Basic Bush Mechanic Skills

Ron and Viv Moon — 15 March 2020
Wrap your head around basic repairs so you can get yourself out of a fix.

I hadn’t pulled a starter motor apart since my early tradie days in a workshop in South Oz and when I looked at the one that had just come out of the Cruiser it was completely different to those I used to work on. That’s not surprising really, as those days as a tradie were 50 years ago… and a lot has changed since then.

Anyway, the situation was such that I couldn’t do too much damage, because the Cruiser wasn’t going too far as it was and we were camped on a creek on the OTL track in northern Cape York. The local tow truck guy from Bamaga had quoted $3,500 for a recovery job, so I pulled the starter motor apart and had a go at fixing it. I got it going to a point that it took an extra cable and two people to start the vehicle but that was better than paying someone a heap of dollars for a 150km round trip and pick-up.

Earlier we had fixed someone’s alternator by stripping it and cleaning the brushes, and later, as we were heading into the Palmer River Goldfields, Viv noticed a strap hanging down from the underneath of the MUX wagon that was in front of us. It turned out to be one of the two straps that hold the fuel tank in!

Despite being a relatively simple sounding job, it took us a couple of hours of mucking around; the fuel tank was near full and the working conditions not ideal. Still, we got it done and were on our way with no harm done.

Sadly, I reckon the amount of bush mechanical knowledge and skills out there on the tracks and roads of Australia is diminishing as fast as smart phone apps and YouTube videos are increasing. And it seems everyone expects somebody else to help them and that help is just a phone call or a text message away.

Realistically, that isn’t the case once you head even a little off the beaten track and it really behoves you to not only have some basic repair gear with you but also a modicum of knowledge.

Now there are some problems, I’ll admit, that can’t be fixed by a bit of bush mechanical knowledge, especially on modern vehicles with their plethora of electronics, but there’s plenty that can go wrong out in the scrub that you can remedy with a small amount of knowledge, some skill and a bit of determination.

Like the young blokes who came wandering through the camp at Chili Beach looking for a grinder. They had whacked a creek bank a little hard and had bent their bullbar back so that it was fouling one of the front wheels. They had used a winch to pull it off the wheel but it was still binding up, so their course of action was to modify the bottom bar of the bullbar. Sounded good to me so I lent them my grinder and a few cutting discs and an hour later they were ready to roll. And I got some thanks and a few beers for my generosity!

So, do you know how to do simple jobs on your vehicle and camper trailer? Can you change a wheel? Can you manage a fuel filter change if it gunks up with a bad dose of fuel? What about a weeping radiator hose or a broken fan belt? Are you prepared to repair a hole in a fuel tank, or radiator?

Just recently on a remote rough track one of our party spat a tailshaft. There was no way he was going anywhere in just front-wheel drive so we towed him out of the area, which did demand a couple of big winch recoveries on rugged hills I couldn’t drag him up. Still, we got him back to the blacktop where he could drive, albeit just on his front axle, to get his tailshaft repaired in a town some distance away. What would you have done? Would you have the skill and knowledge to get out of there? I hope so.

So, get trained, carry the right gear (a scan gauge for modern vehicles can help with many electronic issues), carry a workshop manual, use a bit of common sense and a lot of determination and you may find that you, on your very own, can get yourself, or others, out of trouble without having to call for help. There’s a lot of satisfaction in that!


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