Lucas Trihey 2/3/2020

We take a range of trucks to the Bash each year. This includes B-Doubles, semi-trailers, heavy-rigid trucks, single and bogie drive curtain-side trucks, a crane truck, smaller hire trucks and pantechs. Some have tailgate lifters or tilt-trays. Here’s what we’ve learned.

Every truck gets a bit of ruggedizing. Most trucks used in the city or on sealed roads have vulnerable parts that can be damaged by the flying rocks on the roads of Western Queensland. Our own trucks are permanently toughened up and even hired trucks get temporary rubber stone guards fitted and sensitive parts underneath are protected.

If we won’t meet up with the truck until part way through the journey we take extra rubber flap material and cable ties so we can fit on the road somewhere.


On gravel roads we run truck tyres 50% lower than highway pressures. 100psi on the highway becomes 50psi on rough gravel roads. We find this reduces tyre damage and cuts down on vibration damage to the truck body and cab. See the tyre post for more info.

We love tyre pressure and temp sensors and are adding these to more of our trucks. Saving a single tyre caused by a slow leak will pay for a good tyre sensor system.

We have pressure and temp sensors on all wheels of our heavy rigid and tri-axle pig trailer

Underbody protection

We fit rubber matting across the full width of the trucks, just behind the steer tyres. On semis we also fit a second mat behind the prime mover drive axles. This rubber minimises rocks and stones richoceting around under the trucks that can damage vulnerable parts like brake hoses, sensors, cooling fins, hydraulic hoses, fittings and handles.

Conveyor rubber along the front of the pig trailer to put down rocks raised by the HR truck tow vehicle

Sensitive parts like cooling fins, the sensors on transmissions and diffs and the controllers for tail-gate lifters or tilt-trays often get secondary protection of their own – usually more rubber, corflute or similar.

Each air brake cylinder has a sheet of rubber in front to reduce damage from flying rocks kicked up by the truck and wheels in front.
All wiring on our main trucks and trailers gets protected with one or two layers of corrugated conduit.

Air lines

There’s A LOT of vibration on outback roads and any airline that’s near a steel edge or anything sharp can wear through. We fit a split hose over these wherever they pass through a hole or rub against a bracket or part of the underbody. Nylon air lines are thinner and more brittle and get special protection – a split garden hose works a treat.

Air lines get extra hose wrapped around to reduce wear from the vibration of outback roads
All forward-facing air and electrical fittings on the pig trailer get rubber mat protection.

Fuel lines

Vibration and flying rocks will damage any hose not well protected. Make sure fuel lines are routed behind steel cross members or underbody steelwork where possible. Protect fuel lines with an extra layer of split hose.

The under-tank drain tap is very vulnerable to rock assault and breakage so make sure these have a stout rubber flap over them for protection. Or cap off the outlet for the outback trip.

The exposed and vulnerable fuel drain plug gets a rubber mat for protection.
We fitted a pre-filter in case any dirt or water gets into the tank.

Hydraulic lines

The hydraulic hoses and any steel pipework for Hiab cranes, tailgate lifters or tilt-tray mechanisms need protection using rubber flaps, spiral wrap protection (available from hydraulic suppliers) or by routing away from damage-prone areas. Take special care with the taps and controllers down the back of the truck, we often put an extra temporary cover over these for the long trip out to Birdsville.

Crane parts and bearing surfaces

Our Palfinger crane has large areas of exposed steel rams and bearing surfaces for the slew movements. It’s impossible to keep these free of bulldust and sand on the drive out west. On arrival we clean and grease these parts using compressed air and a grease gun.

Hydraulic hoses and fittings that hang low are protected with rubber matting for the long trip out west. We’ll often remove them once on site and replace again for the trip back east.

Finned air and oil coolers

Modern trucks have a plethora of finned coolers that hang low and are vulnerable to rock damage. These can be for transmissions, aircon and all sorts of other extras. These fins need their own rubber flaps for protection but be careful not to impede airflow too much or you’ll see overheating. A good solution for these is often to fit a big flap 500mm in front of the fins that will stop the rocks but still allow air to swirl around it when mobile.

