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What went wrong on our 3 months up North

Back in 2018, we headed north for 3 months with a camper trailer and toddler. The trip was nothing short of incredible, but we sure had some terrible days, and even worse moments along the way. Today, we share with you what didn’t go well! Some were minor, and others not so much.

No matter how prepared you are, things are going to go wrong when you are travelling. I guarantee it. How bad they are, and what you do about it is not always predictable, but we had our fair share of things go wrong on the trip up north:

Busted water tank fitting

Our very first nights camp, 860km from home was at Bilyuin Pool, about 80km north of Meekatharra. We drove around on some gravel roads that had lots of rocks about 20 – 40mm in diameter, and I commented to Sarah about how many of them were being flicked back in the direction of the camper trailer.

I didn’t think much more of it, until we picked our campsite and I got out of the car to see water pouring out of the water tank and onto the ground. Lovely

A quick look under the trailer revealed the plastic outlet (who uses plastic fittings in such an exposed location?!) had snapped and was allowing our 90 litre water tank to empty onto the ground. Luckily, it was only a one night stop and we had two other water tanks, so I wasn’t too concerned. Even luckier was that I’d packed a straight fitting that was exactly what we needed.

A bit of thread tape, a bit of a soaking on my part and I had it fixed up again, until we could replace the fitting with a new one. I picked up a brass elbow in Newman, which is much stronger. I still think it should have a stone guard or something, but interestingly we have had the trailer on a fair bit of gravel before and never had an issue.

Water tank fitting broken

A nice water leak on our first night away

Oliver sleeping in our bed

Our 20 month old boy has been camping many, many times. Very rarely does he have an issue sleeping, once he’s asleep. On the first night though, at 2:30AM he woke, and wouldn’t settle. Tired and not wanting to push our luck, we picked him up and moved him into our bed, where he took a long time to settle but eventually went to sleep.

In the past, we’ve underestimated how cold it has been down on the floor in his cot, and he’s woken through being cold, but he was fine this time. The next few nights were a repeat – 12:30AM and 10PM. Each time we didn’t have the energy to fight him, so into the bed he came. He slept OK in our bed, but at a cost of our sleep being pretty average!

One night when he woke, I could clearly hear he was congested, and this was proven to be correct the next day with a running nose. Things cleared up though, and Oliver’s sleep got better, although most nights he was in our bed for at least a couple of hours. When you are tired from travelling the last thing you want to deal with is a grumpy toddler in the wee hours of the night!

Toddlers playing when camping

Oliver might look cute, but late at night when he wouldn’t sleep it wasn’t the case!

Missing fuel cap

I took a couple of jerry cans on this trip, knowing that doing the 600km legs would probably be pushing the factory fuel tank’s limits to the max. I filled two of them up in Mount Magnet, along with the Dmax’s fuel tank and headed off. In Meekatharra, I decided to pull into the Shell and top up again.

To my absolute horror, I found there was no fuel cap. Somehow I’d forgotten to put it back on in the rushing around to fill jerry cans up and move out of the que. Luckily for me though, I put the cap on the canopy, and it had rolled back against the roof rail and stayed there.

This happened again later on in the trip, and now I’m super careful that the cap is on before driving away from the fuel station!

Chipped windscreen

In between Newman and Port Hedland, Sarah remarked how unusual it is not to get more rocks flying by from passing trucks. No more than a few hours after her comment, a big truck went past and a rock flicked up straight into the windscreen, leaving a nice chip pretty close to my main point of vision. I guess we’ll be getting a new windscreen back in Perth!

We copped two more chips to the windscreen, both on normal bitumen roads, not that it mattered; it needed to be replaced anyway.

I backed into a car in Broome

You’d think insurance claims with a 4WD on a big trip would relate mainly to off road accidents, but one evening in Broome I pulled into a long, empty set of car bays to get some money out of the bank. There were no vehicles there, and I went in to get some cash out. When I came back, I reversed back ever so slightly to clear a little scooter in front of me, until I came to an abrupt stop. Bang.

I drove forward, and hopped out, hoping I’d just hit the rubber on a bull bar, but to no avail. It was a Suzuki Vitara, with a weak aluminium nudge bar. The Dmax’s hitch had dented the bar in, pushed it back and damaged the bumper. Fantastic. The lady that I hit came back almost immediately, and was less than pleased. We exchanged details, and left it at that.

