How to Drive on Corrugated Roads
If you’ve done much touring in the outback, chances are you’ve experienced some bone-rattling corrugations which are not only extremely uncomfortable, but can break aerials, shock absorbers, loosen bolts, and see roof racks rub through the paint! There’s over 900,000km of roads in Australia and only one-third of them are sealed, meaning that any sort of extended touring will eventually lead you to corrugated roads. Driving on unsealed roads is very different to driving on bitumen, and for first timers it can be a daunting and intimidating experience.
There are many theories on how these corrugations are formed, from braking too hard, overloaded vehicles and over-inflated tyres, but the fact is you really need to know how to reduce their jarring effects if you plan to visit any of Australia’s most iconic outback destinations. To guide you in the right directions, today we’ll be discussing how to drive on corrugated roads along with the steps you need to take to minimise the discomfort and keep your 4WD intact!
Synchronising your vehicle
The trick to driving on corrugated roads is synchronising your vehicle with the corrugations. Now you’re probably asking yourself, “how on Earth can you synchronise your vehicle with corrugations?” Well, your driving speed along with the combination of tyre pressure, vehicle weight, and suspension and handling characteristics make a huge difference and when you align these variables with the corrugations, you’ll see your vehicle skipping on top of them rather than rattling between them.
There’s very few times where driving faster through hostile driving conditions is beneficial! Driving at 80kph may be far more comfortable than driving at 50kph or even 60kph, but what you want to achieve is a balance between comfort and control. There’s no doubt that driving on dirt can cause handling issues, so we’re not advising you to drive through corrugations at 120kph! But, the increased speed will mean that your tyres spend less time in contact with the corrugations and finding the sweet spot between these variables will make an enormous difference.
The single most influential variable when driving on corrugated roads is your tyre pressure. You want to reduce your tyre pressure to transform your tyres into padded shock absorbers which will substantially smooth your ride. There’s no magic number when it comes to the ideal tyre pressure as your vehicle’s weight and other characteristics will play an integral role on both dirt and bitumen. Having said this, you should aim to reduce your tyre pressure by 20%, so if you typically run on 36psi when driving on bitumen, deflate your tyre pressure to 32psi when driving on corrugated roads.
Again, you need to find a good balance and keep in mind that high speed and low tyre pressure causes a build-up of heat which can damage your tyres. Also, you don’t want to reduce your tyre pressure so much that they look flat and cause handling issues, a slight bulge in the sidewall will be fine. Consequently, having a 10 minute break for every hour of driving is advised to allow your tyres and shock absorbers to cool down and not overheat. In addition, it’s highly recommended to have a tyre repair kit, air compressor, and a well-calibrated tyre pressure gauge when travelling anywhere in the outback.
To make the ride as smooth as possible, you should always choose the line where the corrugations are lightest. When driving in the outback, you don’t always have to ‘stick to the left’ when you can see clearly see any passing traffic for miles ahead. Keep in mind that corrugations are the worst in sections where vehicles accelerate or brake, such as corners, entry to river crossings, and crests of hills. Try to anticipate badly corrugated sections which will allow you to slow down naturally without needing to brake as much.
Considering there is less traction on dirt roads, your cornering grip will be reduced and braking distances need to be increased. To give your wheels more traction, you should engage 4WD to ensure you have better vehicle control, especially when driving on slippery dirt roads.
Once you’re back on sealed roads again, don’t forget to inflate your tyres to the appropriate pressure. You’ll also want to inspect your vehicle for any damage such as chips in the windscreen and ensure your headlights, taillights, and licence plates are clean and visible.
Unsealed roads in the outback can range from good quality gravel roads to bull dust covered outback tracks, so before you begin it’s a practical idea to try to establish what type of conditions to expect. Whether you check with the relevant state roads authority or ask at the nearest town, knowing when to seal any food jars and bottles with tape saves a lot of pain and heartache at your destination!
If you’re interested in purchasing any 4WD products or accessories to make outback touring more comfortable, get in contact with the professionals at TJM Australia. You can check which TJM store is closest to you with our store locator, or simply phone our staff directly on 07 3865 9999.