Having been toying with four wheel drives since 1978 and running one of the country’s leading 4wd tag-along and 4WD driver training companies since 1990 its fair to say I have come into contact with a lot of owners of four wheel drive vehicles. The majority of these would be relatively new owners too. Owning a four wheel drive vehicle in Australia these days is almost a rite of passage, it’s the owner’s statement to the rest of the world that they can roam like a free spirit, climb every mountain, break away from the drudgery of the daily routine, be an explorer or a adventurer, save the planet, swing through trees like Tarzan… at this point the needle on the record screeches across the soft vinyl! Can’t you hear it?
The reality of ownership of a four wheel drive vehicle is greatly removed from the ideal that most hold when they hand over the big bucks and drive the shiny four wheeler into their driveway. What is the biggest mistake most new owners make? Believing the advertising, believing the car salesperson, believing the adventure shows you see on television every Saturday afternoon.
Owners soon come to realise that their four wheel drive won’t simply drive up the beach and splash through the waves (cue the image of a 4wd stuck in the surf and being pounded by waves). Nor will it leap off a sand dune or fly through the air (Even Volkswagen were smart enough to say that they couldn’t show a real 4wdrive doing that) and despite what you see on Saturday TV, getting stuck in deep mud is no fun at all and is a lot of hard work with injury of some kind almost guaranteed.
Now don’t get me wrong, a well set up four wheel drive will take you on a lifetime adventure, the kind of thing that can change your whole life. I’m a living example, starting off as a young 20 year old exploring the bush on weekends with my mates to now living the dream and four wheel driving all over the world and making a living out of it. But do it wrong on the first trip and at best you will cost yourself a bit of extra hard earned cash (repairs or recovery) and at worst it could cost you your life (several people die every year in Australia due to their four wheel drive adventure going horribly wrong).
So learning more about your needs and the best vehicle that suits them before taking the plunge is a pretty good message. I’ve seen it all, like the family person turning up in a $100,000 four wheel drive straight off the showroom floor ready to embark on a great outback adventure only to discover on their first night under the stars, the kids can’t get reception on their mobile, there is nowhere to plug in the hair dryer and in fact that they hate camping!
Research is everything, you wouldn’t buy a house without studying the market, you wouldn’t invest in the stock market without gaining some knowledge on the stocks in question, you wouldn’t buy into health insurance without comparing the rest, so why would you do it when making what is for many the second biggest purchase of their life?
Arrrhh but I hear you saying you did do that research, you spoke to the sales person, you watched the television adds and you worship the All for Adventure boys! Sorry to deflate your balloon but pfffftt, that’s not research, that is being impressionable.
The real problem is finding someone you can trust to ask what is the best four wheel drive? I like to think people can trust me, I built my business on trust, after all if I’m going to lead you across the inhospitable Simpson Desert it’s fair to say you are placing a large degree of trust in my ability to get you out there and back again. Without trust I have nothing, well that’s my view.
So what is my answer to the question “What four wheel drive vehicle should I purchase”? Well, I would probably make a good politician except for my comment in the previous paragraph about trusting me, you see I answer that question with a series of other questions:-
Is this your only vehicle or do you have another car to run around in?
How many people you need to carry?
Where exactly do you want to go?
Will you be towing anything with it?
Do you want to purchase new or second hand?
and the big one – How much money do you want to spend?
With my research via these questions I can now provide an informed answer. I’m fortunate that I have a pretty good understanding of all the strengths and weaknesses of most four wheel drives on the market along with a great understanding of what they might be presented with in terms of road conditions all over the country. I’ve been a family man, I’m now almost a grey nomad, I’ve been a weekend warrior and I’ve done a fair bit of touring and exploring, but best of all I’ve learnt heaps from all of this.
The best advice I think I can give anyone is to try before you buy. Hire a 4wd and a camper if that’s what you are thinking of using and go away for a long weekend, a $1,000 outlay might save you $100,000 if suddenly you find driving in bull dust, camping in the rain and being bogged to your wheel nuts is not the glorified fun that all the advertising portrayed.
Owner of Great Divide Tours
Started 4wdriving in 1978, first major outback trip was up Cape York in 1981 in a Subaru station wagon! Has now crossed the Simpson Desert in excess of 25 times and trained in excess of 30,000 people in the art of 4wdriving. Vic lives and breathes 4wdriving, he has written books, was a major contributor to Overlander magazine for 12 years, he has produced 4wd DVD’s, does a radio segment on 4wdriving each week which is broadcast to over 160 stations across Australia, is one of Australia’s foremost 4wd experts and has now expanded worldwide with his 4wd adventures to places like Africa, New Zealand and Iceland. And his jokes are great too! Vic drives a 200 series, an FJ Cruiser and wishes he had more time to drive his Toyota 86.