When you are bouncing your way along a corrugated road in the middle of no where, spare a thought for what is happening to the many bits and pieces that make up your 4WD. Punishment is a word that would accurately describe the life of many 4WD's, and they do an exceptional job overall.
However, there are a few tricks to make sure your 4WD lasts a long time. Of course, you could keep your vehicle on the bitumen and baby it, but that's not what we are about. We believe in using a 4WD to its full potential, but ensuring it lasts a long time and gives you maximum bang for your buck. Ignore these points, and you'll find 12 ways to wear your 4WD out faster:
Not washing your vehicle
A fourby covered in mud looks like someone's had a lot of fun. However, its terrible for the paintwork and other metal on your vehicle. Mud in particular, often has a high level of salt in it, along with other nasties that can damage panel work. Make a habit of washing your vehicle regularly, especially after mud work, driving on the beach or salt lakes.
Harsh acceleration, braking and steering
Whilst it might be a bit of fun to see how fast your 4WD will acelerate, the harder you work your vehicle the quicker it wears out. Good maintenance will almost overcome this, but its still a waste of money. Aim to accelerate, brake and steer gently, and your tyres, brake pads, transmission and differentials will thank you.
Not letting your tyres down
4WD tyres aren't cheap. For full set of 6 good quality 4WD tyres it can easily be $2000 - $3000. I don't know about you, but I'm not going to chuck that sort of money around; I want to look after my tyres. Ensuring the right tyre pressures are run on the bitumen is hugely important, but even more important when you are off road. If your tyre pressures are too high on gravel and rocks you will end up with nasty chips, and reduce a tyre's lifespan hugely.
Beyond this, your tyres play a massive role in absorbing bumps and vibrations; running high tyre pressures off road will put additional stress on the rest of your 4WD.
Driving through salt water
One of the worst things you can do to a 4WD is drive it through salt water. I cringe every time I see people anywhere near salty water; its insanely damaging to your vehicle, and even with a really good wash you won't get it all out. Stay out of the salt water if you want your 4WD to last!
Not using low range when required
Low range is there for a reason. Just because you can use high range in almost every situation doesn't mean you should. High range gives you less control and makes your engine work harder in situations where you need to be moving slowly and with high torque.
If your vehicle is struggling at low speeds, put it in low range and give your 4WD a break!
Towing heavy trailers in top gear
If you own a heavy trailer; caravans, boats, horse floats or general work trailers, don't tow it in top gear. This is a sure fire way to wreck your gearbox. It won't happen overnight, but top gear is never designed to take the load you apply on it when in top gear. You'll find in most cases by dropping down one gear your vehicle uses less fuel too; lower RPM does not always mean less fuel is consumed.
Excessive momentum off road
Every now and again I'll find the gnarliest hill around and sit there, just watching the different techniques people use to climb it. Some take it slow and cautiously, and others just hit it as fast as their engine will take them.
Excessive momentum almost always results in something going badly wrong. At the very least, you'll do damage to your vehicle that will eventually come to light.
I do find it intriguing to see one bloke idle up a hill with a bit of care, and the next person comes along and hits it at speed and does a heap of damage.
Poor servicing habits
I used to work with a bloke that purchased a brand new Mitsubishi Triton a few years back. We were chatting one day, and I asked him how it was going, and where he gets it serviced. His reply stunned me; at 75,000km it had never had an oil or filter change.
My day job revolves around maintenance, and I can tell you its one of the most important things you can get right for your vehicle. Using the right oil and filters, sticking to the schedule your vehicle manufacturer outlines (or going beyond it is a good idea in some cases) and ensuring the work is done properly.
Get this wrong, and you will hugely reduce the lifespan of your 4WD.
Overloading your vehicle
There's never been a time where the options for gear to put in your 4WD has been greater. However, you can't just keep adding weight without consequences. Have a look on Google for 'Bent Dual Cab Ute', and you'll probably be gobsmacked. Every 4WD has a tow capacity, pay load and a whole heap of other requirements you must meet. Exceed them (or even go close to them when off road), and you can easily have a major problem.
Beyond the chassis, overloading puts more stress on everything; your poor suspension has to work overtime to keep up, your engine has to work harder to move it all and the list goes on and on.
Giving it one more go
It seems rare that you do damage on your first attempt at something; often its the 'I'll just give it one more crack' when things go wrong. Yep, I've been there, and it puts a damper on your 4WD trip.
Push your vehicle and yourself as far as comfortable, but if you can't get over something, use a winch or find another track. I'd rather skip something than drive home with a panel or two smashed in!
Wheel spin in the air
From time to time you will probably lift a wheel off the ground. On independent suspension vehicles this is more common. What happens next is the wheel in the air gets the drive, and spins quickly. This is not an issue, until the wheel comes back down on the ground. If it contacts the ground and its still spinning quickly, your chances of doing damage to a CV, axle or differential go up dramatically.
Poor quality or the wrong modifications
Fitting poor quality modifications to your 4WD will make it wear out faster. For example, a cheap steel roof rack basket might make your travel more comfortable, but when it rusts all over your shiny roof paintwork, you've got a problem.
There's a lot of emphasis on changing the air filtration system on 4WD's to allow more air to flow through. That's fine, providing you don't reduce the filtering capacity! If you removed the air filter you'd get better air flow too, but your engine would be dead very quickly as a result of it. Don't play with air filters unless you keep the same air flow rate (or better) and micron rating.
A lot of time, money and research goes into developing vehicles, and sometimes they can be very quickly let down by aftermarket parts that are not engineered with the same level of diligence. Long range fuel tanks that are held in place by a few M8 bolts, Bull Bars that rub on OEM components and suspension systems that don't bring the geometry into alignment are just a few examples of this!
A lot of people make the mistake of adding air bags to their vehicles with leaf springs before changing the spring rate. Air bags can be incredibly dangerous if you use them as a way to add more weight, especially on leaf sprung vehicles.
What have I missed?
No doubt there are more points I could have mentioned. What are your practices for making your 4WD last a long time? Let me know below.