Touring Tips

ByEldon De CroosMay 19, 2011


By Anthony ‘Antman’ Kilner

When are twin batteries not dual batteries?

There are many new 4WDs coming out on the market that have two batteries fitted under the bonnet and are described as a dual battery vehicle. The simple fact of the matter is that this is not technically correct. This system incorporates twin starting batteries, parallel wired to act as one big battery for extreme cold starting conditions rather than the combination of a deep cycle battery and a starting battery wired separately through a battery management unit found in the true dual battery system.

There are several reasons these vehicles are set up with two starting batteries. Many vehicles are built for a world-wide market, it is more economically viable for manufacturers to build one spec for all markets. This means a vehicle sold in very cold climates that requires high cranking amps will have two batteries to do the same job as a vehicle sold in a hot country such as Africa. Countries such as Australia get a second battery that is not really required in the warmer areas such as the Northern Territory or Queensland however is valuable in colder areas such as Melbourne and Tassie.

Having twin starting batteries provides very high CCA (Cold Cranking Amps) to fire up an engine with extreme cold climate goodies such as throttle body heaters and other extreme cold start mechanisms found in vehicles like the 200 Series Toyota.

Typically these twin battery engines generate about 1000 CCA to turn over the engine. There are very few batteries on the market that can produce this amount of CCA singly, especially OE (Original Equipment) batteries. There are also some countries where 1000CCA batteries are simply not available for replacement purposes whereas virtually every country would have a 500CCA battery to replace a battery that has died.

Another smart way of doing things from the manufacturer’s stand point is that supplying two 500CCA rated batteries either side of the radiator is a great way to spread the weight of a heavy item evenly in the engine bay.

Problems start when owners buy a twin battery 4WD and think that they can hook up fridges, extra lights and more and then run into problems because the starting batteries die from being drained too far. After investigation the owner realises that what they have is extra starting boost rather than the capacity to run electrical equipment. Once a starting battery has been drained four or five times it is generally cactus and will require replacement.

There are a range of options on the market to upgrade and modify a vehicle with a twin battery system. The simplest and most cost effective option is a conversion where a third battery and tray is fitted along with an electronically compatible battery management system. This keeps the electrical system and the engine bay relatively standard.

Many people ask, “Why can’t we separate the two batteries into a dual battery system?” The answer is many fold and worth considering in detail. For starters there’s the cost. A very high cranking amp battery for starting will be needed which will be around a 1000CCA American spiral wound AGM battery about $600 plus a good quality Aussie made deep cycle battery at around $240. Then the factory wiring will need to be modified plus a compatible dual battery management system will need to be fitted. There is then two good starting batteries sitting around doing nothing which are virtually worthless. Most importantly creating this system will void the factory warranty on some major electrical components.

The above scenario might be an option to consider when the vehicle is out of warranty and the main cranking batteries are requiring replacement, however there is also an issue of safety to consider. Many people think that because the 79 Series Ute and the later 100 Series are the same engine, they can run with just one battery as the 79 Series does, however they have different engine hardware such as the warmers previously mentioned which are connected into the ECU. Start modifying the electrical system and there is a very real chance of the engine not starting. Cold weather and low oxygen have the same effect on an engine and if a single battery is fitted and the conditions are right the engine might not start which could lead to all manner of disaster.

The bottom line is to apply common sense when creating a complete touring vehicle and ensure it can handle all electrical needs from running extra lights, a fridge or even a shower. This is where Piranha can step in with a fully integrated dual battery system to suit twin battery vehicles.

Dual battery systems are sold and fitted at ARB stores nationwide. For your nearest stockist go to www.arb.com.au


Finally the truth on Automatic Transmissions, and what you need to know to make them last the long haul.

Mechanic Pedr Francis from Pat Callinans 4×4 adventures shows us how.

Automatic transmission servicing is somewhat over looked these days, especially in modern motoring, and most manufactures have deemed the automatic transmission to be a non-serviceable or not necessary item to be serviced under normal driving conditions.

But what are normal driving conditions? Well the problem is that most of our driving in this country is well out of the boundaries of normal driving and when you turn to the pages of your service manual to look at severe operating conditions you will find something similar to the following definition – operating your vehicle in rough, sandy, or muddy and snow-melted roads, beach driving and driving on dusty roads.