Electronic Sensors

Sensor alerts are the bane of late model trucks on outback roads. We’ve been stopped a few times when the transmission sensors on hired trucks get a splatter of mud on a creek crossing that causes the truck to go into limp mode – this can make for a very slow trip. Try and find out where the sensors are and do what you can to protect them from muddy water and if that fails slow right down for creek crossings to avoid water spray getting up over transmissions and gear boxes.

12 Volt power supply in the cab

We often find ourselves in a 24 volt truck so we sometimes need to fit a 12V power supply for a fridge or similar in the cab. We usually run double insulated heavy twin wiring from the battery into the cab (via the cab-tilt hinges) for this purpose. Auto electricians call this double insulated wiring “gas wiring” because it’s the same as what they use for power to gas appliances. Allow a couple of extra hours to fit this or get an auto-electrician to do it.


When hiring a truck make sure to ask if it requires AdBlue. This fuel additive is needed by lots of modern trucks and it can be hard to find in the outback. Phone ahead to ask or if in doubt look into getting your own supply to have on board. Most of these trucks will change to limp mode if you run out of AdBlue and it’s a long way from Windorah to Birdsville at 55km/h.

Truck and cab vibration on corrugated roads

We’ve found that the secret to reducing potentially damaging vibration on badly corrugated roads is to have lower tyre pressures and to experiment with speed to try and find the sweet spot that shakes the least. Really bad vibration can break cab mounts or crack windscreens. It can loosen and damage radiators and anything else bolted to the truck or engine. Trucks will break if shaken badly enough for long enough, treat them kindly. On rare occasions there is no sweet spot on corrugations and the only solution is to drop back to 50km/h and enjoy the scenery. Allow extra time in your schedule for gravel roads.

Driver fatigue management

Our drivers follow strict fatigue management driving and rest breaks in the outback. We always allow extra time in our schedules for flat tyres, minor breakdowns, regular maintenance and air pressure adjustments.

It’s possible to drive from Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains to Birdsville and meet log-book requirements in just over two days – but we always allow three days for the unexpected and to make sure drivers arrive alert and safe.

Although drivers of smaller trucks and utes don’t need to follow government log book times we get everyone to use the same guidelines anyway – it’s a great way to avoid driver fatigue.

Below is a link to the Queensland professional driver standard hours which are the same for all states. Most infrequent drivers will have more rests and drive fewer hours than this on a given day – but you want to make sure you or your drivers definitely do NOT EXCEED these driving hours.

Roo, emu and cattle collisions

A big enough roo or cow can cause a lot of damage to a truck so we stick to the same rules for all our drivers – get off the road before sunset.

On the rare occasion that a delay requires a bit of night driving we put the truck with the best bullbar and best driving lights at the front of the convoy and we keep good radio communications going to warn of random animals on the side of the road. But even then there’s a high risk of doing very expensive damage. We avoid it where possible.

Our Mercedes 2235 Heavy Rigid is the workhorse of the fleet and does lots of miles on outback roads. It has a sturdy bullbar, driving lights, a light bar and because the headlights are pretty low we’ve got a stone mesh in front of them. We put this truck in front of the convoy to poke along slowly for the rare occasions where the schedule gets messed up and we need drive at night.

Big trucks on narrow roads

Cars should get right off the road to allow trucks to stay on top of the sealed road where it’s more stable and safer. Some small vehicle drivers take a bit of persuading but if the trucks slow down and stay on top most get the message. It’s also better for the cars if the trucks stay on the sealed surface because the car won’t get sprayed with rocks.

Outback Queensland has long stretches of single-lane bitumen with narrow and rough gravel shoulders.

We advise our truck drivers to stay on the sealed top and let the smaller vehicles pull off. It can be quite risky to take a big truck onto the sloping shoulder and the risk of tipping over is high. But some car drivers and those towing caravans don’t understand and will only get partially off in the expectation that the truck will do the same. The larger truck tends to rule in this situation although trucks drivers should always travel slowly enough to take evasive action if needed (or to give the car drivers more time to realise that it’s better for everyone if they get right off the road and allow the truck to stay on the narrow sealed section).

If another truck comes the other way there’s usually a short discussion over the CB and the smaller truck, or the one with the best shoulder on their side will usually offer to get off the sealed surface.

