After 30,000 KM – We Still Love the Toyota Landcruiser.

Kylie is without doubt a Landcruiser girl...!
Recently, we were driving home along Victoria’s Goulburn Valley Highway after spending a relaxing weekend with friends in Gough’s Bay, near Lake Eildon. For anyone unfamiliar with this road, it is a fairly typical B grade highway in Victoria, with a single lane in each direction and dotted with occasional overtaking opportunities, tight sweeping bends and varying gradients. During winter, this road is packed with skiers heading up to Mt Buller in their all-wheel drive Subaru’s and Audi’s. It’s the perfect road for a hot hatch. During summer, the snow melts in the mountains to reveal the vast eucalypt forests of the Victorian High Country, the exclusive domain of real 4WDs. These vehicles are the norm along the Goulburn Valley Highway this time of year despite not being so well suited to this type of road.

Not so Olaf, our Toyota Landcruiser 200. It seems to defy the laws of physics as it trundles along occasionally challenging the speed limit, eating up hills like they weren’t there and negotiating corners faster than a 2,800kg of BHP’s finest should be able to. I was really enjoying the drive home, revelling in the Cruiser’s silky smooth twin turbo V8 as it dispatched the miles behind us. Olaf had recently ticked over 30,000km and I started to reflect on just how good this car is and how much better it seems to get as time goes by.

Olaf at Woods Point, Victoria. Luckily we didn't need to fill up here...!
First…a bit of a history lesson. I never liked Landsruisers and their owners annoyed me. I hated the way they seemed to make 4wding look easy. Then there was their smugness when I had to call on one of them to get me out of a bog or other situation where I lacked forward momentum. Their ‘generosity’ was always accompanied with the same mantra; “Why don’t you just buy yourself a Landcruiser?” It was like nails down a chalk-board. The fact of the matter was that I secretly coveted my neighbours’ cruisers but steadfastly refused to succumb to the temtation. I swore I would never buy one.

That was up until February 2015 when we ordered our new caravan. A 3,500kg town house on wheels. Our hand was forced into buying a new 4wd to tow it and our choices were few. On the list was the 200 series Landcruiser and as much as I wanted to continue by love/hate relationship with them, there was no denying it was the car for us. When we went for our test drive, I hoped it would be awful or that Kylie would find it too big for her to drive every day. None of that eventuated and today the prejudice was well and truly put to the past. We love Olaf and for good reason.

First time taking the rig Off Road...! The cruiser did it with ease.
You see, unless you buy an American pick-up truck, there really are few options for a good, solid, full size 4WD towing vehicle and when you take into account the availability of service centres around the country, Toyota is as good as it gets and a long way better than all the alternatives. Nissan had a new Patrol on the market with a big V8 petrol engine which, by all accounts, is an awesome vehicle.  Regardless, having experienced owning a petrol V8 4wd in the past, it would take a lot of convincing to get me to buy another one. The fuel use can be scary.

The Cruiser’s engine is magic and it seems to have loosened up considerably since we first got it. It feels smoother and more willing to rev. At first, I thought Toyota had got the transmission all wrong but now that I’ve driven it and gotten used to it, I reckon Toyota knew exactly what they were doing. You very rarely find yourself in the wrong gear. If you do, all it takes is a slight depression of the loud pedal and it kicks down a cog and rockets on in a satisfying swell of torque.

The Toyota steel bullbar has actually turned out to be pretty good. I reckon its the best looking one for this series.
What continually amazes me is just how economic the Cruiser is. We don’t drive it like we’ve stolen it but we don’t baby it either. This trip, in particular, I drove a little more enthusiastically than I might otherwise and it still returned an average of 11.4l/100ks. Granted this is not as good as some of the other modern 4wds but for a big V8, this is outstanding. It challenges the fuel economy of my old 2.5l Discovery and is way better than our 3.0 Patrol…!

Overtaking on a road like the Goulburn is when you really appreciate the V8. Sink the boot in and the motor responds with a satisfying shove in the kidneys accompanied by a nice soundtrack. It feels unstoppable. Unrelenting. Awesome.

Putting the big van on the back changes the equation somewhat but the Cruiser takes this in its stride. The long travel accelerator requires a decent stomp to get the whole rig moving, but it does get going much better that you might expect. It will cruise all day at the speed limit with the van on the back and, apart from the shorter distances between fuel stops, it’s easy to forget the caravan is there.