What will really surprise you is that another definition of severe driving conditions is stop-start city driving. So a short trip of running the kids to school and back and daily shopping trolley duties would be classified as severe driving conditions.

Temperature is another severe driving condition. Extreme freezing temps and extreme heat can have a huge impacted on how long the fluid in your automatic transmission will last

Towing is also a severe driving condition, as it generates more heat and strain on your transmission and its’ oil. But by having your automatic transmission serviced regularly and modifying it to suit the conditions you are using it for will ensure a long service life, so how often do you need to service the auto?

That really depends on the manufacture but in the interests of longevity and good maintenance I would double the service intervals. For example say your service manual said for normal driving conditions to replace the oil in your automatic transmission every 40.000kms then I would cut that in half to 20.000kms if you are driving in any of the above mentioned conditions, and who doesn’t fit into that category? If your vehicle manufacture or dealership says that’s its not serviceable or it’s not necessary to service that item under normal driving conditions. {And we know what Normal driving conditions are now] It just means that the bean counters are looking at whatever it takes to make their vehicle look like it’s the cheapest to maintain, and not what will have the best longevity and reliability. Generally speaking most mechanics and automatic transmission specialist recommend you have your automatic serviced every 6 months or 20.000kms. The reason for the date in months is because most oils will begin to lose their additive protection after six months; this means that the additives that the oil companies mix in the oil to make that type of automatic transmission fluid will start to lose its capability to do its required job. This result in the oil losing its ability to cope with the heat as well as the required lubrication needed to stop excessive wear and tear on all the internal components of the transmission. Tell tale signs of this are when your transmission fluid turns from a pretty pink colour to a dark red burnt or just black colour. So as long as you transmission has a dip stick it’s easy to check the colour of your automatic transmission fluid.

The servicing of automatic transmissions and automatic repairs are nearly always done by automatic specialists. Even new car warranty rebuilds are nearly always done by a automatic specialists, because of the tools needed and ongoing training that is necessary to keep up with all of the latest models , and all their idiosyncrasies. So no one will know your transmission better than one of these specialists. If you’re going to use the mechanic you have built a trust worthy relationship with, just ask them if they can do a full pan off and filter service of your transmission. The reason I say pan off service is because when all the fluid is drained and the pan is removed it allows an inspection to be done on the filter and bottom of the pan. What your mechanic will be looking for is any traces of metal fillings. If there is are any they will be on the magnets in the bottom of the pan and in the filter inside the transmission. Metal fillings will be an indication of something going wrong in the transmission and if your mechanic’s not sure what it is, get a transmission specialist to check it out A.S.A.P. The last thing you want is to be stuck out the back of wop wop with the wife and kids on board, when an automatic specialist could have diagnosed and repaired the problem before you embarked on your adventure.

So what else can you do to improve the life of your automatic? Well fitting an auto transmission oil cooler is a great way to extend the life of the automatic transmission fluid as well as the life of the transmission, and here is why.

Automatic Transmission Coolers are a huge asset to any vehicle that is towing or carrying heavy loads. They act as a small radiator for your automatic transmission oil, and are fitted in front of the radiator and behind the grill where it can get maximum air flow over its core. Most new four wheel drives and some light commercial and some large cars have one fitted from the factory, but definitely not all do. The auto oil cooler is always in front of the air-conditioning condenser. And if you think you have located the transmission cooler but not sure, you can follow the pipes and they should lead back to the transmission and if they do you now know where your auto cooler is, and If you’re not sure ask your automatic specialist if your vehicle has one, and if its sufficient to do the job. Some factory fitted auto coolers are very small in their size and were just fitted to keep the oil cooled under normal light load conditions. These small coolers are not suitable for heavy towing conditions or even just heavy touring loads. So in this case fitting another auto cooler in line with the standard one will double the cooling. Testing has found that when oil coolers are used the oil temperature can drop by up to 13 degrees. The cooler the oil stays the long it lasts, and the longer the service life you will get out of your transmission. How long? I here you say… Well that depends on whether you brought the vehicle new or not. If your vehicle is second hand and has never had an auto service in 200.000kms its going to be all in the laps of the Gods when it comes to its service life. The best thing you can do is get it serviced and have the oil flushed by an auto transmission specialist and ask for their advice in relation to reliability before hooking up your 3 ton caravan and heading off on that hot lap of OZ.

