OUR SUPPORT VEHICLE
Initially when planning the Terra Australis-Girt by Sea project we were considering Toyota's trusty 100 Series Landcruiser but as time went on and the enormity of of the budget requirements became apparent we knew we would have to compromise. A low kilometre 100 Series would leave us scrimping in other areas such as food, which in spite of the weight loss benefits was never going to be a good option. So after a little research the decision was made to look for the 100 series smaller sibling, the Prado. Whilst we would be making a sacrifice in terms of space, it appeared as though we were going to get a much later model with far fewer k's for far less money, winning.
So after many months scouring the internet and many of the dealerships lining Parramatta road we ended up finding a late 2006 build 2007 model 120 Series within walking distance of our home. With 150,000Klm's on the clock and a full service history, the D4D 3.0 litre turbo diesel equipped Prado was certainely one of the better ones we had seen for our $30K budget. Another bonus with this particular vehicle was that it came with many of the basic off road mods already done.
Up front the Prado was fitted with an ARB clour coded, airbag compatable steel bull bar and Wrne Magnum 9,000Lb winch, as well as IPF lights, one drive and one spot. Suspension has been upgraded to Old Man Emu struts and springs which gives the vehicle a 2inch lift as well as greater load carrying capability and comfort when the going gets rough. Adjusting tyre pressures to suit the terrain is a snap with an ARB under bonnet compressor mounted on the left hand side just in front of the firewall. The airline supplied reaches all the way around the vehicle and using a combination tyre gauge/inflator means you don't have to take the hose off to check the pressures.
In the event of a deep water crossing the engines intake is taken care of by way of a Safari snorkel, good piece of mind as sucking water into the engine can be real show stopper.
With our support vehicle only travelling to some of the more accessable regions of the Terra Australis-Girt by Sea journey, planned modifications were aimed more at support crew comfort, storage capability and of course safety. We were lucky in that the vehicle we purchased had pretty much everything it would need to get to the areas the crew would be taking it, which of course allowed us focus on the rest and save some of our megre budget in the process. Firstly we decided that we needed an easy to erect tent and the fact that Prado came with an Rhino aluminium roof rack meant that fitting a roof top tent would be a snap. We decided to go for an Adventure Kings tent purchsed through 4x4 Supacentre at Smithfield. To be brutally honest this decision was based purely on price. During this expedition we estimate that the tent will be set-up and subsequently packed away about 230 times. Whilst we certainley contemplated the quality of the Adventure Kings tent compared to something from some of the other suppliers, we just could;t get past the huge price difference. We ended up paying $899.00 for our tent and it came with everything you see in the image below, a similar set-up through ARB would have been about four times the price, and as I mentioned, we know the quality may not be as good but we can certainley afford to replace the tent in the event of a failure and still have some change left over. The biggest headache with fitting the tent was design of the Rhino rack, meaning that part of the mounting hardware supplied with the tent would be redundant but a trip to Bunnings soon had the issue sorted. Once I made up the new brackets putting the tent on the rack was a fairly straight forward affair, albiet fiddly affair. It took about an hour to line it up and bolt it in place and we were good to go.
The instructions that come with tent claim that you can set it up in under two minutes, this would be a bit of an exageration based on our trial run. It took us 45 minutes to have it sleep ready but to be fair it was our first time and their was a little bit of head scratching at times, I think a realistic gaol would 10-15 minutes from the time you get out of the vehicle until your ready to crack your first cold one. Probably the biggest disappointment for me was the amount of aluminium swarf inside the tent and the protective vinyl cover. We had only driven a couple of kilometers before setting it up so no harm was done but it could have potentially rubbed through the canvas of the tent had we driven a considerable distance, or maybe even stuck into the bottom of your feet or worse, the first time you climbed into bed.
These couple of niggles aside, the Adventure Kings roof top tent is a great set-up and it's quality of manufacture seems at odds with the price. We are sure the tent will pay for itself in convenience once our journey begins, or will it?
