Floodways and a bent chassis; how do you avoid it happening?

No one wants a bent chassis, but it happens by the hundreds every year here in Australia.

We’ve been harping on about weights, how you distribute it and Dual Cab Utes bending their chassis for years now, but up until today, I’d never actually seen a bent chassis in the flesh.

We run a 2016 Isuzu Dmax, and are extremely careful about the weight behind the rear axle (including tow ball weight), and its for good reason; dozens of dual cabs are bent every year, and its usually off road. 

A bent BT50 chassis
A bent chassis is a bad day for everyone involved

On this particular day, we left a brilliant free camp near Coen, and had waved a 4WD and camper out in front of us, who’d camped across the river from us.

About half an hour down the road on the Peninsula Development Road, we went through a floodway that was up there with the worst on the PDR.

It wasn’t overly bad coming in or out, but the middle was washed away, and there was a substantial hole. We went through extremely slowly as I could see it looked terrible, and a few hundred metres up the road came across a few vehicles that were pulled over.

Floodway on the PDR
This particular floodway had a huge hole in it, which you couldn’t see with water over the top

I could see in the distance that something looked wrong with one of the vehicles, with the awning pointing up towards the sky.

As we approached it was pretty obvious that the chassis had bent, and it had only happened a couple of minutes prior. Absolutely devastating.

We stopped, to ask if they needed anything, and a local truck driver mentioned they had communications, and were OK. We continued on, feeling awfully sorry for the couple, who had leaned out the window and said ‘that’s the end of that trip’.

Imagine our surprise then, a few hours later when the Mazda BT50 with a bent chassis rolled into the Weipa Camping grounds, with a Ford Ranger towing their camper trailer in!

As it turns out, the second vehicle had left their caravan further south, and offered to tow the camper into Weipa, and the couple with the bent BT50 managed to drive their vehicle in.

Bent chassis on the BT50
The chassis was bent just above the bump stop

How did the damage occur?

Looking at the above, its clear that the bump stop (the rubber bit under the chassis, that limits how far up the leaf spring can go) hit the chassis under some serious force, and it was enough to make the chassis bulge and bend right where the hole is.

You could argue that this is a bit of a design flaw as the hole would make the chassis much weaker in that location, but ultimately it bent from a lot of force being applied.

The couple had a fairly normal dual cab Ute that is set up with touring, and it was towing a forward fold camper trailer. I’ve certainly seen a lot heavier setups on the road, and it was running heavier springs, but it still bottomed out badly. The canopy was in no way full, but it doesn’t need to be, depending on how hard you hit the hole.

This particular floodway was incredibly nasty, and was the first one that we went through which was actually really bad on the PDR. A lot of repairs had been done to the PDR in the weeks prior, and this was one of the few remaining spots that could badly hurt your vehicle.

The leverage (which is the nature of the beast on a dual cab ute) combined with the energy at impact was enough to compress the rear leaf springs to maximum, and slam the bump stop into the chassis hard enough to immediately make it bend in that spot.

We went through very slowly as we always try to do, and were still surprised at how much the Dmax and camper dropped into a hole.

The only way this damage could have been prevented then, would have been to slow down a lot more, or perhaps to have taken a luckier line through the crossing.

We heard of one other person breaking their aircon on this floodway, and a local truck driver said he’d seen 6 bent chassis in the same spot, which is pretty crazy to think about!

We were told a few weeks earlier by a fellow traveller who’d just come from Cape York that a huge number of the floodway’s were dangerous, and they had big holes in them.

He’d done two tyres in them, and said a lot of the bad floodway’s had plastic bags put on the reflectors to let people know. These were all fixed and bags removed by the time we went through, and so its easier for people to become complacent.

Floodways can be very dangerous
You have no idea what can be under the water

Bent chassis repair

Now, in the grand scheme of things these guys were very lucky. They’d managed to get to the biggest ‘town’ in the Cape York area, with their camper trailer and had lots of support and help around.

I spoke to them a number of times, and they managed to get in touch with insurance, and get it looked at by the local Weipa panel beater shop, who said they do 90 odd chassis repairs every single year!

The insurance company wasn’t willing to cover a chassis repair though, and instead were suggesting a full chassis replacement for a huge sum of money. Instead, the owners got it repaired and braced, and managed to continue their trip with only a weeks delay!

Given this was a 3 month trip it was not much more than an inconvenience (depending on who pays for the repair!), and a whole heap of people helped them out, and made their stay in Weipa much more enjoyable.

EDIT – Not even a month later and I see a new Mitsubishi Triton with a bent chassis pop up on social media, also on their way to the tip of Cape York.

This one apparently had the wrong rated springs and air bag suspension, but it was only towing a light weight pop top camper trailer. I drove the same model Mitsubishi Triton for work for the better part of two years, and one of the reasons I wouldn’t get one is because the rear axle is too far forward, and they have too much overhang.

Bent chassis repair
From this, to a straight chassis in about 7 days!

Check your weights and distribution

If you haven’t read any of our articles on 4WD weights, please spend a few minutes doing so. It’s critical that you have a well balanced setup that is underweight, or you run a much higher risk of getting a bent chassis even when you’re not doing anything wrong.

Take it easy

I constantly remind myself to slow down when it comes to rough patches, and flood ways, and we’ve still hit a few faster than I’d have liked.

The thing is though, its so not worth the risk to go quicker than you should. For a few minutes of time saved its not worth the risk of ruining your holiday and potentially bank account. Slow down for every flood way, and take it easy!

Slow down for the floodways
Slow it right down for every flood way

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  1. Hey Dan,

    You’re a top bloke mate, and you did well with everything that happened up there!

    I saw that you’d done the OTT, and awesome to hear you finished the rest of your trip off too.

    Did you end up getting the chassis replaced, or are you just leaving it repaired and braced?

    We’ve actually been in the Sunshine coast for the last 6 odd weeks, whilst our Dmax inner guards get repaired in Brisbane!

    All the best mate

  2. hey Aaron,, being the guy who owns that bt50 I have to say that everything u said is 100% accurate and I really enjoyed reading that , it was definitely a bad moment in our adventure and definitely brought a few tears to my eyes but as you said the support and friends we made due to this incident kinda made it worthwhile ( besides the $$$) we did finish our trip and did everything we set out to do Including the OTT ( wich was very daunting after wat happened) . anyways thankyou for posting a hounest and accurate post about wat happened hope you guys are having a awesome adventure and if ur ever down sunshine coast way send a email . safe travels .