I feel it’s worth mentioning here that manufactures of cars, 4wds and light commercials, never primarily designed their vehicles just for heavy constant towing or carrying loads. They knew from time to time and on the odd occasion their vehicle would do some sort of hard work but never all the time. Manufactures focus on building transmissions to have long smooth gear changes which creates a pleasurable driving experience. However when you tow or carry heavy weight the gear changing takes longer causing the transmission to slip. This generates incredible heat build up in the transmission not to mention the excessive wear that is caused internally from the slipping between gear changes.

The great news is, there is a solution and it’s really not that expensive! … especially when you compare it to having to spend seven to ten thousand dollars for an average rebuild. Not to mention towing costs and the inconvenience of being broken down on the side of the road.

Setting your automatic transmission up for heavy loads and constant towing duties is not a big deal. It just simply involves modifying the automatic transmissions valve body, and your local transmission specialist can look after this for you. Not only will it increase the life of your transmission by an extra 150,000km-300,000kms, it will also make for clean, quick and crisp gear change. That means no more flaring between gear changes and improved acceleration time.

The cost of a valve body upgrade is around $500-$1000 plus a service of around $250 including oil gaskets and labour.

How it works… the valve body is like the brain of the transmission. It controls all the vital functions. It’s also the most complex component in the auto transmission. It directs hydraulic pressure to the clutches and bands at the correct time to initiate up shifts, down shifts, selects reverse, talk convertor clutch lock up, controls shift timing and quality of shifts. It also controls correct hydraulic pressure to the auto transmission oil cooler, as well as the lubrication circuit.

So when your auto transmission specialist modifies your valve body to compliment your increase in extra weight of towing, or for carrying a heavy load, it will involve increasing the line pressure and increased “clamp” on the clutches.

In a manual transmission, it’s the same as fitting a heavy duty clutch with a heavier pressure plate spring to stop the clutch slipping under extra loads. This increased line pressure will raise the clamping pressure under load and at full throttle by up to 40%. Because of the higher line pressure, auto fluid is moved more quickly through the oil cooler and lube circuit, keeping the oil cooler, which in turn keeps your transmission lubed better and oil lasting longer. This also results in quicker, crisper shifts at higher engine RPMs and still nice clean low RPM shifts.

As a mechanic I can tell you this mod is a must do for anyone that is doing a lot of hard work with their automatic transmission. Words cannot explain how good this is for the drivability of the vehicle as well as the service life of the transmission. And it’s a great feeling knowing that this is going to save you literally thousands and thousands on a rebuild down the track. That’s what I call smart motoring

“Oils ain’t oils” most of you might remember that old eighties Castrol oil advertisement and it is so correct, and simple. You must have the correct oil for the right application. There are many different types of automatic transmission fluids to suit different models of transmissions, you must always use the right fluid type for your vehicle, because putting it simply- failing to do so will cause transmission failure. And remember you should never have to top up your transmission oil if you do you have a leak. And as mechanic I can tell you that no transmission should ever have leaks. Catch ya later

Cheers Pedr Francis.

Interesting links Goggle wholesale automatic transmissions and their extreme valve body kits for towing.

For legendary advice on automatic transmissions contact

Ron Hill automatics

07 5443 4444     



Below is a mega-checklist compiled by our 4WD Mechanic Pedr Francis. Depending on the length and location of your trip, you might want to customise the list. But either way, it’s not a bad place to start. Enjoy the anticipation of your next 4X4 Adventure!


c Metric ring spanner set up to 19mm

c Screw drivers – small to large

c Phillips head – small to large

c Pliers set – needle nose – side cutters – circlip – electrical – normal

c Vice grips

c Brass & steel punch set – small and large

c Allan keys

c Large and small hammer

c Test light

c Soldering iron (gas powered) – gas refill

c Small and large shifters

c Breaker bar

c Wheel net sockets 21mm-22mm

c 38 & ½ inch drive socket sets up to 24mm

c Grease gun

c Bottle jack with sturdy base

c High-lift jack

c Small and large cold chisel

c Battery drill – 12 volt and sharp drills

c Magnet – telescopic

c Valve removing tool (tyres)

c Hex drive kit?

