Part 1: Simpson Desert
Our 3.0-litre Toyota Hilux just returned from a nine-day jaunt from Melbourne to the Simpson Desert and back again. It completed the trip without an issue – mind you, we did do a few things to make the job easier for the vehicle.
We’d previously fitted an ARB Sahara bar, OME suspension system all ’round, Cooper ST Maxx tyres, a Safari snorkel, Rhino-Rack roof bars, an ARB ute liner and a Hayman Reese tow hitch.
We had given them and the vehicle quite a workout in the Victorian High Country over the summer months, but now the Hilux was being geared up for its first outback trip. We took it to Outback 4WD in Bayswater, Victoria, for all the planned work.
We knew we were going to do a bit of night driving, so we fitted a set of Lightforce LED 215 driving lights. These performed faultlessly and made those long stints on outback roads safer, easier and more enjoyable. They illuminate the road and the peripheries well, while the mounting system and the direction of the lights didn’t need any adjustment for the entire trip.
We also fitted an iDrive throttle tuner and couldn’t believe the difference it made to step-off and overtaking. We generally run ours at U4, which is around the mid-point for ‘Ultimate Performance’. We could get even snappier performance if we cranked the setting up to U8 or U9, but we don’t think we need it.
With two people and all our gear, along with a motorbike and subsequent extra fuel, storage was going to be an issue. To make it possible to carry all the necessary equipment we added a large Rhino-Rack XTray to the set of Rhino-Rack bars we’d fitted. The XTray is of black powder-coated steel construction and weighs just 21kg – its carrying capacity of 75kg was pushed to the limit with a spare tyre and more.
A wind deflector helped to cut wind noise down, but we had extra gear sticking out which didn’t help too much – nor did it help fuel economy. We also fitted a small awning to the rack to give it a bit of protection from the elements.
The OME suspension we’d fitted earlier wasn’t suitable for all of this added weight, so we went and fitted an OME extra leaf to the rear spring pack. This stopped the Hilux sagging in the bum when fully loaded and gave it a great ride over whoopty-doos and corrugations. There is a difference in ride quality when the vehicle is empty, but you can’t have everything.
The Hilux returned a thirsty 20.0L/100km for the trip, which is a big and surprising jump from its normal range of 11.0-12.0L/100km. Mind you, we weren’t standing still on the highway or backroads and we did play on Big Red with a few mates for a few hours. Whatever the cause, we got to Mount Dare running on fumes – highlighting the paltry 76-litre fuel capacity of the OE fuel tank.
In all the HiLux has clocked up more than 32,000km since we bought it; 21,000km with the Cooper tyres fitted. The tyres are showing minimal wear and tear with no obvious chipping, which is pretty good considering we’ve ran up and down Billy Goat Bluff and a few other tough tracks in the mountains a few times.
Tread depth on the rear tyres is down to 10.5mm (from a max of 12.5mm when new) so at that rate we’ve got another 50,000-60,000km left before we start looking for new rubber.
DATE ACQUIRED: Feb 2015
KM THIS MONTH: 5700km
AVERAGE FUEL USE: 16.2L/100km
Part 2: Hard-knock life
Since the last report we’ve bashed the mighty Hilux over the Simpson a couple of times, blasted through outback Queensland and the Victorian High Country, and then took it on a beach holiday to Fraser Island.
Some of the time it’s driven by other people (hence Hire-lux) and it’s more often than not leading the convoy across steep dunes and through creeks. It’s a hard life for most of the kilometres it does, and when it's back home it’s relegated to resting in the backyard or spending time at Outback 4WD in Bayswater, for a health and spa retreat.
For the latest forays we’ve added a few things including a 145-litre Frontier long-range fuel tank; we’ve got a similar one in the 79 Land Cruiser and have been bloody impressed with it.
These ARB Frontier tanks are made from an impact-resistant crosslink polymer material which is tough and will not rust or corrode, and it features a one-piece body construction with a wall thickness of 7 to 9mm. While they all come with a three-year warranty, one of their big advantages over a steel tank (which we have in our long-serving Patrol) is the considerable weight savings.
To protect the underbody from scrapes and hits we have also fitted ARB underbody protection, which directly bolts onto the chassis from the ARB bullbar back to the transfer case. While we were at it, we added ARB-rated recovery points and side-steps.
As luck would have it we conned a 10,000lb second-hand winch off a mate and, like most winches, we’ve yet to use it in anger. Likewise, we got a 60-litre water tank which fits over the wheel-arch between the tub wall and the Ironman single-drawer system we’ve fitted to the tub. Why only a single drawer? We wanted to be able to carry a trailbike in the tub, and with the tailgate down we can still easily do that.
We’ve also given the engine better breathing capability by fitting an Ironman three-inch exhaust system, and to improve wading ability and protect the diffs from water ingress we added Ironman diff breathers.
