4WD Considerations

by Stef
(Melbourne, VIC, Australia)

Hi Birgit, I've already written to you a while ago about 4WDing thoughts, but hey... I think I liked it so much, I have to do it again! Thanks for the quick response last time by the way, I was impressed.

Anyway, I'm still spending a lot of time thinking about my trip to come.

(Quick refresh: going Adelaide-Alice-Darwin-Kimberleys-Perth over 3 or 4 months, doing as much as possible in the way of national parks and running away from tourists... the hardest part in the tourist season, but hey, always up for a challenge).

What I'm still most "worried" about is the vehicle as I've got little experience with that. Anyway, here's two questions:

1) Do you think a 4WD (camper)van is any good? I keep thinking they can't be the "real thing" but I know that may just be a misguided preconceived idea.

I've got no experience 4WDing so I guess I won't be attempting anything too extreme (but who knows...), but I'd like to know I've got something that's gonna see me through.

I won't be happy if I've got to pass up on Purnululu, Mitchell Falls or parts of Kakadu you recommend! To mention just a few. So: 4WD vans any good? Better? Not as good? Mixed bag?

2) Diesel or petrol? Is there any better choice (as to availability, fuel consumption, efficiency, etc...) or just doesn't matter?

3) Do you have any advice on buying an used 4WD? Maybe an idea of the budget, what year would be "just too old" or how many k's would be just too many k's, things to look for or be wary of, etc... I'm afraid I'm very cheap!

That's about it so far. A fair bit of rambling again, sorry about that.


Re: 4WD Considerations

Hi Stef,
Nice to hear from you again. First I didn't know where to put you, despite the quick refresher. (Last time you wrote from NZ.) But eventually I recognized the style and way of thinking :-).

Well, you are asking the wrong person. I don't know much about cars. I just drive them. (I do have opinions, though :-).)

1) Do you think a 4WD (camper)van is any good?
It's a matter of personal preference. I wouldn't want to sleep in a van if I can help it. But for people who have no camping gear and don't want to get any, I guess they are handy.

As for where you can go, just get something with 4WD and some clearance and you can go anywhere. It really is not as big a deal as everybody makes out. That's all just tough talk. All the tourists up here get around in them vans and they have no problems.

Any places you read about on my site are no problem. Heck, in September you could access most of them in a 2WD. (I wouldn't recommend it, but you could.)

2) Diesel or petrol?
For what you want to do: diesel. And I'd get a Toyota.

That is not about superiority of the brand. Most people up here drive Toyota, so you can get parts for it if you need them. If you have a Hilux or Cruiser and something gives, you have a better chance of fixing it in a reasonable amount of time at reasonable cost. And a better chance that the bloke working on it has come across the problem before...

Diesel cars are more expensive to buy. If you resell that doesn't really matter.

Diesel is the easiest fuel to come by in remote areas.

A tank of diesel will get you further than a tank of petrol. They are more economical by a considerable margin. (But keep in mind that they need more frequent oil changes, every 5000 km.)

There is less stuff under the bonnet of a diesel that can have something go wrong with it. I dunno, every time I had trouble with a petrol car, and I ALWAYS seemed to have trouble (mind you, the thing was ancient) it was some component that a diesel simply doesn't have.

Diesel engines are more reliable and last longer. You will get at least an extra 100,000 km out of a diesel engine. So a petrol car with 200,000 km on the clock is a lot older than a diesel with the same. (Of course it also depends who was driving it and how they looked after it.)

As for 4WDing, a diesel has more grunt if you are crawling through some difficult terrain and is harder to stall. That kind of thing is trickier to do with a petrol engine. A diesel will also not run away on steep descents like petrols tend to do.

Provided you keep the water out of the tank and the air intake, water can't hurt a diesel engine. A petrol engine has all this electrical crap that will shorten out.

Enough reasons? I can come up with a few more if needed :-).

3) Do you have any advice on buying a used 4WD?
Befriend a diesel mechanic and drag him along. That's what I did and is the only way I'd buy a car.

Sorry, can't help you at all. Age and km are no indication if you don't know how the car has been treated and looked after.

Oh, I do have one tip. You are buying down south and many of the cars there don't have a/c. Try to get one that has or you'll regret it when you get up here in Sep/Oct.

I'm afraid I'm very cheap!
Good luck. Cars don't come cheap in this country!

Comments for 4WD Considerations

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4WD Advice
by: Spannerman8

I have just completed 7,264 Kms around Australia in a Toyota Landcruiser Campervan and it was absolutely outstanding. I have the perfect contact address of someone who will give you the best possible service. Truly awesome. My address is Spannerman8 AT aol.com.

After visiting 40 States in America, mostly by car (some flying), I have now discovered that a Campervan is the only way to travel. Australia is awe inspiring but accessible with a 4WD.

Thank you Birgit for all your advice leading up to my trip. It was invaluable. I drove from Sydney to Perth, via Alice Springs and was very well prepared. I didn't just scrape through the trip, I hammered it with days to spare. Thanks again.

Glad you had a good time!
by: Birgit

Hi Martin,
Great to hear it all went well and you enjoyed it so much! And thanks for your kind words.

For any tourists who have only a few weeks, hiring a campervan--or at least a car that comes with all the camping gear--is indeed the one and only way to go in this country. I wholeheartedly agree.

If I remember right, you were initially looking at staying in motels, weren't you? I'm really glad to see that you enjoyed this different style of travel so much.

All the best for your next big camping trip then :-).

by: Kris Garrein


First of all I don't know how old this topic is, so this info may be a bit late.

We are a couple of Belgians with (at that time) no 4WD experience at all.
In 2009 we made a 3 month trip (of about 12000 km) using Birgit's guide starting in Darwin over the Gibb River Road all the way to Perth. We started the GRR somewhere in june if I remember correct (the rain season ended soon that year, we had no rain at all during the trip).

There really is nothing to fear, only some parts of the roads leading to the Mitchell Falls were a bit rough.

By the way: most beautiful holiday we ever had, we're coming back next year :-)

We rented a Toyota Landcruiser Bushcamper from travelcar.com.au, which really had everything we needed. Although they are a bit heavy (3 tons) and drinks loads of Diesel :-)

In 2012 we made another 3 month trip (15000+ km) starting in Cairns going to to northern tip of Australia, down over Alice Springs, Coober Pedy, Adelaide and then eastward to finish in Sydney. This was also with a Toyota Landcruiser Bushcamper from that same company. In North Queensland we did some very heavy 4WD tracks (Old Laura Coach Road) with the vehicle, it got us out of there without any problem.

If you were able to find a Toyota Landcruiser at a reasonable price, I would advice them very much. They really are indestructable :-)

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