c Jumper leads


c Wheel bearing hub seals – large & small

c Wheel bearings – large & small

c Split pins

c Grease caps – large & small

c Breaker bar & wheel nut socket

c Leaf spring pack

c U-Bolts

c Spare shock absorber & bushes

c Rope & tie downs

c Make sure bottle jack is long enough – yes or no.


c Fuel filters c

c Air filters c

c Fan belts – c

c Spare high pressure fuel line

c Engine oil – top up

c Brake fluid – 1 litre

c A.T.F fluid (auto fluid) – check type

c Grease moly – cartridge for grease gun

c Rear brake pads – Sorento c Rear brake pads – sponsors

c Rear shock absorber spare Kia c Rear shock absorbers – sponsors

c Rear shock bushes sponsors 4wd c Rear shock bushes sponsors

c Tyre repair kit – plugs – ARB

c Fuel tank repair kit

c Radiator repair kit

c Radiator hoses – top

c Radiator hoses – bottom

c Length heater hose

c Headlight globes kia c headlight globes – sponsors

c Driving light globes c driving light globes – sponsors

c Assorted zip ties

c Electrical tape

c Gaffer tape

c Devcon & super glue

c Assorted metric nuts & bolts & washers

c Fuse kit

c Wire

c Trailer plugs – 7 Pin round – 7 pin flat

c 2 spare small & shackles for trailer chain

c Self tapping screws small and large

c Hose clamps – large and small

c Lanotec

c Diesel injector clean

c Working tarp

c Hand cleaner & bag of rags


c Check for recovery points on all 4×4 – FRONT c yes c no REAR c yes c no

c Check recovery points on trailer c yes c no

c Snatch strap

c Tree trunk protector

c Rated bow shackles

c Snatch blocks

c Hand winch

c Drag chain

c Gloves

c Winch cable dampener

c Winch extension strap

c Exhaust jack

c High lift jack

c Long handled shovel

c Axe

c Air compressor

c Tyre pressure gauge

c Tyre deflator

c MSA water blinds

c Snow chains


c First aid kit & book

c Snake book


c Sat phone


c Fire extinguisher per vehicle


c Generator

c Generator fuel

c Very long extension lead

c Power board (weather proof)

c Lights

c Camp oven

c Pots & pans

c Billy

c BBQ plate

c Fridges

c Icebox

c Food boxes

c Shower

c Gas BBQ

c Table

c Chairs

c Torches

c Spare batteries

c Tarps

c Tents

c Mattresses

c Pegs & ropes

c Cutlery

c Gas lighter

c Cooking utensils

c Washing up detergent

c Chux, c scourer c tea towel c bottle opener c can opener

c sharp knifes c egg rings c strainer c measuring cups & spoons

c plates c cheese grater c plates c vegetable peeler

c mugs c cups, bowls c cutting board c rubbish bags

c alfoil c gladwrap c baking paper c snaplocks

c bucket c clothes pegs c paper towels c firelighters, waterproof match

c water drum c fuel jerry cans


c Swags

c One single doona per swag

c 2 blankets per swag

c 2 single sheets per swag

c Pillow

c Duffle bag

c Towel

c Tooth brush & Tooth paste

c 2 in one shampoo

c Soap in container

c Toilet paper

c Suncream 30+

c Bandaids

c Anti-septic cream

c Water resistant Insect repellent

c Panadol and any personal medication

c Deodorant

c Shaver, Shave cream

c Moisturiser

c Stingos (helps sooth insect bites)

c Face washer

c Hat

c Thick woollen socks

c Underwear (for each day away – as there is no washing facilities)

c Swimwear

c Thermal wear, Beanie, Gloves

c Boots

c Jeans

c Shirts – longsleeve

c Jumper

c Extreme temperature jacket

c Note: take good sturdy 100% cotton clothing

c Sunglasses,

c Camera, video camera, ipod, mp3 player, cd’s – spare discs / picture cards

c Battery / recharger