Planning a road trip around Australia? Vehicle preparation should be number one on your priority list. No matter the vehicle, the correct modifications will make the journey across remote outback a more successful one. Here’s how we prepared our Land Rover Discovery 3 to be a comfortable and capable travel companion on the road.
No matter which vehicle you elect to purchase, it’s highly likely a few modifications will be required to get the most from it. When looking to travel for extended periods across isolated and difficult terrain, these modifications become even more pivotal to the success of your expedition across the Australian outback.
So what have we done to make our Land Rover Discovery 3 a comfortable, safe and reliable travel companion for 12 months on the road? Read on to find out.
In the interest of reliability and long service life, the drivetrain of our Land Rover was left as the manufacturer intended. Regarding performance on and off the road, the vehicle was deemed to be more than adequate even when loaded up with a myriad of camping gear, water and additional fuel.
The focus here was to provide a thorough service to (hopefully) ensure a trouble free adventure around Australia. With this in mind the 4.0 V6 received fresh oil and filter, NGK spark plug leads and spark plugs, a new Mahle air filter and thorough throttle body and inlet manifold clean. The Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) valve (yes, even some petrol engines have these little buggers) was also removed and stripped, cleaned and rebuilt to ensure trouble free operation.
The ZF 6HP26 automatic transmission had the sump/oil pan removed for a full fluid change and new filter. These transmissions came from the factory (at least on Land Rover examples) with a plastic sump and integrated filter that is not intended for regular service and proves difficult to remove without lifting the engine and transmission slightly to provide clearance. A popular upgrade, and one our vehicle had already, is a metal sump and separate filter from the identical transmission fitted to many BMW models, making servicing far easier. With fresh fluid and filter our transmission was good to go for at least another 50,000km.
There's some work required to keep the old bus running as she should, along with a few healthy modifications of course 🙂 It will all be worthwhile when we get to try out our flash new #darche #panorama2 #rooftoptent and #wanderer #awning #landroverlife #paytoplay #wrenching #newparts #thisiswhyihavenomoney #brakejob #newstoppers #dba #dbaaustralia #dbat3 #4wd #maintenance
Differential oil was replaced front and rear, while we also completed a repair to the breather for the front differential. Land Rover have done a good job locating the breathers high up on the vehicle to prevent water ingress during water crossings, however the one way valve on the end of the front differential breather is a very common failure point. It jams shut, meaning as the differential heats during use, the resultant air pressure inside cannot escape and tends to blow through the oil seals to escape. There is a replacement valve available from the factory, however for a quicker and cheaper solution we modified ours to use one of the common Brass/Bronze style breather caps. The rear diff breather does not have this issue so has remained untouched.
We also uprated the front brakes with DBA 4000 series rotors and Bendix 4WD pads to cure an annoying and dangerous brake shudder apparent when we first purchased the vehicle. While completing this it was noted the front passenger wheel bearing had excessive play so was promptly replaced.
Suspension & Tyres
Our Land Rover comes equipped from the manufacturer with a system known as Electronic Air Suspension (EAS for short), which forgoes the steel springs found in nearly every competitor for a heavy duty air spring. This enables the driver to adjust the vehicle ride height by decreasing or increasing the volume of air within each suspension strut. In practice this allows a relatively low ride height for on road stability while providing up to 125mm (5 inches!) lift when required. Given the capability of the system and strong reputation for durability from the standard shock absorbers, we elected to simply service the standard components (Rebuild of the standard compressor and solenoid actuated valve blocks) and otherwise leave the suspension as it was. For some more information on this, have a look at our Discovery 3 Review.
When it comes to off Bitumen performance, the “Achilles Heel” of modern Land Rover Discovery’s (2005 to present) are the wheel and tyre package supplied by the factory. Our Land Rover came fitted with 18×8 inch wheels, while newer models take a minimum 19 inch wheel to clear the ever larger brakes required to reign in the on road performance. Fortunately it is possible for 17 inch wheels to clear the brakes on our particular model, and so the search began for some suitable replacements. Land Rover original wheels (found on the base “S” model D3) were out of the running as their narrow design (only 7 inches wide) would have limited tyre choice (245 width is the widest they will take) and narrowed the track of the vehicle to the detriment of stability. A solution was found in 17×8 inch wheels from an E53 BMW X5, offering the correct P.C.D and perfect offset for the larger tyre size we were looking to run. See the graphic below comparing the stock wheel/tyre package to our oversize tyre and BMW wheel. The only modification required to run these wheels was a change of wheel nuts from the original Land Rover “washer” style to an elongated taper style, such as these.
Regarding tyre choice, our main requirements were toughness, durability and availability. A Light Truck (LT) rated tyre was a must to provide both the toughness and load carrying capability required for a heavily loaded 4WD traversing through harsh offroad conditions. Additionally the tyre had to cope well in slippery off road conditions, while retaining it’s composure on the bitumen where it would spend a large proportion of it’s time. Finally, a common tyre size was desirable so a replacement could be found quickly in case of irreparable damage while away from civilisation. With all of this in mind we selected BF Goodrich’s popular and well regarded KO2 All Terrain in 265/70R17 sizing.
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Onboard Air Supply
For trips off the beaten track, it is essential to have a source of compressed air for inflation of tyres away from a service station. For this we wanted a permanent in vehicle mounted solution and opted for the single compressor unit from ARB. Rather than the “vehicle mount kit” they offer consisting of compressor and operating switch supplied loose, we purchased the standalone boxed compressor as it came complete with a bracket mounted switch. Once removed from it’s plastic box, the unit was mounted within the engine bay on a mount we fabricated from galvanised sheet and fastened using existing mount points on the Land Rovers sheet metal. Hard wired complete with fuse protection to the main battery, we had an onboard air supply.