We’ve done pretty much all the mods we intend to do for the time being. Dual battery system, UHF radio, drawer system, power outlets in the rear, tire pressure monitoring system, Scanguage, rear view camera and driving lights. The Lovell’s GVM upgrade suspension has proved to be a wise decision. Surprisingly, I reckon the Toyota steel bull bar is the best looking of all the alternatives. Once the warranty has run out we plan to up the performance a bit with a modified exhaust and performance chip. We did the same thing to our Patrol and the results of that were amazing.

Other mods we have planned are a catch can and perhaps a secondary fuel filter.  For now, Olaf is doing the job extremely well. It’s powerful, comfortable, reliable, and reasonably economic to run plus it tows like a dream. You can’t really ask for much more…!

The PomPonazzi paint coating looks amazing and actually does provide real protection.

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Why is Gross Combined Mass (GCM) So Important?

When it comes to trying to reduce your rig’s load, finding a place to start can be very confusing. We recommend looking at your tow vehicle’s GCM and working your way from there.

Following on from the police operation at Newmerella, lots of discussions have taken place on social media and various caravanning forums.  That is an excellent outcome.  If we don’t all start talking about the issues raised, we will never be able to solve our weight issues.  One thing is obvious and that is many people do not have any idea what their vehicle’s gross combined mass is or how to calculate it.  Worse still, many drivers are unaware how this can seriously effect the amount of weight you can add to your rig when towing at your maximum towing capacity.  Hopefully the following will give you some idea of the problem.

Toyota Landcruisers manufactured prior to mid 2015, commonly referred to as pre DPF models, are unique in that their compliance plate does not state a GCM. In this case, the GCM is taken to be the Gross Vehicle Mass or GVM plus the maximum rated towing capacity, which in the case of the cruiser is 3500kgs. The standard cruiser will therefore have a GCM of 6,850kgs. In our case, we have had a GCM upgrade. This adds confusion to the issue but from what I’ve been told by a former inspector from Vic Roads, the same rule applies and the new GCM for our vehicle is 7,300kgs.

GCM or Gross Combined Mass is probably the biggest issue facing caravanners at the moment especially those who drive one of the later model dual cab utes. Every vehicle that comes into this country will have a GCM figure on its compliance plate. The only exception I am aware of if the 200 series Toyota Landcruiser (pre DPF models). That particular vehicle’s GCM is taken to be GVM (or gross vehicle mass) plus maximum towing capacity.

To get an idea of the problem, we need to look at some practical examples. The table below shows what happens when you load up the 10 of the most popular tow vehicles their maximum towing capacity.

Remember these are all weights of tow vehicles with no accessories fitted.  As you can see the Mazda BT-50 and Ford Ranger have less that 400kgs remaining cargo capacity before they exceed their GCM. Given the popularity of these two vehicles and the likelihood they will be towing up around these weights, knowing your all up weight compared to the tow vehicle’s rated GCM becomes extremely critical. Depending on how much stuff you have loaded in the tub of the ute, the van may not even be at max weight and you could still be over.

This is the display at the Broadford Weighbridge. It shows the load on both axels of the Landcruiser and the total weight on the caravan’s axels. The three figures combine to give the total weight of the rig in the bottom right. This is the figure you want to be below your tow vehicle’s GCM. Get this right and you’re well on the way to ensuring you’re legal on the road.

If you have any options fitted to the tow vehicle, your remaining load will be reduced even further.  In fact, if you consider that the average steel bulbar weighs around 40kg, a tow hitch with gooseneck and weight distribution bars will weigh another 50kg, a car fridge full of food might weigh another 20kgs, by the time you’ve added two adults at 90kgs each, you’ve got very little remaining capacity to play with.

This is why it is so important to take your rig down to a weighbridge and have it checked.  Even if you can just do a drive on and drive off and obtain your rigs total weight, you will know where you stand in relation to your GCM.  Its a great place to start on the road to ensuring you are not overweight.

Safe travels.

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New additions to Olaf

With our impending trip to Stradbroke Island rapidly approaching, I thought it was about time I got busy with some additions to our Landcruiser, Olaf.

First off was the installation of a ScanGuage to monitor Olaf’s vital information like transmission temperature and fuel use.

13775476_1047165028701492_3516954095091178221_nNext was to put some 12v power outlets in the rear storage area so we can run our fridge and other accessories.