Wet and slippery roads

Trucks are big and heavy and can be difficult to get out of a bog. Be really wary about where you take them. Send a 4WD or smaller vehicle ahead if in doubt before pulling off to camp if it’s been wet or recently flooded. Know how to use diff and cross-locks if fitted and what their limitations are.

We REALLY avoid water and mud in our trucks, they are very difficult and expensive to recover if they get stuck. But we have lifted the main breathers up high to keep them safe from water and bulldust. Note the extra hose wrapped about the nylon airline for extra protection.

Creek crossings and flooded areas

Trucks with bigger wheels are often the first vehicles allowed to cross deep, flooded crossings once the waters start to recede. Watch what more experienced outback truck drivers do and if in doubt wait and play it safe. Beware of creek crossings where there’s a chance of a washout in the flooded road surface. If in doubt walk it first (still water only).

Enforced stop overs

Sometimes the only option is to camp in a town or beside a flooded crossing and wait for it to go down. If entering areas with a prospect of flooding make sure to carry extra fuel for long detours. And keep extra fuel on hand for generators that provide power for cool rooms or fridge units.


Lucas Trihey 02/03/2020

Since ESS’s first outback trip to Coongie Lakes in 1986 for the Australian Geographic Scientific Expedition our staff have driven most of Australia’s popular 4WD routes and many outback roads. We’ve crossed the Simpson a dozen times and have driven the roads around Birdsville, Innamincka, western Qld and northern SA many times to recce and support desert adventures, commercial treks and when hauling gear and people up and down to the Big Red Run and the awesome Big Red Bash. In the early days it was one LandCruiser, now our fleet includes over a dozen 4WDs and cars, lots of trailers and half a dozen large trucks.

Driving out west is now “business as usual” for our crew and vehicles and over the years we’ve learned what prep we need to do to make sure we get there and back with minimal damage and interruptions.

This post covers what we do to prepare these vehicles. Readers should do your own research and can take from this post what you find useful. We make no recommendations.

What vehicles can get to the Big Red Bash?

With minimal preparation we regularly prepare sponsor vehicles, 2WD and 4WD staff cars and trucks of all sizes. Any car, van, bus or truck can get to the Big Red Bash.


Anything that hangs below the rear tow hitch mounts is likely to get bombarded with small rocks so we re-mount them on top of the steel work. All electric wiring gets wrapped and protected. Because the wiring and plug for this trailer hangs low it’s got three layers of corrugated conduit. This part of the vehicle gets hammered by flying rocks.

The loose gravel on most outback roads gets picked up by the front wheels of the vehicle and shoots back to pepper everything behind like a mini sand-blaster. Protecting vulnerable under-body parts is a big part of our vehicle preparation but aside from those measures (described below) most unmodified vehicles can get to Birdsville and the Big Red Bash. We’ve learned that the hand-brake components of the 79 series Cruiser are a bit lightweight and are easily damaged so we’ve fitted extra rubber stone flaps in front of the cable and lever-arms to keep the rocks at bay.

We always position our jockey wheels facing up to reduce rock damage. We also tie the handle up so it can’t flop down and get broken off by flying rocks.
We’ve got plenty of conveyor belt rubber on the forward-facing surfaces of our 5.5m X 2.4m flat top trailer
We made a metal box to protect the break-away electric brake unit and added rubber matting to protect exposed wires.


The handbrake mechanism on the LandCruiser is prone to rock damage so we hung extra rubber flaps in front to reduce the damage.
Because our trailers do many outback trips we replace all the small brake cables with a beefy 6mm cable and we swage all the terminations.

When we get a new crew or sponsor vehicle we lay on the ground and look underneath for exposed wiring or pipes, cooling fins, lightweight brake parts/cables and anything that might get broken by small rocks peppering whatever is exposed down there.
We also look for low hanging major parts like cross-members or transmission parts and consider whether a big rock in the middle of the road might hit this part (more on that topic below under “Clearance”)


A very low city car might have transmission components or cross members that hang low. This is fine on a sealed road but isn’t so great on outback roads that sometimes see soft-ball sized rocks in the middle of the road. The main solution for such a vehicle is to drive more slowly so the driver has time to avoid the big rocks. Low profile tyres make low clearance even worse so we consider fitting standard profile tyres for outback trips.

