It is often said that experience can’t be bought. But that doesn’t mean that knowledge isn’t often gained through some very costly mistakes. This month Francois discusses a few expensive 4×4 lessons that he (and others) have learned over the years.
When I was still a boy, my father owned a 1937 Chevrolet truck. The old vehicle had quite a few niggles, and the wipers in particular didn’t work very well. In fact, they were more ornamental than functional. Consequently, my old man needed another way to keep rain off his windscreen, and he solved the problem by a keeping a potato close at hand. You see, if you slice into a potato and rub the inside onto a surface, it repels water. To be sure, it’s not as effective as wipers, but it gets the job done.
Years later, when I was an adult and travelling overland in the Okavango, I parked under a large tree for a couple of days. When it was time to leave, the windscreen was covered in leaves, and rather than going through the hassle of cleaning it manually, I simply switched on the wipers.
The wipers, however, were not designed to clear a thick layer of leaves off the windscreen. The heavy load caused a fuse to blow.
It was at this moment that I remembered my father’s old potato trick. Instead of repairing the fuse, I grabbed a potato and hit the road.
When it started to rain (as Murphy’s Law dictates it inevitably will the moment there’s a problem with your wipers) I sliced the potato in half and rubbed it all over the windscreen.
It worked well, but there was a problem. The potato’s juice left large stains on the windscreen, and it was practically impossible to get them off. I rubbed and rubbed, but nothing happened. I just couldn’t get the windscreen clean.
That was the day I learned that a lazy solution will often lead to a lot of hassles in the long run. And unfortunately it’s a lesson that most of us learn at one stage or another.
A couple of months ago we spent an enjoyable day at a local 4×4 venue. During lunch one of the drivers noticed that his little fold-up table was a bit wobbly. A screw on one of the legs was loose and needed to be fastened.
He wasn’t close to his vehicle and didn’t want the walk all the way to it to fetch a screwdriver, so devised a simple solution: he used his vehicle’s key as a makeshift screwdriver.
It seemed like a decent idea in theory, but the result was disastrous. After a few turns, the key broke, making it completely useless. And to make matters worse, his 4×4’s steering wheel was locked, meaning that the vehicle couldn’t even be towed back to his home. The only alternative was to drive 80km to his home to fetch his spare key, and then drive all the way back.
Luckily, he was fairly close to home. If this had happened during a long overland trip, it would have been a massive problem. Once, while travelling through Angola, one of our group members went sea fishing without taking his keys out of his pocket. When he returned to his vehicle with drenched shorts, he found that his vehicle remote, which had been in his pocket, wouldn’t work. We eventually got the 4×4 going by hotwiring it, but this resulted in a lot of hassles at border posts. Understandably, officials suspected that the vehicle had been stolen!
Another very important lesson I’ve learned is never to simply hope for the best or assume that things will be fine.
The clutch was recently replaced on my 4×4, and I got it back a day before leading a group into the Namib. Normally I check my vehicle very thoroughly after any work has been done on it, but this time I was in a rush and gave it only a brief inspection.
When it was eventually time to switch to four-wheel drive during the trip, I couldn’t get the 4×4 system to engage. The only option was to strip the gearbox and try to find the problem. When I started to remove the gearlever, I noticed that it was locked in the wrong slot. Levers have safety pins that ensure that one position isn’t locked before the other is unlocked. The lever had been inserted in such a way that the safety pin wouldn’t unlock.
Luckily I knew how to strip a gearbox and check for trouble. Someone with no mechanical knowledge, however, would have been forced to turn around.
I found the problem, but that doesn’t change the fact that I shouldn’t have taken the vehicle on a long trip right after work was done on it. It is always better to test a 4×4 thoroughly before setting off on an overland journey.
Even you haven’t done any work on your vehicle, it is essential to test it before you leave home. Most of us don’t use our vehicles’ 4×4 capabilities on a daily basis. And trouble can creep in – especially if a SUV is mostly used in 4×2.
A 4×4 usually has an electric switch that operates a solenoid, which in turn opens the vacuum that regulates the 4×4 system. When four-wheel drive hasn’t been engaged for some time, the vacuum piston often gets stuck in the cylinder. For this reason it is a good idea to engage the 4×4 system at least once a month. If you drive only a short distance in a straight line, you can even do it on tar. The same goes for you vehicle’s low range. Engage it at least once a month and drive a short distance. If you do this, you won’t get any nasty surprises when you’re in the bundu!