To transfer the air from compressor to tyre we use air line and an analogue tyre inflator, both from ARB. Currently, only a digital tyre gauge is offered by ARB as it superseded their analogue model, however for reliability we preferred the older, battery free analogue solution.
Electrical Accessories & Communication (Radio)
With the accessories we planned to run it became clear that a dual battery arrangement would be a very sensible investment. After much research we opted for the Traxide D3-AS arrangement as it offered a tailored solution for our vehicle with a clever operating philosophy, placing an Optima D34 spiral wound AGM battery (or similar sized battery of your choice) in the vacant second battery compartment found within the Land Rovers engine bay. The kit includes everything you require aside from the second battery and proved straight forward and simple to install. What set this system apart for us was that it utilises both the main and auxiliary battery to both start the car and run accessories, only isolating the main battery once it is run down to 11.5 Volt to ensure it can still start the vehicle when called upon. This means that you have more juice to run accessories compared to a system that isolates the main battery whenever the vehicle is turned off, and in addition both batteries contribute to starting and running the vehicle in normal operation.
For communication with other vehicles, we have a Oricom UHF380 CB radio mounted within the vehicle and accompanied by a 6 dBi antenna. This unit has all controls on the handset, allowing us to mount the main unit within the engine bay spare battery compartment and feed only the junction cable through into the cab. Rather than hard mount the handset to the dash, we can connect it to this cable whenever required.
In Car Storage & Refrigeration
For any big trip, organisation is your friend and prevents frustration and disagreements while trying to go about daily life. A set of sturdy storage draws were first on the list and so the hunt began to find a suitable solution. Several suppliers offer a custom fit solution to the Discovery 3, however this came at a significant cost. A budget friendly solution was found by procuring a very lightly used Kincrome 2 drawer unit. The rearmost fold flat seats found in our Discovery 3 were removed and the draws mounted via fabricated pine frame to the factory tie down mounting locations. Removal of the seats was not necessary, however it did free up significant space below the drawers that can be used for small items such as shoes, camping pegs, mats and folded backpacks.
The Kincrome drawers include a sturdy fridge slider, which as used to conveniently mount our Engel MT45 fridge. Rather than strap this fridge down to the tie loops we chose to secure it via Engels “Transit Slide Lock”, which is fastened to the drawer unit and allows quick an easy removal of the fridge for cleaning. The fridge is powered off our dual battery system, providing reliable power while ensuring the main cranking battery cannot be drained and leave us stranded.
Water storage is achieved via a simple 20L Jerry can strapped aside the fridge. To this we have fitted a tap so water can be dispensed conveniently with the Jerry remaining fixed within the vehicle. If further water is required for a long stint in arid country, a further 20L can be carried in a flexible shower bladder stored in the roof box.
We also have two 100L polymer storage boxes mounted atop the middle row of folded seats. We use one of these to hold our tools, recovery gear and straps, while the remaining is our pantry box for food and beverage not requiring refrigeration.
For additional storage capability, we have a Front Runner Slimline II full length roof rack system for our Discovery 3. This has proved exceptionally sturdy and enabled us to load the roof with our Roof Top Tent (see below), double Jerry cans, shovel, awning and 50L weatherproof storage container.
The double Jerry can holder is from Front Runner and enables safe and sturdy mounting for two standard metal NATO style cans. The design of the unit allows locking via padlocks and prevents access or siphoning from the cans once mounted. Given our vehicle came with a relatively modest 86L fuel capacity, the additional 40L of fuel storage for a relatively modest outlay was excellent value for money.
Likewise, a Front Runner shovel mount provided a clean and efficient method of storing our full size shovel while the 50L polymer storage box from Dune 4WD has been bolted to the rack and provides a good storage option for keeping wet and dirty items out of the vehicle.
A (wo)mans got to sleep! For this we chose a Darche Panorama II roof top tent, mounted directly to the roof rack described above. No solution is perfect, however for us the roof tent is more than adequate and does not incur the added hassle and expense of a towed camper. Being mounted on the roof, this unit also gets you away from all the creepy crawlies (big and small) while providing hassle free setup and packup, even in arduous weather conditions.
The Land Rover has excellent rated recovery points front and rear, so a standard recovery kit of shackles and snatch straps covers us for the embarrassing prospect of being recovered by another vehicle! For those times where a good Samaritan may be nowhere in sight, we have a pair of TRED recovery tracks to get us out of a boggy situation. The shackles and straps are stored within the vehicle, while we have mounted the TRED tracks on the roof.
For frontal protection in case of an animal strike or during general use, we have replaced the front bumper with an ARB Deluxe Bull Bar (non-winch). In our opinion this bar adds to the aesthetic appeal of the vehicles rugged design while providing some insurance in case the worst should happen, hopefully protecting the delicate vehicle lighting and engine cooling components in case of an impact and allowing us to limp home. Given the predominantly country driving this vehicle will be subject too, such precautions are necessary.
While a nice place to sit, the Land Rover interior was let down by a shabby leather wheel that had seen much better days, unfortunately a common issue on this particular model. To rectify this and lift the interior the wheel as given a fresh skin of nappa leather, with some thumb grips added in for a sure placement of the hands while driving. Sometimes it’s the small details that can make a huge difference to the driving experience.
So far it seems we have covered all bases, with the car and all equipment performing flawlessly after months on the road, touch wood…
If we were to do it all again, the process would be no different. The goal was to create a comfortable and capable vehicle able to cross the vastness of Australia within our means, and that is something we believe has been achieved. The unconventional choice of a Land Rover was a risk, however the maintenance and modifications have proved it can hold it’s own with the best of the competition out here in the rough stuff. This reflects well not only on the vehicle, but on the manufacturers of all the equipment we have used to enhance it’s capability.