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As with anything we do to Olaf, Kylie doesn’t want it to look like the DeLorean from the movie Back to the Future.  She wants everything to look stock and no holes drilled in the trim.  Fortunately I managed to do this with both which made my life a lot easier.

I’m pretty happy with the results.  More detailed notes on the installations can be found at the links below.

Safe travels.

ScanGauge Installation and Review

12v Power Board for Rear Storage System

 

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Petrol or Diesel for Towing Big Loads?

Having previously owned both diesel and petrol vehicles and also having towed with both, I thought I had this question well and truly sorted out in my own mind years ago. These days, I think the answer is not so clear cut. Let me explain:

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Put a big load on the back of any 4WD and it will chew the juice. How much will depend on many factors.

I once owned a Land Rover Discovery V8 petrol 4WD. When I had it, I was earning a pretty good wage and I had never experienced owning and driving a diesel before. The only diesels I had ever driven were naturally aspirated Landcruisers and Patrols and these wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice custard. As a busy sales rep buzzing around the state, I needed something that was capable of keeping up with Melbourne’s traffic. The Disco was a lot of fun to drive. The 3.8l engine was small by V8 standards but, shuffling through the gears, it revved pretty well and propelled the large 4wd very nicely indeed. It would never set the tyres alight but, for a 4wd, it was very respectable. The noise from the exhaust was also quite pleasing. All this performance came at a cost. A hefty one. 80 litres of fuel would be gone in 450ks. That’s 17.7l/100ks on a good day….! For a boy who had not owned anything bigger than a 2l Camry, this sort of fuel consumption was a shock to the system, and the hip pocket. The limited range was also a major headache when venturing off road. Even a short weekend in the Victorian Alps had to be planned to include a fuel stop along the way at some point. Failure to do so would leave my heart in my throat and my eye on the fuel gauge. Not a lot of fun. When I started towing even a modest load, the story was even worse. 20l/100ks on the open highways was as good as it would get with our sub 2t Bush Hopper trailer in tow. For outback travel, this sort of range was completely unsatisfactory. I had to do something.

Disco engine bay 009
The good old Land Rover V8i petrol engine. Its been around in one form or another for over 50 years. It was a sweet engine but it had an incredible thurst for unleaded fuel.

I changed the V8 over to a diesel version of the same car. The Discovery with the 300tdi engine was a complete revelation. For a 2.5l 4 cylinder diesel engine, it had sufficient poke to keep up with the traffic. It was not as quick as the V8, but it didn’t feel like it lacked for any power, such was the low end delivery of its substantial torque.   Best of all, you could give the engine the beans all day and it would consistently return fuel consumption figures of 10l/100ks every single fill up. That’s twice the V8’s range. Towing the same trailer, this figure would rarely rise above 13l/100ks. I was very happy and kept this car for over 11 years. As far as I was concerned at the time, anyone not driving a turbo diesel 4wd was kidding themselves.

Other 4wds at the time seemed to confirm my theory. The 80 series Crusiers were mainly being bought with the 4.5l straight six and even with twin cams and multivalve fuel injection, they still sucked down fuel at rates comparable to the old Disco V8. Even when Toyota and Nissan started turbo charging their 6 cylinder diesels, their fuel consumption wouldn’t get anywhere near the Disco’s.

Move time along another 10 years. The good old Disco was gone and we were 8 years into owning a Nissan Patrol 3.0CRD. Time had come to upgrade to something with a lot more grunt and towing capacity. I was still convinced a diesel was the way to go and we eventually settled on a 200 series Crusier V8 diesel and it hasn’t disappointed us in any way thus far. Its fuel economy is remarkable given the power this engine produces. It’s a fantastic vehicle. However there are a few caveats on this. Its fuel use can get into the higher end of the diesel spectrum if you give it the beans on a regular basis. We don’t drive it like we’ve stolen it, preferring to enjoy the relaxed nature of the big 8, but I have no doubt that if we were to partake in the traffic light drags a bit more, this consumption around town would go into the 13l/100k territory. That is still not bad for a 2.6t V8 auto full size 4WD…!

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I will never get tired of looking under Olaf's bonnet. 4.5l twin turbo V8 Diesel good for 650nm of torque at just 1600 rpm. You need to buy an big American pick-up truck for a stronger motor.

With a van on the back, obviously fuel consumption increases. Our Roadstar Safari Tamer is near on 3.5t fully loaded and this can see our fuel use increase to between 17.5 and 22l/100ks. By today’s standards that’s fairly high for a diesel but it’s not unreasonable. Many factors come into play here. Road conditions, prevailing winds, higher speeds all conspire to increase our fuel use.

