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Safety Tips For 4WDing Around Victoria's High Country

Gizmodo Australia logo Gizmodo Australia 1/12/2016 Kirk Bowlen, Hema Maps
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Four-wheel driving across the Victoria High Country is a unique experience, offering 4WD enthusiasts an assortment of different terrains and spectacular views. That being said, travellers need to be well versed on the special preparation and precautions crucial to safely exploring the Victorian High Country.

Before Leaving Home

Make sure that you are fully equipped for all possible conditions. If there is a problem or the vehicle becomes bogged, you may have to rely on your own resources as many of these roads are not highly travelled. If you intend to get off sealed roads, make sure to carry all the necessary recovery gear and know how to use it.

For winter driving in snow you shouldn’t skimp out on tyres or tyre chains. While 4WD vehicles are generally better in snow than 2WD vehicles, chains are still an essential safety feature and must be carried during winter. They should be the right size for your vehicle’s tyres. Diamond-pattern chains are now the only legally allowed chains in Australian Alpine areas; other styles of tyre chain, i.e. ‘ladder chains’ are not usually allowed.

Daily Maintenance

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It’s important to check over your vehicle when using it in the High Country, especially on backcountry 4WD tracks. Make sure to check engine oil, coolant levels and screen washer levels every day before setting out. Ensure you have added anti-freeze where necessary and check tyre pressures.

Weather

By its very nature, the weather in alpine areas is unpredictable, so it pays to be prepared. Snow, blizzards and thunderstorms can occur at any time of the year, and they can come on quickly and without any warning.

Winterised Fuel

Falling temperatures in the High Country can cause diesel fuel to freeze. Diesel fuel contains wax, which is what goes on to harden and stop up filter pumps and fuel lines when the temperature drops. If your vehicle has a diesel engine, make sure you top up with ‘winter diesel’ fuel for the cold conditions – available at towns like Bright or Omeo.

Fuel Endurance

By its very nature, the High Country can be very demanding on the performance of your motor vehicle and operating with heavy loads in very heavy 4WD conditions in low range can be highly demanding on fuel consumption.

River Crossings

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You will encounter many river crossings during these treks and these can be deep and fast flowing. Make sure you know your vehicle’s limitations: you will usually find a wading depth noted in the owner’s handbook.

Always check the water depth on foot if you are not sure and be very aware of the speed of the water. Too deep or too strong a current, or a mixture of both, can be a recipe for disaster!

A snorkel, which lifts the vehicle’s engine air intake, is the best insurance to protect your engine from water ingress. If the water is deep, fit a wading sheet to stop the radiator fan from damaging the radiator.

Before leaving home, ensure that the front number plate is secured at the bottom as well as the top – when fording a river, the bow wave will push up from behind and can dislodge the plate.

Fallen Timber & Trees

Fallen timber and trees are a common obstacle you come across when driving in the High Country. This is especially so in areas that have been severely burnt in the past 10 years or so and where dead stags stand high above the track or road. Early in the touring season after the seasonal closures have seen the tracks re-open, trees and logs are a very common obstacle, even though Parks Victoria and the 4WD clubs are quickly out there trying to open the major routes.

You can expect to come across fallen trees and logs at any time. The minimum you will require is some muscle, a small saw, or a rope of some sort, or a winch to pull the offending log out of the way. If you have been properly trained in its use, a chainsaw will be a huge benefit, but some trees are just too big for one person and a small saw to remove and you will have to backtrack. Making a new track around the obstacle is not recommended or condoned.

Hema Maps has an extensive Victorian High Country location guide plus 4WD tracks and trails to make your next High Country adventure memorable.

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