I've long had a huge distaste for getting any salt water on my 4WD's. I've seen the damage it does to metal in a very short period of time, and would do anything possible to stay away from the waves rolling in on a beach.
Of course, beach driving is a part of 4WDing, and whilst you can avoid getting salt water on your car if you drive carefully, some salt spray is inevitable and nothing is better than washing your vehicle after each beach run.
However, there was one day up at Port Gregory where it all went wrong, and I was pretty angry with myself.
We had arrived at Lynton Station a few days earlier, and were enjoying exploring the area around Hutt River and Port Gregory itself. We decided to do a quick beach run from Port Gregory back down to Hutt River, and hopped on the beach right near the jetty. We let our tyres down, and cruised around the corner, noting that the beach was getting much narrower.
Port Gregory has a bay just around the first corner that is really long, fairly gently sloped near the water and then it banks up quickly into the vegetation and dune. We stopped for some time, watching what the water was doing, and trying to decide what to do. There was almost no swell, and Port Gregory has a big reef that stops most of it coming through anyway, but every now and again something would roll through and the water would go up the beach quite a distance.
Despite not being totally convinced, we all proceeded anyway, one vehicle at a time. A couple of vehicles got a tiny bit wet, and a couple missed the water all together. Last up was us, in our 80 Series Land Cruiser. I watched the waves for one last time and took off, hoping the timing was good. About half way around the bay I knew we were going to cop it - I could see the water retracting and there was no way I'd make it to the other end before it came in.
Sure enough, and the biggest wave that we'd seen all morning decides to roll in, and everything went into slow motion. I knew I could stop and reduce the water spray, but then risk getting bogged in the wet, sloppy sand and probably get even wetter, so we just kept on going.
The water gave us a fair old wack, and sprayed all over the vehicle, including the roof racks, bonnet and everything in between. It slowed us down a fair bit but we powered on and out to the other side.
To say I was annoyed would be an understatement; a great 4WD covered in salty water for nothing; we could have gone the other way around and it would have only cost us an hour of our time.
Washing your 4WD
After a quick look around, we headed back to Lynton Station, and asked if we could wash the 4WD's. We spent a good amount of time hosing everything off, and trying to make myself feel better about it.
I spent about 3 hours when we got back to Perth hosing everything down, filling the chassis rails up and trying to remove every trace of salt water.
There is no better way to make your 4WD fight against rust than giving it a good wash. Take your time, and wash everything thoroughly.
Salt prevention products
The vehicle had been covered in Lanolin each year before this, so I knew it was in as good of a position as possible anyway, but it didn't make me feel much better. It also had an electronic rust prevention unit which I'm sure did absolutely nothing as there was some rust in various places.
Sprays like Lanolin are fantastic, along with fish oil and chassis paints. In my mind though, its the panels that are going to give the most grief; it takes years to rust through your chassis, but a bit of salty water on your panels where some paint has been scratched off is going to cause you dramas.
Salt water is nasty stuff
Our 80 series was about 26 years old when this happened, and we had it for about 4 years. Despite my thorough cleaning, what happened in the next 6 months to the bottom of our 4WD really surprised me, and reinforced the fact that driving through salt water is one of the dumbest things you can do.
Our Land Cruiser had a lot of scratches and chips under the vehicle on the differentials, springs and chassis, as you'd expect from a 26 year old 4WD that has spent a lot of time off road. I guess most of it was gravel rash, but it wasn't overly obvious. Prior to the salt soaking, these only had the most minor rust marks on them. A few months after though and I looked under the vehicle, and saw how much it had changed; every single bit of exposed metal looked far worse than before. It was like the bottom had aged another 26 years in a couple of months.
Now, some people will jump up and down and say its just surface rust, and you can hose any salt water off and things will be back to normal, but the reality is you can't. Water runs into some really random places, and salt mixed with steel is never a good thing. Panels are thin as, and anywhere that you've had paint chips or scratches is going to get hit hard, and fast.
Check the tides
Admittedly, we didn't look at the tides that morning. An error on my part. That said, it wouldn't have helped anyway as it was only about 25cm and we would have still copped it.
Is it worth the risk?
Everyone has 20/20 hindsight - driving around would have been the sensible thing to do, but we took the risk and got wet as a result. You have to weigh the risk up for yourselves, based on who is travelling with you, what you have to loose and how much you value your 4WD.
On an old banger that I didn't care about too much I'd be happy to take the plunge, but not a 4WD that had so much of my time and money poured into it.
Is it better to get wet than get bogged?
I mentioned above that we could have stopped, and the 4WD would have barely gotten wet. However, we were half way around probably a 200 metre curve of beach on a decent slope and on wet sand. I wasn't sure if we stopped that we'd get going again, and trying to get a 4WD out of wet sand when waves are rolling in isn't fun. You've got to make your own call, but I wasn't going to stop!
Do you drive through salt water?
Perhaps you disagree with me, and have no drama's driving through salt water. What do you reckon? I'll be staying away from it though!