Our Big Lap of Australia is on hold

You know how people say ‘touch wood’? Perhaps I should have said that the other day, after musing over the fact that we’d had a pretty good run from our Isuzu Dmax lately.

I didn’t though, and a few days later I found myself on the side of the road with the bonnet open, and now our Big Lap of Australia is on hold, big time.

For those who haven’t been following along, we’ve got a 2016 Isuzu Dmax, and have been travelling Australia with our small family for almost a full year, and we’ve seen some pretty incredible places.

That’s now on hold for a fairly substantial chunk of time!

Our Big Lap is on hold for a while
We had a fairly major failure, and have had to put our Big Lap of Australia adventure on hold

What happened?

After having a magic couple of weeks exploring some amazing places including The Diggings Campground, Notch Point and Sarina, we decided to head out to Stanage Bay, just north of Rockhampton.

This is a 96km drive off the Bruce Highway, with around 60km being bitumen, and the remaining being a very average condition gravel road, with lots of corrugations.

We stopped at the start of the gravel, and aired down, like we always do, and proceeded to drive in at somewhere between 40 and 80km/h, as the road allowed.

About half way along, I could feel our air conditioner wasn’t working very well, so turned it up, but I had a suspicion in the back of my mind.

You see, our Dmax aircon failed a year or so before, and its a common issue where the evaporator cracks just behind the dash, and you lose all of the aircon gas, and then your aircon.

As a result of this, I didn’t even stop to think about it, but just assumed it had broken again, and we continued on. Arriving in Stanage Bay, I see two yellow fault lights pop up, and am immediately curious.

Earlier in the day, I hit a fairly normal bump (for Queensland Roads!), and my cruise control had stopped working, and a few minutes later the same fault codes came up, which was the first issue we’ve had with the Dmax for a long time.

Pulling over, I noticed the brake controller was purple, and immediately went to the circuit breaker that feeds power to this, and found the lugs loose as.

After tightening them and restarting the vehicle they disappeared, so I thought it had been resolved. No such luck.

However, it got much worse than that, when I could see a green fluid down the side of the engine, and on the outer edge of the radiator.

Thinking we’d sprung a leak somewhere, I stuck my head over the top, and nearly had a heart attack.

I could see that our passenger inner guard had a massive tear in it, to the point that I could see daylight through the hole and tear very easily.

A badly torn section of guard
The crack and tear is so big that you could even see it between everything above

Thinking the damage had cracked the radiator, we limped to camp 5 minutes later, and set up, feeling very deflated, and wondering if we’d need a tow truck out.

However, after some further inspections, and a message to a mechanic mate, I was confident that the fluid was actually aircon oil and dye, which made sense as there was no leak, and it had just ‘blown up’.

I could see that the solid aircon line attaches to where the inner guard had torn, and as this had dropped it had clearly cracked the line, and we’d lost the oil and gas (again!).

A major relief, but still a huge problem, and one that I’d been trying to avoid all along, as you’ll see below.

Some history

The Isuzu Dmax inner guard cracking is a well known issue, and Isuzu have been repairing a huge number of vehicles for many years now.

I actually noticed a small crack way above, after driving out to Memory Cove, and we went to Port Lincoln Isuzu to get it logged, and the warranty claim started.

Dmax inner guard cracking
As far as I was aware, this was the only small crack we had which occurred in South Australia

Later on, I contacted Isuzu Head office, who put us in touch with Essendon Isuzu, who took the claim on, and pushed it through, with full approval for both inner guards to be replaced, along with the body mounts and radiator support.

This was a 3 week quoted job, but by the time the approval came through we were in NSW, and long gone.

After some pre booked catch ups with family and Cape York, I’d been trying to organise a repair in advance, but was having issues with any dealer wanting to touch it without seeing the vehicle first.

I wanted to avoid this, as by the time they see it, get quotes and approval, and the panel beater is ready to work on the vehicle it could be 4 – 7 weeks later, and we’d have long moved on.

However, this forced my hand; we had no option but to stop and get it repaired, or risk having a vehicle really stranded.

What did we do?

I was on edge for the first day, but after a sleep and some thought about our options, I contacted Isuzu in Rockhampton, who came back and told me they couldn’t get it repaired locally with no approved repairers in town.

After much deliberation, Sarah and I agreed to make the drive down to Brisbane, which was only about 800km away, where there are a heap more dealers, smash repairers and Isuzu Head office is located, which is handy.

There’d also be far more to do for the kids, we have family in the Sunshine coast and it would be a better place to buy a cheap run about, or replace the Isuzu Dmax, if that was the path we were to go down.

The next day, I let the tyres down to very low pressures, and we drove the 40km of corrugations carefully, and then kept going into Rockhampton, then Maryborough the next day and finally the Sunshine Coast.

A large crack in our Inner Guard
We limped out, and all the way down to near Brisbane

What now?

Well, we are currently parked up with family in the Sunshine Coast, and I’ve seen a dealer in Brisbane, its been to a smash repairer and we’re waiting for the warranty claim to be submitted and the repair to take place.

They told me that the previous repair took 16 weeks from the start of the claim to the completed repair, which is a scary thought.