So…back to the question of petrol or diesel. Until recently, there wasn’t a lot of choice if you wanted a full size 4WD. The 200 series cruiser was basically it and the petrol variant gulped down fuel like it was happy hour at the brewery. I’ve read about one fellow who’s petrol Cruiser managed to gulp down 39l/100ks driving into a stiff head wind towing less than 3t…!! He said he could actually see the fuel gauge move as he drove along.

Patrol Y62
The new Nissan Y62 Patrol. Its big, fast and luxurious. The looks are an aquired taste.

Now there’s a new Nissan Patrol on the market, the Y62. Its 5.6l V8 is, by all accounts, a gem of an engine. Its capable of sedan like speeds and can effortlessly tow big loads up to 3.5t. But early reports about its fuel consumption quickly scared off buyers. I saw one report where a tow test resulted in fuel consumption of an eye watering 34l/100ks…! That’s around 450k range from 150 litres of fuel. Fuel consumption on that scale is nothing short of frightening.

Patrol-Y62 engine
Nissan's 5.6l Direct Injection V8 petrol engine is a cracker producing 298kw but its revving hard at 4000rpm to produce its max torque of 560nm. 90 less than the Crusier's diesel V8.

The Y62 Patrol has been with us for a while now and it seems some of those early reports may have been a bit anomalous. Still more recent reports and feedback from actual users varies greatly but in real world conditions, for a given circumstance, the Y62 will consume anywhere between 5 and 7l/100ks more fuel than a diesel 200 series Landcruser. But the Patrol can be purchased for around $20,000 less than a Landcruiser of similar spec. You can buy a lot of fuel for $20,000….! Actually, at around $1.50 per litre, that’s about 13,000 litres. Even at 20l/100ks, that quantity would be sufficient for around 65,000ks to get to the breakeven point. Looking at those sort of figures, why the hell would anyone buy a diesel Landcruiser?

Well…the answer to that is simple. How many people would actually put aside $20,000 in the bank purely to be used for fuel over the lifetime of vehicle ownership? Not too many I don’t think. It’s just not a practical solution. No matter how you look at it, you still have to put fuel into that large fuel tank and you’ll be doing it more often than you would with a diesel powered vehicle. Then there’s the outback travel thing I’m always on about. It is still possible to have to travel 500ks or more between fuel stops. If you want to avoid smaller isolated fuel stops, you could increase those distances to 800ks or more in many instances. As a result, touring range starts to become a real issue. Then there’s the availability of unleaded fuel. The Y62 loves higher octane 95RON. While it is much more widely available than it may have been 15 years ago, it may not be available everywhere. Even in some remote areas, petrol may not be available at all. You be forced to fill up with Opel fuel or Avgas. Both of which have their own nasty issues. On the other hand, diesel is literally available everywhere.

tanami fuel
Want to do the Tanami Track? Since they closed Rabbit Flat Roadhouse, you will need a range of at least 742km. I don't know of any standard tow vehicles that will do that with 3.5t on the back without resorting to jerry cans or long range fuel tanks.

Now I can hear the chorus of petrol owners out there carrying on about fuel contamination and water in diesel and, yes I acknowledge it’s an issue, but, I maintain that it is far easier to eliminate this risk by the use of additional filters. Further, the fact a diesel has more chance of getting to major fuel stops separated by greater distances reduces this risk considerably.

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This is not a country where you want to be complacent about fuel. Run out here and you're on your own.

At the end of the day, the decision is up to the individual and what they value most. If you’re not venturing too far away from the major centres and you can live with more frequent trips to the bowser, then save your money and buy the Patrol and enjoy that glorious V8 engine. But, if you’re travelling outback, towing a big load and want to get further on your litre of fuel, then the extra investment in a diesel is the way to go.

Safe Travels

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The Reality of Off Road Caravanning

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True off road caravanning is a whole new experience.

You hear all the time about how people buy an off road caravan and rarely, if ever, use it for its intended purpose. I would say that is true for a great many owners of off road caravans. Some of us actually do want to take our vans into the terrain they were designed. It sounds easy enough, just take that track to your favourite campsite and live the dream. Unfortunately, the reality is not as simple as it may seem and even a modest 4WD track can become extremely challenging with a 3t caravan in tow.