I called in at the panel beaters later on and he reckoned about 3 – 3500 worth of damage. What a joke. I guess that’s what you have insurance for, and Club 4×4 took care of it all.

Bull Bar strength

A fair bit of damage from a very minor knock backwards

The CTEK 240V Battery charger died

When we booked our camp site at Cable Beach Caravan Park in Broome, I asked for a powered site. This is unusual for us, but I know how shady the sites are, and it was only a few dollars extra each night. Sure enough, our site was almost completely shady, which is awesome for camping, and no good for solar.

After day 2, I decided to plug the CTEK MXS10 into the camper trailer batteries to give them a bit of a helping hand. I watched the process start to happen, and then zipped it all up and went away. The next day I saw the battery voltage was sitting at only 12.8 volts, when it should have been up much higher.

I had a look at the charger, and read the instructions, and found it wasn’t seeing a battery was attached. I tried moving the connections around, swapping to a different battery and trying directly from a power source. I cleaned the terminals, all to no avail; it just won’t see the battery its hooked to.

With a bit of thought, I remembered I could plug the Anderson extension lead from the car’s power box outlet into the camper trailers Anderson plug, which then runs the DCDC on the camper trailer. It pulls 15 amps, and charges the camper up nicely. As long as the car is in the shade it almost keeps up, and driving the car regularly as we would anyway keeps the car battery setup properly.

Cable Beach Caravan Park

Our site at Cable Beach Caravan Park

We nearly lost the leg winding tool

When we arrived in Broome, I moved the camper into position, and opened the kitchen up. I picked the leg winding tool up on the back and asked Sarah ‘ did you get this out’?

She looked at me with a blank look – I’d wound the legs up at Cape Keraudren, some 470km south and with some gravel driving, and left it on the back ledge of the camper. Lucky for me was two tiny magnets, which somehow held onto the tool for 470km!

If that had been lost it would have been a pain in the backside trying to wind the legs down at each campsite!

Leg winding tool

The leg winding tool was stuck on the tailgate for 400km

Cracked phone screen

One day I was taking a video one day when I noticed a funny smudge on the screen. Little did I know it was actually a nice crack, running perfectly around the side of the phone. To be fair, its probably the neatest and least annoying big crack I’ve seen on a phone, but given its barely 2 months old I wasn’t too chuffed.

The weird thing is I didn’t drop it or do anything nasty, but it was sitting in the center console, out of sight and I wonder if the heat may have had something to do with it.

Second accident in two weeks

Yep, I had a disagreement with a tree in Katherine, that was just outside of where the reversing camera could see and I missed it in the mirror (although would have only had about half a second to see it).

This caused a fair bit of damage; it shifted the whole canopy forward, and smashed the fuel filler cap into the panels. Luckily all of the doors still opened properly, and Club 4×4 were excellent in their advice to leave it until Perth if drivable, but I was pretty upset about this one.

Fuel filler damage

The canopy moved forward, pushing the fuel filler into the cab

Canopy door jammed shut

At Lorella, you can collect firewood from wherever you want, with a bit of common sense. Every couple of days I’d pull out the Ryobi 18V chainsaw, and cut up a few logs on the way home from a day trip, and throw them in the back of the canopy.

Upon getting back to camp though, the door was jammed shut, almost as if it had locked itself. I tried unlocking it with the key, and with the remote, but it still wouldn’t open. A bit of a shove inwards on the lock and it twisted open, thankfully. If it was actually jammed, we would be in strife; you can’t get the pelican case out the other way, the ply box and fridge slide I made is bolted in and there’s a heap of gear that we need on the other side!

4WD tracks in the Northern Territory

A jammed canopy door isn’t much fun!

The fridge latch snapped off

One morning I grabbed some food out of the fridge, and shut it as I normally would, and heard a little crack, and then saw something fall onto the floor. Looking down, it was the latch off the Evakool fridge. Fantastic. I mentioned it to Sarah, who said yeah, it was popping open by itself, and when its in the open position there’s not quite enough clearance between my box, so it just gets wiped out on the way back in.

Luckily, I had some left over Selleys plastic glue, which I know from experience works extremely well, and a quick glue up got it going again. Ironically, we broke this a few more times throughout the trip, as it seemed to pop open after you’d shut it, and just get wiped out. It’s amazing how many times you can glue it though!