Another clearance issue arises when some years deep wheel ruts get carved out by thousands of 4WDs – this can lead to quite high humps and a low clearance 2WD might scrape on the humps. Slower speeds will allow drivers to avoid the worst of these and our 2WD crew cars usually find a way – but there’s no denying it will make for a slower trip.


Bull bars are useful to minimise the damage from smaller animal strikes but aren’t strong enough to prevent damage from a big roo or cow.

Our golden rule is to get off the road and camp before sunset. This is usually when roos and cattle start appearing (erratically) and/or become harder to spot and avoid. Allow plenty of time in your schedule so you don’t feel that you need to drive in the dark. It’s really easy to hit something and cause $10,000 worth of damage, not to mention needlessly killing an animal.

Roof racks

Fitting a roof rack to a vehicle that doesn’t have strong gutters is always a challenge. Sure there are racks that will screw to the roof of smaller 4WDs and cars but these are generally rated for such small loads that we tend not to bother with them. If it isn’t a large 4WD with decent gutters we don’t fit a rack any more.

Some crew turn up with these small racks and we make sure we keep well under the load rating. Going heavier combined with the vibrations of outback roads is asking for cracked mounts and roof damage. Such racks are fine for a couple of swags or other bulky/light items – but not for anything heavy. Keep the heavy stuff down low and central.

Driving lights

The outback is not the place for night driving so most of our crew vehicles just don’t need big lights. Decent lights are great on the roads closer to the cities but if crew come along with a limited budget we don’t suggest that they fit driving lights. If they’ve already got them – great!


Stock suspension is adequate for most of our crew needs.

Our ESS Land Cruiser has the standard Toyota springs in the front and a set of 2” lift King Springs in the back. It’s got heavy duty shocks but nothing fancy, and nothing from a 4WD specialty store. We don’t spend much on brand name 4WD equipment. 

The Cruiser regularly tows a 3.5 ton trailer and at Birdsville and on the Bash site it tows every trailer known to man, big and small. It’s also our main recovery vehicle on site at the Bash and regularly gets everything from cars, vans and 4WDs with vans attached out of sand bogs around the site. It even gently snatched a bogged 12 ton prime mover out of a little sand hole in 2019. At the very first Bash in 2013 it pulled a 3 ton trailer with a 110kVA genset up Big Red for the John Williamson show.

Tow hitches

Because we pull so many different trailers we’ve been using an adjustable-height tow hitch and now have these fitted to our Cruiser and Triton 4WD utes.

With a new vehicle in the fleet we check that the tow hitch and mounts are rated for the loads we’ll tow.

Trailer electricals

The trailer electrical plug at the rear of the tow vehicle is often fitted to the under-side of the rear tow hitch mounting bar. This hangs too low and will get wrecked after about 40km of the Windorah to Birdsville Road so we move this and mount on top of the bar instead and we also route the wiring safely up high and hidden behind the steel work.

If sponsor vehicles come with the trailer plug socket fitted underneath we remove the bolts and move it up somewhere higher for the loan period and then replace it in the supplied location after the trip.

Auto electric – time for a check up

Faulty or easily damaged auto electrics used to be the most common cause of delays and roadside repairs in our convoys. These days we spend time on every vehicle to check and protect the auto electrics before we leave and we rarely have problems.

We move or protect all exposed wiring underneath, we zip tie all loose wiring so it can’t vibrate or rub through on metal edges. We move vulnerable sockets/plugs and joiners or protect them with rubber mats or a couple of layers of corrugated conduit. 

If you don’t feel confident with auto electrics take it to an auto electrician and get them to move or protect anything vulnerable.

We make sure EVERY power supply wire that connects to a battery has a fuse right near the battery to prevent a fire caused by sparking if the insulation wears through.

