Africa Overland - Best vehicle for the job????

Posted by Peter Douet on August 28, 2011 at 5:00 AM

So you are thinking of driving across Africa? Can't decide on a vehicle? Here is the lowdown on three cars that did it.


As you can well imagine there is much opinion and biased photography from our own experiences as well as plenty, if not a little too much, top gearesque banter from the owner-drivers on our own overland trip. Here are the hard facts of each vehicle. As transparent as possible, and a breakdown meaning - not getting to destination without a tow or repair.


Toyota Land Cruiser 1990 4.2 Turbo Diesel 'Cruiser Loser'.


Breakdowns (4 total): 3 x fuel filter split on engine mount going over potholes - replaced each time and modified on 3rd. Fuel system blocked and injector links misaligned - repaired.


Serious issues requiring attention ( 3 total): Suspension uprated - uprated shocks and springs all round. Split radiator due damage - repaired. Rear diff gasket leaking - replaced. Second radiator inappropriate - repleced again.


Minor issues ( 5 Total): Cracked windscreen, 2 x punctures, Front spot lights smashed, brake pads replaced all round.


Number of tows required:  2 (mechanical issues), 4 (getting stuck); Towed twice for mechanical issues due to fuel system faults.


Range Rover 2.5 Turbo Diesel 1995 'Rangie'.


Breakdowns (6 total): Front wheel king pin fell out- misalignment. Header tank split - could not maintain engine temp. Engine cylinder head failure. Overheating - radiators blocked and faulty thermostat. Radiator and fan destrpyed - botched and replaced. Starter motor failure - could not be bumped.


Serious issues requiring attention (3 total): Rear differential catastrophic failure - replaced. Radius arm bushes failed - replaced twice. Starter motor failure -overhauled.


Minor issues ( 13 Total): Topping up transmission oil due warning light. Air con failed. Heater failed. 3 x punctures. Tighteneing wheel bearings. Replacing rear diff gaskets and oil seals, Fixing split in front diff. Welding up rear bumper mounts. Brake pads replaced. Bonnet latch failed - strapped down. Smashed headlights - caused on tow.


Number of tows required: 4 (mechanical issues), 5 (getting stuck); Mechanical were due to the failed water pump, split water tank, puntured radiator, cyliinder head and gasket failure.


Toyota Surf 3.0 Turbo Diesel 1994 'The Smurf''.


Breakdowns (0 total):


Serious issues requiring attention (5 total): Serious corrosion resulting in cracked chassis - new rear section welded in. Uprating rear suspension with secondary coil springs to cope with increased rear axle loads. Overheating up steep hills at max power, really needed a new radiator but coped till the end using reduced power up hill. Batteries failed - could not hold charge and had to be bump started. Rear hocks replaced due rough roads. Rear shocks replaced yet agin and uprated to Land cruiser shocks.


Minor issues (10 Total): Oil warning lights, low engine oil- topped up. Cracked windscreen. 2 x punctures. Rear window intermittently unreleiable. Sump guards bent - bashed back into shape. Front bump stop replaced due being bent out of shape.  Fuel tank leak, minor and causd by perished fuel gauge snder unit gasket. Extra spot lights smashed up - running into non-reflective targets. Tow bar removed to reduce weight  and improve off road clearance - further towing completed using chassis rail.


Number of tows required; 0 (mechanical issues), 1 (getting stuck); - Dared by some cloggies to drive across a muddy tidal lagoon, failed miserably.


Conclusion (opinions and personal preferences may differ)


Truth be known all our cars were too old to start with, too many miles and too much rust. So if I could do it again I would have to say don't go too old and not for high milers, say max 10 years with not more than 100,000 miles is sensible. Unless of course you go for the throw away option.


For me the surf was good, plenty of power, light and great off road, but the rear axle needs uprating too much to cope with the load. Cheap to buy - but get a good one - rusty chassis's are a pain!

The cruiser was good but also they are not as reliable as people think, but still very popular and highly regarded. The cruiser has a good amount of power for the chassis, good off-road and plenty of room.

Newer Range Rovers are much better apparently but the classics are incredibly underpowered and/or overweight. The comfort and ride quality over the bumps is very good. The lack of reliability speaks for itself. The V8 motor is a must apparently and preferably manual gearbox.


Toyota's do have the benefit of being all over Africa and critically parts are available, everywhere and in every country we visited. Range rover parts proved difficult at times to get genuine parts, and often great distances had to be covered to procure parts, although better in southern Africa.


Critically, if like us, you like going off-piste or get bored easily and take your cars to the most ridiculous terrains you can deal with then the car needs to be light. No unecessary shite, max 2000- 2500 kg is good. Also be prepared for knocks and dents so fancy motors won't go home looking the same. You can go for the dirt cheap option but this could come with perils, rust in my case, but simply throw it away when you get there. Simple economics dictate that if you vehicle is worth less than £1500 when you get there then it's a write-off.

It is improtant to get the vehicle fully prepared before you leave with everything on top line before departure. Fixing things en-route is a pain and your companions will soon get fed up of waiting for vehicles to be repaired. Really - after the first breakdown or two and repair the novelty soon wears off and you'll just want to crack on.


I would say go for a crew-cab Toyota Hilux, the benefits of the Surf but can take the load on the rear axle, you could keep the roof tent low and out of the airflow which would reduce drag, improve handling and fuel economy greatly. You can get one with air con if you need it but only more to go wrong. The 3.0 KZ diesel engine has no silly electrics, simple cooling system, has the grunt to get you through the rough stuff and get up hills without blowing the arse out of the engine every time. Definently go for a manual gearbox and diesel engine. For £4000 you would get a cracker.


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