I have been towing camper trailers all over the country for around 20 years and I have done so in some very extreme off road conditions. Cape York, the Kimberley region, even some of the goat tracks around the local camps in Victoria. Some have been difficult especially with a camper trailer in tow. Others have not caused me to raise a sweat. Overall though, nothing has really given me serious cause for concern. I thought I had off road towing down to a fine art.

IMG_4474
We made it to our campsite unscathed but getting out at the end of the trip was going to be interesting.

Then, last weekend, we took the Safari Tamer to a bush camp in Bonnie Doon in, Victoria, near Lake Eildon. Access to this bush camp was down a narrow track, about 2kms in length. It was a little rutted and, under normal circumstances, it would not have presented a challenge. But there had been a fair amount of rain in the area prior to our visit and the track was pretty muddy and slippery when we arrived. Still, nothing I wouldn’t have thought would have been difficult at all. But put a huge 3.5t caravan on the back of the Crusier and it completely changed the situation. We made it to the campsite with no issues in the end but the experience has taught us some very valuable lessons that we will need to consider for our future off road caravanning adventures.

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The track doesn’t look all that bad but further down it was quite challenging. That rut in front of me was about a foot deep. Enough to put the van on a visually impressive angle.

First off is the sheer size of the whole rig. Lengthwise we would be approximately 12m long so that makes negotiating tight corners very challenging and when the track has even slightly deep ruts, it can be difficult to get a sufficiently wide enough turn to avoid the caravan scraping some trees on the side of the track. The van is also very tall. Low hanging branches suddenly become an major issue. Having a spotter to ensure you have sufficient clearance is vital in these situations. The van is also very wide. There were a couple of gates we had to pass through along this track where there were mere centimetres clearance either side.

Having a competent tow vehicle with strong 4WD capabilities is also vital in these off road situations. I know that sounds obvious but when you consider that we triggered the Cruiser’s traction control in some places, you can begin to understand that a less capable vehicle, although completely competent in normal conditions, may very well have struggled. To be fair, Olaf was still wearing highway terrain tyres which were always going to be challenged in really wet and muddy conditions.

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There was not a lot of room to make that sharp turn back onto the track.

When we arrived at the campsite, we were confronted with a whole set of other issues. We had to find a suitably sized, flat camp site that the van could fit onto that still had sufficient clearance to get out of at the end of the trip. With trees all around, the room for manoeuvring was extremely tight. At one time I came very close to damaging the awning on a tree trunk. It took a couple of goes but we managed to get out unscathed.

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Back on the blacktop.

I guess the point of all this is that while we had a great time with our first serious off road caravanning experience, it certainly has taught us some valuable lessons. If you’re planning on taking your off road caravan into the kind of terrain it was designed to go, you really need to be ready for the challenges that you’ll be presented with. Careful planning is required as well as a greater sense of awareness and anticipation. You cannot just blindly drive down a track and expect you’ll find a suitable spot to camp and then be able to get out when it’s time to go home.

Safe Travels

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First Drive Towing – Landcruiser and Safari Tamer

IMG_3107[1]After picking up our new Roadstar Safari Tamer, we took it for its maiden voyage to the Tarra Valley in Gippsland.  First time towing a heavy load in the new Landcruiser as well.  Happy to report it was a success after an initial issue with the brake controller. Thanks go to Turnbull Toyota in Yarrum for fixing the problem on the spot for me.

The van towed behind the cruiser extremely well.  Very stable at all speeds and we weren’t running with a weight distribution hitch. This is a testament to both the design of the Safari Tamer and the ability of the upgraded suspension on the Cruiser to carry a load.

IMG_3108[1]What really did surprise was the fuel economy achieved.  Measured at the pump we achieved 17.4l/100ks.  That was with a mixture of hilly and winding b grade roads, freeway running along Citylink and a few quick trailerless trips into Yarrum.  Given we were probably quite close to fully loaded (3500kgs max), this is a stunning result.  I believe we could easily achieve better figures on long highway stretches.

We stayed at Best Friends Holiday Retreat in the Tarry Valley itself which is the best caravan park if you have dogs travelling with you.  You can read more about it here.

Also happy to report we had no problems with the new van.  Everything seems to have worked out of the box.  Pretty impressive.  More about that later.

Overall, we’re absolutely delighted with the initial performance of both the Roadstar Safari Tamer and the Toyota Landcruiser 200.

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