Once you leave the cities and regional towns behind, fuel stations are fewer and further apart so making sure you have enough fuel to well and truly get you to the next service station is absolutely critical.
Running out of fuel on a remote track will at the very least be inconvenient but could also be dangerous.
There are other good reasons to have plenty of fuel carrying capacity on board:
- You give yourself the option to buy more fuel at major centres and reduce the amount you need to pay at remote and expensive fuel stops.
- Carrying fuel in multiple tanks (or jerry cans) gives you built in redundancy in case one of your tanks is punctured. The last thing you want to see is all your fuel pouring out onto the track from a hole punched with a rock or stake. This has happened to me - a stray rock broke the barb that connects the fuel hose to the rear tank so diesel was pouring out when the engine was running. Fortunately when I switched to the front tank it stopped leaking.
- You give yourself the option to change your plans and detour off your original route if the opportunity arises.
So how much fuel do you need to be able to carry?
Well the simple answer is that it depends on what mileage your vehicle gets and how remote you will be going.
Almost every vehicle will get at least 500 km out of the standard built in fuel tank(s).
Generally the newer the vehicle, the more economical it will be and diesels tend to get better mileage than petrol/LPG vehicles, especially when loaded up and towing.
There are not many places in Australia that you would travel more than 500km without somewhere to buy fuel along the way.
But there are some . . like the Tanami road or Cobourg Peninsula road from Jabiru in Kakadu.
Serious outback tracks like the Canning Stock Route have their own specific fuel requirements which you'll need to build into your plan if you are heading there, but in this case I'm talking about the general roads and tracks that could be included on a big lap around Australia.
So in theory, your standard fuel tank(s) should be enough in most cases.
But . . . you don't want to be pushing the limits of your fuel capacity - You need to allow extra fuel for side trips and detours, head winds, hills, 4WD tracks and other factors which will result in you using more than expected.
In this case, jerry cans are a relatively inexpensive way to add fuel capacity to your vehicle.
Consider though that 5 jerry cans will give you about 100 litres which at a relatively economical 15 litres per 100km adds about 650km range.
But 5 jerry cans take a lot of storage space.
Do you have somewhere on your rig to safely store jerry cans of fuel?
Personally I wouldn't make a habit of carrying them on the roof like many people do as they could turn a rollover into a very firey situation. It also adds a lot of weight up top actually increasing the chances of a rollover.
And don't even think about putting them on the bull bar up front . . . A couple of years ago saw two backpackers at a roadhouse on the Stuart Highway in an old petrol powered Hiace van with two plastic fuel jerry cans roped to their flimsy bull bar . . .Crazy!! Imagine the fireball had they hit a cow or even a big roo and the petrol splashed into the hot engine!!
You don't want to have them inside the cab either if you can avoid it because of the smell, general lack of space and safety issues.
So the only real viable option is to have one or two on the rear bar of your vehicle if you have jerry can holders and/or use your caravan/trailer.
If you have the room to carry them safely and don't mind doing trackside refuelling with a funnel then jerry cans are a viable and inexpensive option to expand your fuel capacity.
Long range fuel tank(s)
Our 80 Series Landcruiser (Turbo Diesel) comes with two tanks as standard - a 90 Ltr up front and a 45 ltr behind the rear axle.
Fully loaded and towing our camper trailer, we will average around 17 ltr/100km fuel usage.
This gives us a theoretical maximum range of about 750 - 800km.
With this setup though I would want at least 250km in reserve, so we're back to about 500km range with a built in comfort zone.
This isn't enough!
Before our Big Lap we opted to replace the rear 45 ltr tank with a much larger 166 ltr Long Ranger tank (see photo above) which brought our total fuel capacity to just over 250 ltr - nice!
This extended our range to around 1400 km or a very comfortable 1000 km+.
We were actually able to drive the full length of the Tanami Road from Halls Creek to Alice Springs without needing any additional fuel along the way.
There are other benefits as well:
- All of the fuel is stored safely under the vehicle where any leaks will go straight to the ground.
- We have fuel in two separate tanks so we have a backup in case one leaks or fails.
- The centre of gravity is as low as possible.
- No messing about with jerry cans and funnels on the side of the track.
- We have the flexibility to fill up at much lower prices in towns and cities and avoid paying top dollar at remote stations.
The downside to a long range tank is the added upfront cost and the fact that you often need to relocate your spare wheel.
However if you factor in the saving on fuel prices alone, on a trip around Australia you could easily recoup most or all of this cost.
Then you have the tank for the life of the vehicle so you'll keep saving well into the future.
Your standard fuel tank setup is unlikely to be enough for a trip around Australia.
Using jerry cans to extent your fuel capacity is a perfectly viable option and if you have the storage space and don't mind an occasional trackside fuel up, then this is a simple solution to extending your fuel range to cover virtually any trip in Australia.
However if you have a vehicle that can have a long range tank fitted and you have the dollars to invest, this is the best option for sure.