Battery isolator

We almost had a vehicle fire one year and since then decided to fit a battery isolator to each battery on every vehicle. There are two reasons we like this set up: (1) if there is a fire (our fire started when a wire wore through yet the fuse didn’t blow) we simply flick the isolator to “OFF” and all electric power is disconnected and (2) If an older vehicle like our heavy rigid crane truck is parked for a long period we use the isolator to avoid any slow trickle loses that can lead to a flat battery. An auto-electrician can fit an isolator.


The best things for your windscreen is to keep your vehicle as far as practicably possible from vehicles going the other way. On single lane outback Queensland roads move off the road so the other vehicle can stay on the sealed top and hence less likely to shower you with rocks. We train all crew in cars to slow down and move off the road. Our trucks tend to stay up on top of the sealed part of the single lane roads for safety and stability.


See the recent post about tyres – but briefly – we upgrade to new tyres before a big trip rather than eke out the last few kilometres and have to deal with flats and tyre changes on the trip.

We love our tyre pressure and temp sensors – these save us money every trip by alerting the driver to a slow leak so we can stop and change before it goes flat and gets wrecked.

Choose light truck-rated tyres where possible – they are heavy duty and last longer.

Avoid low profile tyres if possible.

We run lower pressures on all vehicles when on gravel roads and have found this reduces tyre damage and cost. The tyre post has full details.

Lower tyre pressures also help reduce vibration and shocks to sensitive vehicle parts

Once on a trip on the very rough and rarely-graded roads in the APY lands of northern SA I got lazy and didn’t bother lowering my tyre pressures. The horrendous corrugations shook the old Hilux unmercifully and after a couple of hours I developed a leak in the radiator caused by the full-vehicle shuddering and vibration. If the dash and seats are shaking it’s probably due to having the tyres too hard.

The dreaded sensors on flash European vehicles

Low clearance Euro vehicles are designed for sealed roads. They can be used safely on outback roads but we’ve seen some shocking problems and we do a little extra prep work before taking these on outback Qld roads in our crew convoy.

The Euros just love placing sensors, electrical wiring and cooling fins down low under the vehicle. In an already low-clearance van or car this is really asking for trouble from flying rocks. Spend extra time protecting these parts with multiple layers of corrugated conduit, spiral wrap from a hydraulic supplier, rubber matting etc. Be prepared to drive slower on gravel roads so you have time to avoid larger rocks and allow plenty of time so you don’t feel you need to rush.

We had a Euro camper van get mildly bogged in sand at the 2019 Bash. It should have been a pretty easy pull to get it out however something caused the engine to stop and the transmission to lock. It took the owner a couple of phone calls to the dealer to find out a code to get it going again. The “call your nearest dealer” suggestion in the owner’s book wasn’t all that helpful at the Bash.


If you aren’t familiar with what bits do what under your vehicle get a professional involved. We had a memorable moment a few years ago when a junior staff member fitted a protective rubber mat underneath but inadvertently zip-tied it to the tail-shaft. It made a very strange noise and was soon remedied J


Unless we have an older vehicle in the convoy we only carry basic spares. Belts and hoses last okay if checked or replaced before a big trip. We do carry a few auto electric parts as these have proven to be the things that regularly cause issues.

A sheet of windscreen film or temporary windscreen isn’t a bad idea. It isn’t hard to cop a rock through a windscreen.


If your vehicle isn’t too old and/or hasn’t had a hard life you’ll only need a small tool kit. A trip to Birdsville isn’t overly arduous and is regularly done by standard 2WD Hyundai, Toyota and Nissans. A typical tool kit on a smaller crew vehicle will comprise: a shifting spanner, screw drivers (phillips and flat), pliers, possibly a set of the commonly used combination spanners (ring/open ended) something like 10mm, 13mm, 17mm, 19mm or whatever is common for the vehicle. Duct or gaffer tape, wire, cable ties and Telstra rope.

Weather can happen – allow extra time in your schedule

Western Queensland is a very dry part of Australia, the driest continent on earth. But it occasionally rains and this can affect road conditions. If the weather is looking iffy as the Bash gets close we review our travel plans and departure dates. Some years we’ve sent crew around “the long way” to avoid localised flooding so a few extra days in the schedule can be wise.

The longer, Plan-B routes generally comprise longer sections on sealed roads – it’s usually the more direct gravel or dirt sections that get closed first.