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Are new(er) cars really more reliable? Seeking a unicorn

We are getting ready for another adventure into the remote deserts of Australia.  An important part of my preparation for the trip is to ensure our car is in top mechanical shape.  As I dropped it off at the mechanics this morning, I let him know that I had thrown an error code relating to the EGR (exhaust gas reticulation system) in the past week or two.  I had fortunately been able to use the Scan Gauge to not only get the car out of limp mode, but also been able to identify the fault to the EGR using this tool.

But it got me thinking.

We bought the car new in 2013, as a calculated part of our risk management strategy for our big lap in 2014.  We figured a new car would be more reliable than an older vehicle, and if we did break down, at least we would be covered by warranty.

And breakdown we did.  Almost 1000 km of corrugated dirt road from the nearest dealer we coasted to a stop beside the Cape York Development Road.  It seems that modern 4wd vehicles are not designed for thousands of kilometres of corrugations – nor are dealers adept at identifying issues or checking the car thoroughly at its frequent servicing schedule.  The full story of that adventure can be found here: http://project2014australia.blogspot.com.au/2014/09/returning-south-was-not-so-easy-our.html

To their credit, VW Assist were exemplary in getting us back to civilisation, and covered our flights, accommodation and rental car until we were back on the road.  But it was an expensive exercise for them, and perhaps it was my first warning bell that modern cars aren’t as bush ready as their predecessors.

And so here I am today with a faulty EGR valve.  This equipment is the Achilles heel of modern common rail diesel engines.  Part of the emission management system, it feeds exhaust gas back through the combustion chamber.  Unfortunately it can also leak, and if coolant or water enters the system, the water can also enter the combustion chamber, causing the engine to hydraulically lock.  This results in catastrophic failure of the engine.

My mechanic said it is unfortunately very common with all of the common rail diesels.  And as manufacturers struggle to meet Euro V and VI emission standards, it will only get worse.   It seems we have sacrificed reliability and longevity in the hunt for cleaner emissions.  Whilst I understand completely the requirement for cleaner air, it seems that manufacturers are only interested in getting their vehicles to their warranty end date and no more.

It is one of the fine balances of marketing and economics I guess… You make a car too reliable, and people only buy one car, meaning you slowly go out of business.  You make it reliable enough that people like it, and will buy a new one, but ensure that it doesn’t last so long that you go out of business waiting for them to return to your marque.  Argh.

So whilst I wait for the mechanic to call me back, I’ll just start looking for my next car.  It has to have the following features:

  • Simple mechanical engine that can be fixed on the side of the road with a piece of fencing wire or cloth tape, and a diagnostic port that I can plug in my scan gauge and know what is wrong instantly.
  • Loads of power to sit on the speed limit laden up hills but great fuel economy
  • No computers to fail, but must have some modern aids such as traction control, cruise control, stability control
  • A nice kangaroo proof bull bar – with air bags and crumple zones to keep us safe inside
  • Euro 6 emissions…
  • And blue tooth streaming, reverse camera, air conditioning…

I don’t ask for much do I?  Does such a car really exist?


Other thoughts as to what can make your adventures more comfortable can be found here:



Home Schooling versus Distance Education – schooling primary aged children on the road.

Schooling Primary Aged Children On The Road

When you start doing your research on schooling options for a year of travel on the road, you are basically left with two options – Home Schooling or Distance Education. I will stress that this is based on our experience with primary school aged children – not high school.

  • Distance Education is where you formally enrol in a distance education provider and do the school work they set.
  • Home Schooling is where you apply for permission to home school and have the responsibility of ensuring your child is schooled in accordance with the national curriculum.

Our local primary school was all on-board with our plan, and provided us with the workbooks the kids used over the year.  unfortunately the maximum time a Principal is allowed to grant leave for is one term, so we had to ensure we enrolled in either Distance Education or Home Schooling.

Learning how to read maps / work out distances…

Home Schooling is far more flexible when travelling as you can tailor your child’s school work to the areas you are travelling in.  Unfortunately NSW requires the schooling to take place at a NSW residential address, meaning if you are intending to home school whilst travelling, they will reject your application as they did to us.  So much for home being where the heart is.

Thankfully other states are far more accommodating, and after a few phone calls, we enrolled in the Queensland Home Schooling system.  We figured that as all students are now working towards a single national curriculum so there shouldn’t really be any difference in their learning objectives.  Our only requirement was a Queensland residential address… sometimes it helps to have family in the Sunshine State!

Schooling is a necessary evil when travelling for an extended period

We found the following worked best for our home schooling:

  • We formally announced school starting – and the boys referred to us as Mr and Mrs G. We are not Mum and Dad whilst school was being conducted.
  • We only did formal school work in the mornings, straight after breakfast. It did not work in the afternoon at all.
  • We commenced with spelling using a spelling app on their iPad.
  • We then did a few sessions of maths using the Targeting Maths app appropriate to their level.
  • This was followed with a short physical break (catching a ball or cricket).
  • Followed by a journal article or other literacy written work.
  • At night we do reading before settling down to bed.

And that is about it. We have visited so many wonderful natural places, museums and other attractions where there is so much to see and learn. We encouraged the boys to read the information placards, and explain to us what they mean.

Reading the placards reveals so much information – but don’t tell the kids they’re learning!

Schooling can also be fun – and flexible in where and when we do it. Whilst the washing machines and dryers were working double time at Denmark, we were a little crestfallen to find the library opened late on our planned morning in town. I saw an opportunity to try a little cafe latte schooling!

