Being able to carry sufficient water when you are travelling in a 4WD is imperative. As you’ll soon realise, water is not only used for drinking, but also for washing, cooking and in the engines cooling system if you have a problem.
It’s always better to have more water on board than not enough!
You can do without food, fuel and even shelter for some time, but water isn’t something you want to mess around with.
There’s a lot of options for carrying water in your 4WD, so have a squiz and pick the best choice for your situation.
What can you carry water in?
A lot of people opt to use several Jerry cans, or portable water storage containers. These are great because they can be moved around, packed in various places and they ensure that your water is not in one tank. However, they have a number of disadvantages:
They have to be secured every time you travel, which is time consuming and can be difficult
You are limited in where you can store them; you can’t just sit them under the vehicle and leave!
Getting water out of the jerry cans requires moving them into a position where they are accessible, and then either installing a tap or pouring them (which is difficult given their weight).
I have seen Jerry Cans bolted inside a vehicle and plumbed together, with a pump that goes to the back of the vehicle. They are great if you have a permanent set up, but to me having to move them around all the time is just too much of a pain.
When we had our 80 Series Land Cruiser, we just used a few Jerry cans, and would pour them into a 5L one as it ran empty to make life easier.
PVC pipe water storage
No doubt you would have seen lengths of PVC running on one side of 4WD roof racks (or perhaps several sides?).
Making your own PVC water tank is extremely simple, and costs very little. The main concern with this though is the quality of drinking water.
There is a lot of controversy over whether it is safe enough to drink. My advice is to use it for washing and showers, and save other water in proper storage containers for drinking.
It pays to consider the extra weight up high as well. If you have 30kg of water on top of your vehicle that will make a big difference to the angles you can drive on, and the likelihood of your vehicle tipping over. I have seen a number of these PVC pipes mounted under the vehicle, in almost any place that you can fit them.
This is perfect as it is cheap, low to the ground and allows you to spread the locations of your water storage. They are great under Ute Trays, as long as you don’t plan to drink from them.
A 4WD water bladder is a popular option because they are cheap to purchase and will mould into any left over space you have.
A lot of people install these inside the rear quarter panels, or even leave them on the floor. A good quality water bladder is very puncture resistant and enables you to carry a substantial amount of water with ease.
Lots of people have a big one that they use purely for taking into town, filling up and then pumping into their caravan or camper trailer.
Permanent 4WD Water Tanks
Nothing beats having a permanent 4WD water tank setup. These days, there are hundreds of different shapes and sizes to suit your vehicle.
If you are looking to fit a 4×4 water tank (or several), have a look at the different poly and stainless steel options.
Polyethylene is much cheaper and will do the job well, with very limited risk of cracking or punctures due to extremely thick and durable plastic materials.
In my mind, a 4WD water tank setup should be easy to use, and once installed, a permanent solution guarantees this.
If you are looking for Ute water tank ideas, you may have seen the toolboxes that you can purchase that sit under the tray, but either side of rear wheels (where the mud guards bolt onto).
You can get water tanks that will sit in the same place, and they are extremely easy to fit. This is part of what you should be thinking about when designing a 4WD Ute Canopy.
The poly tanks range from cubes through to cylinders, rectangles and slim line tanks (that are approximately 5cm x 100cm x 80cm).
You can even get tanks that sit on the floor well behind the driver and passenger seat, or behind your rear seats. The DIY Ute water tank project is generally quite easy, and safe.
EDIT: Our new Lifestyle Reconn R2 has 270L of water, so in total we usually have around 320L of water on board!
Where you put these tanks is entirely up to your imagination. Again, keeping them low is extremely important, but there are a number of places that these can be fitted. Some of the more common places include:
Under the vehicle (in almost any place you can fit it so long as it doesn’t get knocked or rubbed)
Inside the rear quarter panels
In front of the rear drawers
Under the flooring
Inside the rear bumper
In between a ute tray and the chassis
In between the canopy of a ute and the body
Behind the rear seats
On the floor of the second row of seats (you can get shaped poly tanks which make the floor flat)
In between the bull bar and radiator (but down low so it doesn’t block air flow)
Have a think about
What size holes are the inlet/outlet and what fittings do you require?
How are you going to fill the water tanks up?
How can you get water out of the tank?
How do you tell how much water you’ve used, and have left?
Is there an adequate breather setup, so as you fill the water, the same volume of air can escape? If not, you won’t be filling up easily!
How to easily fill your water tanks
If you are having issues filling your water tanks, there’s a simple solution, which we’ve written about here; How to easily fill your water tanks.
12V pumps vs hand pumps
If you do end up with a permanent water storage system, it’s important that you have a way of getting the water out. A lot of people just purchase hand pumps, as they are simple and as it requires effort to get the water out your water will go further!
However, the luxury of having a little switch that you flick to get water out is unbeatable, and these can be purchased online for under $150. You can get a variety of flow rates, but something around the 4 litres a minute is generally adequate.
Making maximum use of available space
You only have a certain amount of space available inside your 4WD, so it is important to pack carefully, and get good at the game of Tetris!
Water can be stored safely outside of the vehicle, and this leaves room for gear that needs to stay dry and easily quickly accessible.
How much water do you need to carry?
The general recommendation is that you carry at least 5 litres of water per person per day, plus what is required for cooking. On top of this, you should have an emergency supply.
Of course, where you are going and what you are doing primarily determines the amount of water you need; use common sense and take more than less!
The cooler the weather, the less remote you are going and options for water (like a creek or stream) will make a big difference. If you can get water for washing, cleaning and showers then your required amount is dramatically reduced.
What is the reason for having multiple water tanks?
They say that you should never put all of your eggs in one basket, and this is extremely relevant when it comes to water storage.
If you do get a hole in your only water tank, what are you going to do? If you lose the water, there is a good chance that your life could be at risk.
As a result, it is recommended that you have several locations for water storage. That way, if one does fail you still have a backup! This isn’t to say that you can’t have one main tank, and a smaller reserve tank, or at least several bottles of water stowed away.
Keeping your water clean and safe to drink
The most important part of water storage is making sure that it is clean and safe to drink. If you let mould grow in your water tank you can have a hard time getting it out. Keeping the water tanks full is the best way of avoiding this.
You can buy products specifically designed for cleaning your water tanks, and it is a good idea to do this every so often. Don’t risk drinking bad water; it could ruin your trip.
When you fill the water tanks up, make sure you use food grade hose (usually clear) as this keeps your water tasteless. If you use normal garden hose expect it to have a plastic taste to it!
4WD Water storage ideas
If you jump on Google, have a look around at the different water storage ideas for the model vehicle that you own.
If you can’t find anything, look for a different model. You can always use the ideas by modifying them a little. It is incredible to look at some of the ideas people have had in regards to water storage.
Take the time to come up with a way of storing water that is safe, easily accessible and durable and you will be glad for many years to come! If you have any recommendations, leave a comment below.