Sick and tired of worrying about the vehicle’s starter battery running flat because of a fridge being left to run overnight, we finally fitted a dual-battery system to the Tojo. Mounted on an ARB tray (because of the weight of the battery, you need a good battery mounting system) we backed it up with a Redarc BCDC1225D charger. This 25A in-vehicle DC to DC battery charger features the next generation in charging technology, charging from solar and DC inputs simultaneously. They’re a cracker of a setup.
We replaced the roof rack bars with a set of heavier duty Rhino-Rack track-mounted roof bars, as the previous set was too light for the weights we wanted to carry. Fitted to the roof bars is an XTray basket and a handy, easy-to-use shovel holder.
We’ve now clocked up 69,000km on the set of Cooper ST tyres, but, as we speak, a set of Mickey Thompson ATZ P3s are being fitted at Outback 4WD. With their big shoulder blocks and wide lateral offset grooves they look the business, provide good off-road traction, and expel water to improve on-road grip. We’ll let you know how they go after we’ve clocked up more than 10,000km.
TOTAL KM: 81,120km
KM THIS MONTH: 49,000km
AVERAGE FUEL USE: 12.2L/100km
Part 3: Quality kit
In the last 18 months the Moon Tours ‘dirty ol’ Hilux’, as we affectionately call the little Toyota, has clocked up a pretty gruelling 39,000km which has included a couple of crossings of the Simpson Desert, a few weekends at LandCruiser Park, easy jaunts along the sands at Fraser Island and Double Island Point and, much more recently, two trips up Cape York.
As you read this we are driving across the Simpson again, this time with our new AOR Sierra ZR Expedition Camper, before heading to the Gulf Country to check out the tracks and activities in that incredible part of Australia. Hopefully, once this COVID thing is under some form of control, we can run tagalong trips again and even make a dollar.
The Hilux mightn’t be a showpiece but mechanically, Trent keeps the little ’Lux meticulously maintained, replacing most things well before they become a problem in the bush. Most of that work, when the rig is within cooee of the Sunshine Coast is done by Scott Jennings and his crew at Caloundra ARB.
Before the Cape York jaunts, we fitted a Terrain Tamer Harrop Eaton ELocker. Needless to say Trent gave it a pretty thorough workout on all the tough tracks up that way and it worked flawlessly until near the end when it stopped for some reason. We checked all the wiring and switches but couldn’t see anything wrong, so once we were back on the Sunshine Coast we had the diff repaired under warranty – a wire had come adrift inside the diff – and it’s now working like it should and hopefully it’ll stay that way.
With the camper on the back and a heap of other gear we decided we would upgrade the suspension with Ironman Foam Cell Pro shocks and struts while also fitting, just before our latest Simpson jaunt, a set of Terrain Tamer’s 500kg parabolic springs for the back end.
These are a brand-new item from Terrain Tamer and with only three leaves making up the spring pack, we’ve been pleasantly surprised at the ride quality when the ol’ girl is running pretty empty and pleased about the way it sits when loaded up. The desert will be a real test, so we’ll let you know how they all perform further down the track.
With everything we’re hauling we decided we’d go for a bit of a performance upgrade so, apart from the Ironman stainless-steel exhaust we fitted some time back to help the engine breathe a bit easier, we have now fitted a performance chip.
Thanks to a long-time friend of the Moon’s, Ed Mulligan from Bluetooth Diesel Tuning and 4WD World, the Hilux is being blessed with a Bluetooth Diesel tuning box, a modern version of a chip that can be controlled and adjusted from inside the cab and on the fly using your smartphone. The improved power and torque is something the Hilux is going to appreciate towing the new AOR camper across the desert, with torque increased to 488Nm.
On our quick 1600km run to Birdsville we compared the fuel economy towing with the chip switched off and with a setting of seven. The fuel economy remained the same at 16L/100km in both cases, while the vehicle performed better with the Chip clicked to ‘7’, and cruised easier with less hunting for gears. We’re bloody pleased with that!
Of course, with a trailer on the back we had to install a trailer brake controller and they don’t come any better than Redarc’s Tow-Pro Elite V3. We’ve got one of these on the 79 Cruiser and an earlier version on the Patrol, and wouldn’t go for anything less.
We’ve also changed rubber since last report and have been running Mickey Thompson ATZ P3 tyres for the last 20K and are more than pleased with them in all the various conditions we find ourselves in.
You’ll note our fuel consumption has increased a little since last report and while that has bugger all to do with the tyres, it does have much to do with the extra weight we’re hauling and the James Baroud rooftop tent. We’ve now shifted that off the roof and onto the camper trailer, but it goes to show even a streamlined roof pod such as the James Baroud can knock the fuel economy around.
There’s been a lot of night driving amongst all our trips, so as far as lights are concerned, we’ve fitted a pair of Narva 215 Ultima LED spotlights and backed them up with an LED slim light bar and an LED headlight globe upgrade. They illuminate the road and tracks for a long way ahead as well as off to each side where wayward cattle and ’roos lurk. One thing you gotta do though with the headlight upgrade is make sure your headlights are aimed correctly so as not to dazzle on-coming traffic.
