While the impact of COVID-19 has limited Aussies’ ability to explore this great country, the desire to travel still remains. And with some good signs on the horizon, people are starting to plan adventures again.
While exploring Australia by road is great, what about when you want to go off-road? There’s much more to experience and enjoy away from the tarmac, but there aren’t a lot of campervans and motorhomes that enable you to do so, especially if you’re the more adventurous type.
Sure, you could tow a camper trailer behind a 4x4, but it’s always more convenient to carry all you need with you in the one vehicle. That’s where four-wheel drive conversions from experienced Aussie company Bus 4x4 comes in.
As the name indicates, Bus 4x4 started out providing four-wheel drive conversions of Toyota Coaster and Hiace buses for the mining industry. Steve and Phill Hargreaves came to the business from two different angles - Steve was operating a large fleet of conventional buses in northern Queensland, while Phill was in the construction and heavy earthmoving game.
Both identified that existing people movers servicing the resources sector were inefficient, cumbersome and offered little comfort for passengers. So, after years of research, they founded Bus 4x4 in 2010 to produce off-road capable people movers with superior quality and comfort.
For the base units, Bus 4x4 initially turned to the compact 12-seat Toyota Hiace and mid-size 22-seat Toyota Coaster buses, both of which are proven platforms with solid spare parts and service support through Toyota’s dealer network. Bus 4x4 have since added bus body building to the four-wheel drive Iveco Daily truck and other selected models.
Steve and Phill say there’s no tougher environment to learn what works – and what doesn’t – on a four-wheel drive bus than the mining industry. The terrain is tough on vehicles (and so are the drivers!), so the part-time four-wheel drive conversion kits they developed needed to stand up to a lot of abuse.
From those early days, Bus 4x4 soon adopted a full-time four-wheel drive system, for both durability and operator efficiency.
Meeting Standards, Exceeding Expectations
As well as meeting the demands of the mining industry, the four-wheel drive conversions developed by Bus 4x4 had to meet Australian Design Rules (ADRs), too.
Creating a vehicle conversion that passes ADRs is no easy task, with a whole bunch of safety and compliance hoops to jump through, like brake, tilt and crash tests. As they passed all those requirements, Bus 4x4 are now classified as a second stage manufacturer, reflecting the quality of their work.
It should be noted that while the Bus 4x4 conversion adds extra capability to a Hiace or Coaster, it doesn’t affect the vehicle’s road legality or licensing requirements.
How It’s Done
Using a new Toyota Coaster 2WD bus as an example, the Bus 4x4 conversion starts with an all-important suspension lift. Depending on the wheels and tyres fitted, ground clearance can be as much as 230mm once the lift is done.
Next, a Coaster rear axle and diff replace the conventional bus’s non-driven front axle. The front axle’s prop shaft is connected to a two-speed transfer case, sourced from a LandCruiser 200 Series, allowing high/low range to be selected with a dial in the cabin.
The brake discs are upgraded at each end, but calipers and pads remain stock.
A similar process is used for Hiace conversions.
For parts that are bought in and not manufactured on-site at Bus 4x4’s Rocklea factory, genuine Toyota parts are preferred, for the same reasons that the Hiace and Coasters are used as a base - a wide dealer network for service support and top-level spare parts availability. In addition, Bus 4x4 have their own authorised distributors and service agents around the country.
Bus 4x4 don’t just bolt on a bunch of Toyota bits to other Toyotas - they produce a lot in-house, too.
Some of these items, developed at their own R&D facility, are specific to the needs of the mining industry, like supervisor seating in mine buses that allow in-vehicle briefing en route, saving time by eliminating the need for on-site briefings.
Bus 4x4 have developed a number of important safety measures, too, including ‘Seat Sense’, which is a seat belt warning system that notifies the driver how many passengers are seated and buckled up versus how many are just seated. Since they introduced this feature, almost all mining companies now request Seat Sense be added to their vehicles.
From Work to Play
Once adoption of these buses by the mining and resources sector began to grow, the Bus 4x4 creations came to the attention of the tourism industry. Obviously, in places like Fraser Island, Cape York and remote parts of the interior, you need a four-wheel drive and tour operators need a four-wheel drive bus. What Bus 4x4 had developed for the mining industry dovetailed nicely with the needs of tour operators, which now make up a sizable portion of Bus 4x4’s business.
Transport businesses in remote areas have added to the customer base, with interest coming from overseas, too.
More recently, and especially since the onset of the pandemic, there’s been something of a shift in the business from buses to campers, driven by families, grey nomads and individuals who can’t travel overseas, so have instead purchased (see below) a Bus 4x4 conversion for adventures within Australia – when COVID-19 border closures and lockdowns allow it!
4x4 Motorhomes is an offshoot of Bus 4x4 that offers four-wheel drive options in this market which can later be converted into campervans or motorhomes by the customer based on their DIY expertise or through external contractors.
As with the bus offerings, the campervans and motorhomes are mostly based on Toyotas, predominantly the Toyota Hiace, as it can be driven on a car licence. Motorhome conversions of the Toyota Coaster are also available, but not the Iveco Daily at present.
Using the Hiace campervan as an example, the fitout, post-4x4 conversion, can include double or single beds, a hot water system, fresh water tank, kitchen and fridge, air conditioning, interior lighting and entertainment, with a wide range of options and accessories. Please note that all fitouts must be either done by the customers themselves or through an external fitout company.
Try before you Buy
Bus 4x4 also offers a hire service but this is limited to people movers only. This is a great option for anyone who want the “try before you buy” before investing in a 4x4 conversion vehicle to see if it meets their needs.
Around 70 vehicles currently make up the Bus 4x4 hire fleet, with short- and long-term hire options available. The hire department is usually booked out for months so hiring a Hiace or Coaster with the Bus 4x4 four-wheel drive conversion needs to be planned well in advance.
Find out More
Alternatively, call (07) 3276 1420 or 1300 287 494.
On the website, you can also find downloadable files with details on each vehicle’s specs, as well as conversion options, recommendations and even some handy tips for camping and travelling in their blog section.