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Words and Pics Scott Heiman How do you protect your 4X4 and accommodation from infestation...

Hema’s Tips to Critters

Words and Pics Scott Heiman

How do you protect your 4X4 and accommodation from infestation between road trips?

While your rig may offer a comfy nest while you’re on the road, when you get back home, it can be equally appealing to a bunch of uninvited organisms who’ll happily take up squatter’s rights while you’re not looking. Much as we need to maintain a regular servicing regime to keep us rolling, we also need to put some elbow grease in to store our rigs properly between trips. If we don’t, we may find that our ‘she’ll be right attitude’ comes back to bite us next time we hitch up. 

(Image: It's not just the laundry that needs cleaning.)

DON’T FORGET TO CLEAN

Like rust, mould is the enemy of our equipment and sleeping areas. Travelling through the air, mould spores thrive on moisture and will find a happy home on our rig’s dark, damp surfaces. 

Most of us know to store our beds, whether that be a rooftop tent, a trailer or a tent, dry. This means that, if we’ve packed up in the rain on our last morning outdoors, we need to erect everything all over again when we get home. Otherwise, we’ll be facing a major task of mould-cleaning and re-sealing in a few weeks’ time. Leave it too long and the repair bill will make your eyes water. 

And it’s not just downpours that we need to be conscious of. If you live in a high-humidity area, you need to air-out everything out, otherwise, mould will form while you’re not using it. The first whiff of a problem might be the putrid scent of reproducing fungal spores the next time you start packing for your next trip away. And no one wants pneumonia from breathing that in. 

In a similar vein, we need to habitually clean our equipment, gear and vehicles — inside and out — when we get back to base. Empty the cupboards, and poke around in the nooks and crannies. Trust me, chances are you’ll find a wet towel or some perishable food items that, if left to fester, will create a smell that will outlast cockroaches. 

Examining our camping and 4WD gear this way is also a great way to catch problems before they become catastrophes. Watch out for tell-tale signs of mould on walls, ceilings, bedding or floor coverings. Check the crevices that escape your attention day-to-day. The dark or white stains and the musty smells will tell you that something’s not right. Whether it’s a leaking roof or dodgy plumbing, there’s a problem that needs your attention. 

(Image: Rats chewed into this water tank and made a lovely home.)

ROUTINELY INSPECT

It’s not just the damp spots that you have to worry about. Rats and mice like nice dry, undisturbed areas to nest. And your dormant vehicle and equipment may be an attractive option. We’ve seen rats nest in air conditioner tubing, under seats and in the engine bay. 

It’s not so much the native species like hopping mice that will cause trouble. Instead, be on the watch for introduced pests like the house mouse, brown rat and black rat. Whether they hitchhiked when you passed through an agricultural area some 1000km away or found refuge from the neighbour’s cat, they can make an ungodly mess.

They’ll happily gnaw on your wiring, burrow through your mattresses and nibble on your non-perishable food if you leave it stocked. Apart from the obvious damage caused by these vermin, their faeces can harbour nasty diseases like hantavirus, salmonella and leptospirosis. The key to prevention is to ensure that you close all your doors and hatches tightly. Leave a couple of mouse and rat traps or repellent around and keep an eye open for droppings. A rat will produce up to 50 half-inch droppings a day, while a mouse can push out a whopping 100 rice-sized pellets. 

Keep a watchful eye for cane toads too. These warty aliens have been recorded hitching rides to destinations as far south as Melbourne. And while this unwelcome guest may not survive to establish a flourishing new population in Victoria, it’s poisonous to your pooch.

(Image: After unpacking let your camper breath and dry out.)

WATCH WHERE YOU PARK

Have you noticed that ants start climbing walls when the weather forecast predicts rain? Take a closer look. Are they carrying their eggs? If so, they’re looking for a drier place to build a colony and your vehicle and sleeping equipment can become an easy choice.

This potential problem is easy to fix. Firstly, park your 4x4 on a clean, flat bare earth or cemented area. Don’t park under a tree and don’t let it touch any tree branches. Now, add any of the following deterrents for self-defence:

  • Put natural deterrents inside, such as strongly scented herbs, cinnamon sticks, tea tree oil or peppermint oil. This also works for mice. In fact, if you have the option, park near your kitchen herb garden for added effect. And make your own herb-based repellent to use next time you’re on the road.
  • Sprinkle baby powder or ash around your tyres, jockey wheel and stabilisers. Ants hate it and won’t walk over it.
  • Coat the same parts with a chemically enhanced long-life surface spray or ant sand. 
  • When your gear or vehicle is open and airing, let off an insect bomb to kill any hitchhikers that don’t belong inside.
  • Leave everything as clean as possible. Food scraps encourage occupation and infestation. Try wiping-down surfaces with white vinegar instead of disinfectant. Ants hate the smell. 

Whatever you do, recognise that ants and other ‘pests’ can play a vital role in nature when in the right place. For example, try not to ‘declare war’ on ants while you’re travelling. After all, as David Suzuki once said, “If all humans disappeared today, the earth would start improving tomorrow. If all the ants disappeared today, the earth would start dying tomorrow.” So, remember that some chemical-based deterrents can destroy an entire ant colony. 

(image: Spray everything that touches the ground with barrier spray.)

WATCH YOUR VEHICLE

Did you know that weeds and seeds cost our agricultural industry $4 billion a year in lost production and control? Now ask yourself, do you want to be responsible for spreading weeds across Australia?

A dirty 4x4 is not a badge of honour. It might better be described as an act of aggression against our natural environment. If deposited in the wrong place, the mud, dust and debris that collects in crevices will harbour plant material such as seeds, diseases, pathogens, fungi and other destructive biological agents. They also encourage rust on your rig and entice insects. 

Knowing this, one of the best things you can do to increase the longevity of your vehicle and gear — and to help maintain healthy biodiversity — is to properly wash down at a designated wash point. Do this periodically while you’re on the road to avoid transporting hazards from one bioregion to another.

(Image: Treat all water you put in the tank to help keep gunge at bay.)

EMPTY OR FULL?

It’s an age-old question. Do I leave my water tanks and jerries full, or empty?

There are two trains of thought and the arguments won’t stop until the earth itself stops spinning. The theories are that: (1) by eliminating air and sunlight from the tank, ‘nasties’ such as mould, bacteria and algae aren’t able to grow. In which case, there’s no harm in leaving the tanks full. Alternatively: (2) by emptying your tanks and jerries you avoid such microbial growth in the first place.

There’s a problem with both scenarios. Specifically, if your tanks are left full, air will still come in via your breather. This means that the anaerobic process that supports the growth of mould, etc. will continue despite your best efforts. Alternatively, your vessels will never be completely empty, no matter how hard you try. There’ll always be a smidge left at the bottom. Add a little natural humidity and you’ll grow a microcosm of bacteria anyway.

So, pick an approach and stick to it. By paying attention to the issue in the first place, you’re off to a good start. Add an air filter to your breather so you can filter and treat your water as it goes in. And if you’re really worried, add a tank sanitiser to your tanks, flush them out, re-fill using a filter and water treatment and start again.

1 comment

  • Raymond Goss: November 29, 2021

    My old pop top is an ant megacity. It is parked on grass and tall weeds. Think I need to put down a compacted surface or concrete pad, and hit the tyres and jockey wheel with surface spray on a regular basis. Then blast the occupants with an insect bomb. Trips will be peaceful without my wife complaining about the ants.

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