Evakool Fridge Freezer

Our fridge latch snapped a couple of times on the trip, and each time was glued back on

Something bent my mud guard

A day after arriving in Mataranka, I walked past the Dmax and noticed the bull motor body mud guard was sitting awfully close to the rear tyre at the front, and had some rub marks on it. A quick look revealed a screw had snapped off, it was bent in a few places and looked a bit munted. I gave it a shove in either direction, bashed the bends out as best as possible and replaced the screw with a bolt. It’s still not quite right, but it will do.

I suspect when pulling off a track at Lorella a stick might have smashed it, or perhaps it was hit by a big rock on the way into Mataranka along the Savanna Way. What ever hit it must have done so at a fair old pace, as the mud guards are fairly solid.

Canopy water tank mounts bent

Upon arriving in Darwin, I was doing my usual walk around the Dmax to make sure everything looked ok. When the canopy was fitted, I made sure that there was about a 5mm gap between the fuel tank breather and the mount for the water tank. My quick inspection noted that the two were touching each other, and I could see pretty clearly why – the tabs holding the tank up had bent down.

I assume this is due to 50kg of water being thrown up and down, but the mounting points don’t seem overly strong given what they are holding. With a bit of ingenuity, I pulled the jack out, and using a big, long screw driver, jacked the mounts up off a block of wood, and bent them up as much as possible. Now, its not a permanent fix, as I expect them to bend again, but perhaps leaving the tank not quite so full is the only option. I suppose the canopy will have to come off (which it will for the insurance claim anyway) and maybe then I’ll be able to beef things up a bit.

Cracked windscreen #2

Sure enough, the first stone chip was just the beginning, and we copped a few more, along with an epic crack. By the time we got back to Perth, there was a crack in the windscreen about a metre long, and it had to be replaced.

Cracked tray mount x 3

Whilst at Litchfield National Park, I stuck my head under the vehicle and noticed that one of the tray mounts was badly cracked. I looked at the others, and noticed 2 others were also cracked on the corners. Now, this may have happened in the disagreement with the tree, or just from the corrugations, but I was concerned that more would fail. I managed to bolt a piece of angle in place to brace the really bad one, and monitored the rest for the trip.

Bent canopy mount

Not only were a few bent, but they were cracking up the welds too

The tray mounts were replaced back in Perth when the canopy repairs were done.

Stuck in a Boom gate in Darwin

The Free Spirit Resort has boom gates which you need a key to open when entering the park, and it auto opens going out of the park.

We pulled up to the boom gate one afternoon, and it was up. I touched the key on the pad, it went green, and I rolled forward slowly, only to see it come down again. I could see it was going to hit the car, so put it in reverse and accelerated as quickly as I could, without smashing the automatic gearbox.

Unfortunately, it just caught behind the UHF antenna, and came down all the way, bending the poor spring down beyond 90 degrees. Not long after it popped back up, my antenna gave an angry swing and we were on our way. No damage, but very nearly!

I got the ‘I told you so’ from Sarah, and we moved on.

Broken lockable fuel cap

When we fitted the canopy, I purchased an aftermarket fuel cap from Repco, with a key so no one could access our fuel tank. It was a piece of junk, and was always hard to unlock, and eventually it stopped working. I pulled it apart and it was pretty obvious it couldn’t be repaired. Fortunately, in my wisdom I’d also thrown the old fuel cap in, so I just replaced it.

Smashed quarter panel

At Maguk camp ground, I badly misjudged the position of a rail, and got it caught between the front tyre and the passenger door, doing a nice piece of panel damage to the quarter panel. I managed to make it all work properly, straightened the rail and replaced the quarter panel, but it was 3 accidents in as many weeks, and I was pretty furious with myself.

Dmax damaged panel

A nicely dented quarter panel

Was it worth it?

So, a pretty long list of things that went wrong on our 3 month trip up north. Initially I wasn’t going to post this, but figure being open and honest is often what sets us apart from others. Looking back, we chose the worst time to travel with Oliver (if he was younger or older it would have been much easier), and with Sarah well pregnant when we left we probably took on a bit too much.

Either way, you live and learn, and we don’t regret the trip at all. Oliver still remembers parts of it, which is surprising to us, but its amazing family time that I wouldn’t trade for anything else.

4WDing Australia family

We had an amazing time overall, but there were some pretty average days

What have you had go wrong on your trips? Let us know below!

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