I did speak to the service manager this morning though, who seemed more positive about it, and I’m hoping it won’t be much longer than 2 months in total.

We’re acutely aware of how much of an inconvenience this is, but also incredibly grateful that we’re not on a one year lap, and stopping for a few months is not a major problem.

We’re also very grateful to have it happen relatively near a major centre, to have amazing family nearby and to be in a beautiful part of the world.

They’ve put us up in one end of their beautiful house, and I’ve even picked up some ‘real’ work for the first time in just under a year.

We’ve been given the go ahead to keep driving the Dmax, (just to avoid the corrugated roads), and that it isn’t nearly as bad as some others that have been repaired (which is hard to believe!).

We booked flights back to Perth from Sydney in December, and dearly hope the repairs are well and truly done by then!

EDIT – The repairs have been done really well, and very quickly. You can read more about this at Dmax Inner Guard Replacement.

Are we replacing the Dmax?

I’ve spent many hours thinking about different options. We considered buying a cheap 4WD to use for a few months while we continue our travels, but it just doesn’t make sense. We could get a lemon, or have issues selling it, and it is a risk we can do without.

I also considered getting a different vehicle, and selling our Isuzu Dmax, but I simply cannot justify it.

There are very few vehicles that we would consider swapping to, either because they’re a wagon, not proven, or unreliable, and if we did find something suitable, it would be 100k +, or you’d be waiting months to have accessories fitted, and no matter how I look at it, the option just doesn’t make sense.

Our Dmax GVM upgrade is not applicable in Queensland if I sell it, and we could have all sorts of issues selling that too.

I honestly don’t think I’d get away without spending at least another 50k (after selling our Dmax), and even then it probably wouldn’t be as well set up as our current vehicle, and you’d have a major hassle trying to get it set up in a short period of time.

For now, I’m just crossing my fingers that we can get the repair done in a suitable time frame!

Won’t it just break again?

This is the million dollar question, and if I knew it was going to, I’d sell the Dmax in a heart beat.

Isuzu head office tell me they’ve never head a re-occurrence of the cracking with replacement panels (although I have heard of one case where it did when the repair was poorly done), so let’s hope they are correct.

Cracked inner guard on the Dmax
If this cracks again, I’ll be very unhappy

Our plans going forward

We intend to be on the road for another 2 years, and we’ll just miss the area between Rockhampton and Brisbane, and continue traveling south when the repairs are done.

We want to keep the costs low, and travel around Australia in a few more weird zigs and zags, before arriving back in Perth in late 2025. However, this might change, and we’re OK with that.

Overall, we’ve mostly made peace with the damage. It was expected eventually, and whilst we’ll be stuck in one place for a lot longer than we wanted, it could be much worse! I will say though, it does irk me a bit, but that’s life.

So, what should we do around the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane?!

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  1. Andy Lowe says:

    Hi Aaron, wow we are going through the exact same thing. cracked inner guard on our 2016 Dmax. We are also staying with family on Sunshine coast waiting for Isuzu to approve and repairer to complete. Fingers crossed. Hope your travels arn,t to disrupted. All the best.

  2. Hey Doug,

    It’s not a nice position to be in, is it?!

    Hopefully you can sort a new/refurbished gearbox out, and get a hand to swap it in within a reasonable time frame!

    All the best on your travels

  3. Doug Charles says:

    Hey Aaron I feel for you as we’re in a similar position having left home( The Sunshine coast) we’re currently stuck in Orroroo in SA trying to sort out a replacement gearbox for our 2005 79 series landcruiser. Have been told by one mechanic it’ll be 2 months before he can even look at it he has that much work on. Now chasing other options and boy is that fun. NOT!!!

  4. Hey Jo,

    Thanks for sharing your experience, and sorry you had to go through it. This is a concern for us too; its so easy for things to be put back on incorrectly.

    Amazing that they wrote the vehicle off for contaminated fuel; you’d think a replacement engine would be much cheaper

    All the best

  5. we recently had our very minor cracks repaired , it was a 6 month process for us. when they replaced the bullbar, they used 10mm bolts instead of 12mm and caused a multitude of issues. we were away on remote tracks when we found the bolts kept rattling loose, a couple snapped. hopefully where you have yours does a better job!
    it’s no longer an issue for us as the dmax picked up contaminated fuel and was written off about 3000km from home.
    good luck!
    Cheets Out & About.

  6. Thanks heaps for the suggestions mate. Really appreciated.

    It could be worse for sure.

    Take care

  7. Hey guys sorry to hear about your issues, good thing there is a fair bit to do around the sunny coast and Brisbane. If you’re so inclined you could:
    Head to all the waterfalls in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, Wappa falls, gardeners falls and mapleton falls are among some of my favourites.
    Head to northbrooke gorge and go for a quick walk up the creek for a day trip (might be a bit better to wait until it warms up a tiny bit more as the swimming holes at the end of the walk are a bit cold and shady).
    Explore the secret hidden gems near Kenilworth and see what you can find
    That’s some of the more accessible stuff I could think of without needing a 4wd in full working order and that you can probably do with kids.
    Hope you find something to fill your time with, and the car gets fixed soon