A nice hot chocolate can provide all sorts of motivation!

In other life skills, the boys took on the responsibility of cooking one dinner a week. This included buying the food for that meal (to a set budget). The only stipulation was that they had to account for the main meal – before they spent what was left on dessert! To their credit most meals (and desserts) were delicious.

Chores – part of the school of life!

One thing we trialed was to give the boys a project they published online. Their projects can be found here:



Just looking back on some of the magical experiences the boys have seen, and how much they have developed in the past 12 months on the road, I can honestly say that they gained an immeasurable experience in so many parts of life. It was thrilling and humbling to share this year with them, and being a part of their journey.

You might be able to read about petroglyphs made by Aboriginals – how about go and see them and sit in the same place, looking out over the same timeless view.



Who knows where the day’s lessons will come from – a chance sighting of a Sturt’s Desert Pea provided a nice botanical lesson opportunity.

Some wonderful people have helped us make it all come true. A huge thank you to the wonderful staff at our local primary school – who have all supported us on our journey. Also to my brother and his wife, who as primary teachers have also given us some great resources and hints and tips to help us on our journey.

Finally thank you to our boys – who willingly came along with us on our crazy adventure, and have shown us a whole new world through their eyes.

More information can be found at the links below – but if you are interested in home schooling – either don’t tell NSW you will be travelling – or enrol in Queensland!

NSW Board of Studies: http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/parents/home-schooling.html

Education Queensland: http://education.qld.gov.au/parents/home-education/about.html

For more information, check out Thrive On The Road – Tips and tricks to make your holiday on the road every bit as enjoyable as it should be

How to make delicious coffee while camping

If you’re like me, there is not many things more satisfying than a cup of freshly brewed coffee in the morning.  The aroma of freshly ground beans, the ritual of pouring the cup and enjoying a few moments peace and solitude whilst savouring the flavour of your coffee is hard to beat.

As good as it gets

As good as it gets

Whilst we all have our favourite cafe, blends and styles, I found a way to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee every morning of our 12 month camping trip around Australia.  And lets face it, sometimes when we were camping, it wasn’t the fumble for a few dollars change that was my biggest issue.  On occasions the nearest cafe with passable coffee was over 500 kilometres away!There are two parts to a good coffee – the coffee itself and the water.

Nothing beats a fresh cuppa whilst camping

The jolly swagman never had it this good

In many places, water is salty, chlorinated or otherwise tainted.  On some occasions we drew water from crystal clear running creeks full of delicious pure water, however the majority of times we used water we carried with us.

Depending on your taste, you may wish to purchase bottled drinking water, or ensure you fill up your tanks with good quality water whenever you can, and use only your best water in your cuppa.  A billy allowed the water to be boiled on a stove, cook top or an open fire.

The coffee is slightly more difficult to arrange.  We stored roasted beans in an airtight container in the coolest part of the car we could – but not the fridge.  A simple hand powered grinder was  sufficient to grind enough beans for each morning’s brew.  I would then use a stainless steel plunger and percolate the coffee.

Once infused to the desired strength, it is simple to pour and enjoy.  I would enjoy a fresh cup of coffee, whilst the rest of the brew would go into a spill proof thermal travel mug where it would stay steaming hot until morning tea.

Devondale Milk – The best of the Long Life Milk

If you need milk for your cup of coffee, fresh milk is available in most places.  If storage in your esky or fridge is at a premium, consider 250mL tetra-pak long life milk.  Devondale makes a very reasonable long life milk.  The best part of this arrangement is that it is simple.  When pounding along thousands of kilometres of corrugated bush tracks, the plunger and the mugs received a huge amount of punishment, but never once let me down.


For many more tips on how to make your camping trip comfortable, check out: Thrive on the Road – Tips and tricks to make your holiday on the road every bit as enjoyable as it should be

Exciting new product launch – Thrive On The Road

We shared a dream to take our family around Australia for twelve months. Such a dream takes a lot of hard work to turn into reality. With time a precious commodity, we found ourselves racing towards our departure date madly trying to get ourselves ready to leave.  We had so many doubts as to whether we had packed the right things, not enough or too much.  With so many products on the market, so many different options and decisions to make, it can get overwhelming.

During our travels we came across many families whose holidays had been all but ruined due to inadequate preparation, a lack of understanding what they would be doing, or what some would call plain bad luck.

My new e-book – Thrive on the Road – Tips and tricks to make your holiday on the road every bit as enjoyable as it should be, hopes to share some of the lessons we learnt during our preparations for our big lap, and the others we learnt along the way, so you don’t have to make the same mistakes we made.

Thrive on the road - tips and tricks to make your holiday on the road every bit as enjoyable as it should be

Thrive on the road – tips and tricks to make your holiday on the road every bit as enjoyable as it should be

A friend once told me that anyone can be uncomfortable camping. With a little bit of planning, and careful selection of equipment, camping can be fun, comfortable and enjoyable, no matter what the weather!We found that you make your own luck. We broke down in some of the remotest parts of the country, and somehow these experiences became highlights of our journey. All too easily they could have become tragedies.We hope you find Thrive on the Road – Tips and tricks to make your holiday on the road every bit as enjoyable as it should be, a useful starting point for your own journey. The most important thing of all is to pick a date, put it on the calendar and start counting down the days.

For more information, click here: