Cape Town - Most people like to personalise their vehicles to some degree. Off-road enthusiasts and 4x4 owners in particular enjoy adding gadgets to their vehicles.
Some of these are extremely helpful in stressful situations while others are just stupid and unnecessary.
Here are 10 items that either contribute to a good day in the great outdoors or robbed you of the money you could have better spent on a tank of diesel.
1. Jumper leads/cables
If your portable fridge or flood lights drained the battery you can rely on a pair of these to get you going again.
How it works:
Attach a red clamp to a positive terminal (+) of a healthy battery. Attach the opposite red clamp to the positive terminal of the dead battery.
Attach a black clamp to a negative terminal (-) of a healthy battery and attach the opposite black clamp to a metal surface inside the engine bay but well away from the dead battery.
Start the working car and let it idle for 1 minute. Start the car with the dead battery while simultaneously revving the donor car up to about 3000rpm. Remove the leads.
Note: Never allow red and black clamps to touch each other while one end is connected to a battery.
Verdict: 10/10, essential. If you don’t have a set of jumper leads you’d better pray that someone else does.
Rough cost: R150 to R300
2. Portable compressor
At some point during your off-road adventures you’re going to have to deflate your vehicle’s tyres, which means you’ll also have to inflate them again.
There’s nothing wrong with choosing an inexpensive compressor. Just make sure that it can push at least 35 litres of air per minute otherwise it’ll take an eternity to inflate those tyres.
Also allow small compressors a break every five minutes to cool, and take care not to scrunch up the twisted pair electrical cord when you store the compressor.
Verdict: 9/10, essential. Every 4x4 should have one.
Cost: Ranging from R600 to R2000
The next time your 4x4 goes in for a service, ask the mechanic to take a note of all the tools he used. This is the best way to assemble your own toolkit.
My toolkit only contains the equipment required to fix the things that I am capable of fixing. I don’t know how to rebuild an engine so there would be little point in me carrying piston pin pullers or ring expanders.
Verdict: 9/10, essential. Keep your Mastercard topped up if you are all thumbs.
Cost: As much as R3000 for a basic kit, quality tools are expensive!
4. Fire extinguisher
Your car’s engine is powered by tiny explosions fuelled by a large container filled with flammable liquid. If control over this fire is lost, your whole vehicle may go up in smoke.
Off-road vehicles catch fire when they overheat due to mud covered radiators or dry grass pilling up against hot metal.
Carrying a fire extinguisher just makes sense. A regular extinguisher will do fine but products such as the FireStryker requires no maintenance and take up very little room.
Verdict: 8/10, essential. The old adage applies: It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Cost: R250 to R550
5. Puncture repair kit
If a road surface is bad enough to poke holes in your off-road tyres then there is every chance that it will claim more than one wheel, despite you having only that one spare.
This is why it is so important to keep a puncture repair kit in your 4x4. Using this kit it becomes fairly easy to fix holes caused by thorns and nails, small cuts are trickier but not impossible. Some punctures are obviously impossible to fix.
Verdict: 7/10, essential. It doesn’t take up much space so you may as well have one.
Cost: R200 to R500
6. High-Lift jack
These vehicle recovery devices are quite heavy and yet many people attach them to bull bars and roof racks using feeble bolts that could easily sheer in an accident, turning the high-lift jack into a deadly missile.
The mechanism of the jack is also prone to fouling if it is kept outside in the dust and rain, making it a hazard to use. Improper use of this device can cost you a finger, your face, or even your life.
They may look cool on your 4x4 but if you don’t maintain it properly and if you didn’t receive proper training on how to use one, it’s better that you don’t use it at all.
Verdict: 6/10, potentially dangerous.
7. Side-window wind deflectors
These acrylic screens allow you to drive with your windows open even when it rains. Why else do you think heavy smokers usually have them fitted to their cars?
Dog owners also like them because they reduce wind noise with the rear windows down.
Verdict: 6/10, useful. They may look stupid but they work surprisingly well.
Cost: R900 a set
And the money-wasters...
8. Wheel spacers
People fit wheel spacers for a variety of reasons. In 4x4 circles they are often used to give vehicles a more assertive stance. Some spacers (particularly cheap fit-all types) places extra wear on your 4x4 and may even lead to a wheel coming off while a vehicle is in motion.
If you must install them you should fit properly engineered hub-centric spacers that bolt onto the axle hub of your 4x4, not the flat discs that simply occupy space between the wheel and axle.
The downside to looking cool is that you have just increased your turning circle and you no longer fit into 'tweespoor' dirt tracks.
Verdict: 3/10, unnecessary unless you have a 4x4 with a narrow track width such as a Suzuki CJ7 or an old Willys Jeep.
Cost: Around R700 per spacer
Some swear by them and others revile them, those roll and pitch indicators on your 4x4s dashboard are often of questionable use. Factory fitted ones are best, followed by professional digital displays, but the ones you pick up at accessory stores are just gimmicks that roll and loll about on your dashboard.
Verdict: 2/10, rubbish. You’re better off looking out the window, or better yet, just obey your wife.
Rough cost: R250
10. Fuel magnetiser
4x4 vehicles are invariably heavy on juice and these magnets fitted around a fuel line supposedly ‘magnetizes’ the fuel so that it "combusts" better.
The only problem is that neither petrol nor diesel is magnetic, plus fuel hoses are often steel braided which will interrupt the magnetic field. A well maintained engine also burns around 99% of its fuel so even if they could magically up efficiency to 100% the savings would be minimal.
Verdict: 0/10, rubbish. Don’t be a chump.
Cost: R300 and up