Tips for Driving on Corrugated Roads
One of the realities of a life on the road is that not all roads are created equal.
One of the realities of a life on the road is that not all roads are created equal. Judging what roads to travel down and if your vehicle and driving skills are up for the challenge of that particular road will be a daily decision for motorhome owners.
Let us be clear from the outset, Motorhomes and Campervans are not designed to be driven on corrugated roads for significant periods of time. There is simply too much furniture and too many appliances hanging off walls and that will be literally rattled lose under sustained corrugated road driving.
There are exceptions to this. Some specialist manufacturers build a purpose designed off-road 4WD RV. The rigidity and compactness of these vehicles come at a cost. If driving serious bush tracks in a motorhome or campervan were something you wanted to do, we would recommend that you purchase a vehicle built for this very specific style of touring.
However, it is likely that at some time on your travels you will be faced with a few kilometres of dirt road between you and the perfect free camp, amazing view, or even a very special Shiraz producing vineyard! This poses the question - How do you safely navigate dirt roads in a Motorhome?
Anyone who has lived in a rural community and has had to deal with regular driving on dirt corrugated dirt roads will be able to tell you that there as many opinions as there are experts at the pub! The purpose of this article is to clarify a few facts, perhaps blow up a few myths and manage expectations about what a motorhome “should” be able to handle.
The Old Bushman’s Myths - Busted
“Lower tyre pressure and high speed are the cure to the vibration of the corrugations.” This is the old theory, which when examined carefully, doesn’t hold together, let us explain.
REFERENCE: Brett Toll has written a great article about the science of driving on corrugations.
High speeds will get the journey over quicker but the evidence shows that vibrations will be more severe. The old “floating across the top theory is busted.
In a motorhome a conservative speed is essential, it would be recommended not to exceed 60km an hour. Of course, you must also factor in road conditions, visibility and the experience of the driver into your considerations, a lower speed may be more suitable.
It is important to remember that your tyres have much less grip than normal on these dirt and gravel roads. It is all too easy to lose control and trying to regain it on these surfaces can be difficult.
This is a matter of personal choice, certainly, lower pressure makes the ride smoother but it also increases the tyre temperature and potential for damage to the tyre and a blowout. Ambient temperature also needs to be factored into the equation, hotter days increase tyre temperature. In short, lower your tyre pressure when hitting the dirt and test out what feels right for your particular set up.
Pick your Line
Corrugations are worst where people brake or accelerate. For instance: the entry and exit of corners or the crests of hills. Outback roads often run through wide open expanses where visibility extends for miles and on-coming traffic can be seen well in advance. While you are obliged to follow relevant road rules it is not always necessary to 'stick to the left' if it means you must drive on the worst sections of the road. Pick the smoothest line and anticipate badly corrugated sections by the changes in the road. By anticipating the changing conditions you will slow down naturally where required, without braking, and create a smoother ride.
What About Suspension?
When travelling on corrugated surfaces your vehicle’s suspension system is having a pretty stressful time. Your shock absorbers, in particular, work hard over corrugations and heat up. In these conditions, it is best to take regular breaks and let them cool off.
Also, keep an eye on your shock absorber bushes as they can easily be chewed up on corrugations.
Some outback cattle grids are pretty rough, and if hit at a speed they can buckle rims or put out your wheel alignment. Try to travel at a speed that will allow you to slow down for them.
Pack it Tight
It is difficult to describe how much rattling and moving will occur inside cupboards, draws and lockers of a motorhome. Every plate, glass, can or bottle needs to be wrapped and secured
The biggest deterrent for driving corrugations in a motorhome will be the noise. No matter how well you pack, the rattles, bangs and crashes will make for a very loud and disturbing experience.
A Few More Tips (from the experts at the Pub)
- Aluminium cans will rub through in just a few miles and leave all your beer in the bottom of your fridge if you don't wrap them up.
- Sharp knives will lose their edge, once again wrap them.
- Screw tops will be undone and the contents of jars and bottles mixed in a disturbing cocktail. Spend a few minutes to put a bit of tape on them.
- Anything fastened with bolt and nut will be shaken lose. Try a dab of nail polish in different colours to give you a clue to what goes where at the end of the journey.
The Final Word
Advice from one of our favourite pub experts that has proven to be true on more than one occasion!
"Drive to the conditions, not an itinerary or timetable!"