Trying to run our business on the road we’ve upped the ante as far as communication is concerned. For our convoy work we’ve been using the GME XRS-370C compact UHF radio which is a beauty for car-to-car communications. Keeping in touch with the office and home, we’ve upgraded to a Thuraya SatSleeve which turns our iPhones into a satphone. We’ve found it great to use with all our phone contacts easily accessible, while reception hasn’t been an issue.
Keeping the batteries charged and all the electrics and electronic gear we carry working, we’ve fitted a Projecta DC/Solar charger, a 130W fixed solar panel, a 180W portable solar panel, and a 350W Pure Sine Wave inverter for charging laptops and the like. For those emergencies we have an Intelli-Start 12V 900amp lithium jump starter and power bank – they are bloody amazing!
We’ve also got some of that new soft-shackle recovery gear from Camp Boss and teamed that up with an alloy recovery hitch and winch ring from Maxtrax. Needless to say, Trent reckons we should ditch all the old recovery gear that has steel shackles, hooks and eyes and embrace the future as its lighter and a darn sight safer.
Stay tuned, we’ll bring you a full report of how this stuff is handling the recoveries we’ve been subjecting it to.
TOTAL KM: 120,128km
KM SINCE LAST UPDATE: 39,008
AVERAGE FUEL USE: 14L/100km (17-18L/100km on Simpson jaunts)
Part 4: Big bangs
It started with a ‘BANG!’ Just out of Ballarat, on our way to meet a tour group on our Coast2Coast expedition (see: moontours.com.au), the Hilux expired, in a cloud of smoke, rolled and rattled to a stop.
While a quick recovery and a change of vehicle was in order to keep the trip on schedule, the Hilux made its way to Outback 4WD where it sat forlorn waiting for a decision on what to do. In the end, it was pretty simple – replace the engine!
Shopping around, we got a brand-new engine from Toyota, including injectors (but lacking starter motor, alternator, etc) for less than eight grand, which we thought was pretty darn good.
With the engine in place, we also fitted a Flash-Lube diesel fuel filter which is rated at 30 microns and helps ensure the engine gets clean fuel free of water, which is devastating to modern diesel engines. If you are refuelling from remote servos, or from jerry cans or even 200-litre drums, we couldn’t recommend an extra fuel filter enough.
While the work was going on, we also decided to fit a set of Koni shocks to the Hilux. We have had a great run out of these shocks on previous vehicles, including our 79 Cruiser, and just love the ride they give and how they continue to work, even under the most severe conditions.
For the Hilux we fitted Koni Raid 90s to the rear axle and Koni Raid 88s to the front. While both exhibit the excellent build quality and oil that Koni is acclaimed for, the 90 comes with a huge 70mm body diameter, a massive 42mm piston, and an 18mm hard-chromed rod.
Meanwhile, as space is at a premium under the front of the Hilux, the Raid 88 Series come with 55mm body diameter and a 36mm Teflon coated piston. While they are a great product, the Koni range is also adjustable and rebuildable.
So with that behind us, the Hilux headed out on its annual jaunt north being better late than never. First were a couple of crossings of the Simpson Desert before it headed to Cape York for two tough trips north from the infamous Lion’s Den Hotel along the Starke Track and the Running Creek route to Coen, before heading along Frenchmans track and the OTL track to the top.
On the return journey from the Tip, the old Coach Road south from Coen was tackled on the first trip, while on the second jaunt we opted for a more leisurely and sandy west coast run, north of Weipa.
It was on the second trip that while climbing the slippery, steep slope of Palm Creek, heading south, that a CV joint broke, heralded by a sharp bang from the front end. Not as loud as the first big bang, it was still noticeable and warned of problems somewhere around the front end.
A late night ensued, as with cutting discs on the Ryobi battery-powered grinder we cut away the offending broken drive shaft which was flailing around threatening anything within reach. We covered the open wounds at the diff and wheel hub with plastic bags and with the vehicle now being mobile, a late night run to Weipa was called for.
But there was a gremlin at work. The mud and water of the previous trips had rendered the alternator unserviceable and it then decided not to work. We got through with lights working by rigging up some wiring between the auxiliary battery and the by-then flat main battery, to keep everything working and the lights glowing.
We arrived in Weipa, grabbed a few hours’ sleep, and when the doors of Weipa Auto & Marine opened, we were there pleading our case. The crew did a great job under a bit of pressure and time, and early in the afternoon with a new alternator and CV joint, the Hilux was on its way north to meet our party of adventurers.
The rest of the trip was uneventful and back in Cairns, we gave the ol’ girl a bit of a service before heading south for the long black-top haul to Melbourne. It had been an eventful year for the old Hilux!
TOTAL KM: 153,558
KM SINCE LAST UPDATE: 33,430
AVERAGE FUEL USE: 17-18L/100km