Getting an older vehicle ready for an extended off road adventure is like preparing for a marathon, the groundwork starts months before the race as you don’t want to break down before the finish line. Red Dog, our 1999 GU Nissan Patrol is part of our family and this will be her third trip around Australia, but as she is a mature vehicle, getting her in ship shape has been an expensive and time-consuming process. Although we contemplated buying a new vehicle, there was nothing in our opinion that could do the job better.
Having already completed over 350,000km of hard service, Red Dog has many components that are nearing the end of their life and after replacing several vital organs such as the engine, clutch, turbo and rear diff (which we had flown in from Japan), we have decided to keep transplanting as required. The good news is that after many specialist visits, Red Dog has a new lease on life. Although we have spent thousands on maintenance and modifications, it is nothing compared to the $80k plus, required for a comparable 70 Series LandCruiser.
Overheating has been a historic problem for Red Dog, and as we tow a big boat and will be dragging a camper trailer around with us, we had to find a way to decrease the running temperature. In warmer climates, we drive with the windows down, no air conditioner and often sweating it out because the car can’t keep cool. After years of trying to pinpoint the problem, we finally managed to take 10 degrees off the running temperature, which for us was like winning the lottery. I am hopeful when we hit the Top End this year that we just might be able to turn on the air conditioner for the first time.
By removing our front mounted intercooler and installing a top mounted intercooler and bonnet scoop, we were able to increase the air flow into the radiator and engine. We changed our basically-brand-new radiator to an alloy one and swapped the front fan for a Triton fan, which also increased airflow. After our initial enthusiasm, the amount of black smoke the car was expelling left us with black residue on all our trailers and major concerns. To make matters worse, we received a warning from the Department of Environment Regulation and were worried Red Dog might be deemed unroadworthy. After multiple and unsuccessful retuning efforts, the car required a new fuel pump, which solved our issues.
Once we sorted the exhaust smoke, another check-up at the transmission specialist gave our refreshed diff the all clear so we took Red Dog for a couple of thorough appointments with our diesel mechanic. Our engine mounts needed replacing and several other relatively minor issues were rectified before they could cause a major failure. The last thing we want is to break down in the Outback with our three kids.
With everything below the bonnet under control, it was time to ensure we had the rest of the car sorted. Previous modifications such as a homemade drawer and fridge system, pump-up airbags, long range fuel tank, dual batteries, rooftop storage, UHF radio and an ARB bull bar gave us a sound starting point. We did, however, need to replace our suspension and fix a few other items that had broken, as well as a few upgrades to make our trip more comfortable.
As we are mostly travelling alone, we need to be self-sufficient, so we felt it was important to have an electric winch on our vehicle. After careful research, we bought a high-quality Warn winch with synthetic spydura rope. We updated our sagging suspension with Old Man Emu, put on new AR21 Intensity driving lights, installed new UHF and phone antennas, wired extra USB points in the rear of the car as well as replacing the roof mounted DVD player and in-dash navigation system.
We will be driving well over 20,000kms in six months and I want us all to be comfortable. Our old canvas covers are highly practical and great for dirty 4WD’ing but I find them too hard, so my one luxury was purchasing custom sheepskin covers which are machine washable. Good quality seat caddies are also great for the kids to be able to store all of their books, cameras, drink bottles and bits and pieces.
On weekend outings, Red Dog would usually sit in the driveway and we would take my car in preference but these days, she is the car of choice. Sure you hear her roar up the street but at least we don’t leave a smoke trail. Our ‘new’ 16-year-old 4WD is ready and we know we have done everything to prepare her for her third big lap. We are confident she will make it and hopefully we will love her even more by the time we get home.
There’s nothing better than getting the kids outdoors to spend quality family time together and create memories that can last a lifetime. I grew up camping, fishing and four wheel driving, so it is only natural that I want my children to have the same experiences. With the increase in technology and the amount of time children are spending indoors, it is more important now than ever before to foster a love of the outdoors.
If you don’t know where to start or want some ideas on how to get your family camping, fishing, boating and off the beaten track, then check out www.lovetheoutdoors.com.au. There are videos, tips on what to take, activities and checklists with ‘how to’ sections on everything from catching that first fish to setting up a camp kitchen.
Being a former athlete, I understand the importance of healthy living and keeping not only yourself, but also keeping your children active. If you can make getting outdoors easy and everyone has fun, then you will be more likely to go again.
Emma is a former Olympic pole vaulter, setting 17 world records during her impressive career. She now spends a lot of her time exploring our beautiful country with her husband and three boys. Creator of ‘Love the Outdoors’ website, Emma is passionate about ensuring her kids lead a healthy and active lifestyle and is teaching others how they can do the same with their families.