt To be safe get a 4WD van! It's very silly to travel around australia espaecially in the outback without a 4WD!
Prepared to say locals would say yes to a 4wd and some would say no due to the fact that they are very familiar to the landscape!

In my opinion get a 4WD van!

by: Traveller again!

Just to add to my last comment...if you plan on going around use 4WD but if you are not a experienced 4WD driver don't worry about going off track! Due to the fact you might most definatley hurt yourself!

Stay safe use a 4WD! Never go on tracks if you are experienced and if you are just staying on sealed roads get a 2WD!

Why are there so few 4WDs on sale?
by: Bert

What baffles me is that there are thousands of old 2wd cars for sale on the standard websites, but picking a 4wd is difficult. Little choice and they look all overly expensive for cars that we would normally scrap in my home country.
I plan to drive from Melbourne to Cairns in July and wonder how much I would need a 4WD??

Melborne to Cairns
by: Anne

We have driven from Melbourne to Cairns in a 2WD Toyota Camry. No need to leave tarmac unless you want to. Drove on a few gravel roads out of choice no problem. You will need a 4wd if you go to Frazer Island but you just hire one for a few days on the island.

Travelling Granny in a Getz
by: Anonymous

Just letting everyone know that I have driven around Australia in a Hyundai Getz (larger 5 door type) twice and the Nullabor & Stuart Hwy four times; so you can definitely do the trip in a 2WD and it is alot cheaper on fuel. I am a middled aged female, did it on my own and saw some wonderful sites. I drove on dirt roads in outback QLD, NT and WA, you just have to be careful and be prepared to turn back if the road gets too rough. The only negatives: there are places you cannot go in 2WD but if you really want to see these there are outback tours you can take. For example the beautiful, remote Kimberleys in WA I needed to go on tour to see some places, couldn't drive the Gibb Rd. I never got to drive around all of Kakadu NT due to wet season and in QLD north of Cairns I didn't continue far after the sealed road stopped.
Other than that I travelled coast roads, inland roads and remote dirt roads. Just check before you leave and be sensible as on many of these roads you may not see another vehicle all day.

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