Apparently not, we have since been on a camping trip to properly trial the tent and have realised that we have made the wrong decision. Why? Ihear you ask, well for a start after setting it up a couple of times there is no way it is an easy set up. With everything being up on the roof it makes it extremely difficult to tension straps and the like, you spend most of your time climbing all over the side of your vehicle trying to reach this strap or insert that pole. Then there's the issue of climbing into and out of bed, what a nightmare and should you require a 'comfort break' you find yourself trying to find the ladder beneath you while sliding backwards out of bed, all at 3:00am in the morning. So the decision was made to put the tent on Ebay and we would simply buy another dome style tent the same brand as the one that we will use on the ski's when we are remote from the vehicle, it's light, roomy and easy to set-up. When you consider that you can pick them up for under $300.00 the cost difference is massive and add to that the fact that your not carting the thing around on top of your vehicle whether you need it or not and the whole decison starts to make more sense. They might be fine for you younger folk out there but we'll leave that for you to decide.
So the roof top tent was sold and replaced with a Diamantina Fraser 4, which we are sure the support crew and their backs will be happier about and so will our fuel budget we are sure. Pity about the nine hundred bucks we've torn up as part of the learning process!
The Prado also came fitted with a Milford cargo barrier which ensures that everything stays where it's meant to in an event where emergency braking is called for. The fitment of some Titan rear roller draws. again from the 4WD Supacentre for the tidy sum of $850.00, has meant that the cargo barrier needs some modifications. The draws are about 20mm to long to fit so I have simply cut out some of the mesh in the lower section of the barrier. Now we're sure the manufacturer would say we have compromised the integrity, and anoraks everywhere may be inclined to agree but we chose the cheaper option rather than forking out another $500.00 for a half barrier. Hopefullt we never need to test our who was right and who was wrong.
The first thing we'd have to say about the Titan draws is the build quality is amazing for the price and we're sure they'll last the lifetime of the vehicle. After removing the rear seat mounting system we chose to simply bolt the mounting rails to the floor of the vehicle and then place the draw unit on top and line up the holes and fasten it all in place. The instructions suggested measuring the mounting points and bolting the mounting rails to the draw unit in the correct location and lifting whole lot in in and bolting it down. Knowing our deficencies when it comes to accurate tape measure usage, our method was far easier. Being a universal set=up there are no wings on the side of the draws although they do come with the brackets, we will need to make up the timber tops if we decide we need. For the time being we have just left them open, doesn't look very pretty but it's just as functional.
We have since added a Waeco CFX 65 litre Dual Zone fridge onto the standard fridge slide on the left hand side of the Titan draws. It works extremely well, is large enough for extended trips and so far appears to very frugal with it's power consumption. We won't know for sure how good until the heat of the Australian summer arrives in force. We have added an insulated cover which should help with keeping the fridge cool and the very dark tinted windows of the Prado will also assist in keeping the heat down in the vehicle.
To power the fridge we went with an Ark Pak that we installed a 130Ah AGM battery which lasted 5 days of running the fridge set at 0c. The battery was at 40% when we packed up and headed home with a voltage reading of about 11.6 volts from memory. We probably helped it by not keeping drinks in the fridge as experience tells me that the constant opening of the fridge to get drinks through out the day makes the fridge work pretty hard causing unnecessary drain on the battery. An evacool 45 litre ice box works a treat and holds more than enough of the brown bubbly stuff to keep you cool.
We have since got hold of a set of Korr Lighting's DIY camp light kits that we will use under the side awnings on the vehicle. They are a really neat pice of kit and in the very near future we'll put a few pics up along with some info on how it all functions.
Most of the gear we have purchased has come from Superior Offroad 4WD at Smithfield and their prices are quite astoundingly good and the service is even better. I must admit to being a little concerned about the quality for such low prices but after lots of testing we are yet to suffer a failure of any kind with their gear. Click on the logo to check out their website, they have package deals and specials from time to time so it's worth adding to your favourites list. They are also a stockist for 4WD Supacentre so they can access any of the gear you see on the Supacentre's website.