Overland Equipment & Vehicle Preperation

Knowledge

You don’t need to be a mechanic to go overlanding! However you do need to be vaguely familiar with you vehicle. The most important things are preparation and maintenance.

–          Do as much of the vehicle preparation yourself as you can. This way you will learn about your vehicle, as well as what tools you’re going to need

–          I would recommend finding a friend/institution to teach you about your vehicle, if you’re not au fait with it already. We spent a few days with Dave in Devon (www.bushmechanics.co.uk). We gained knowledge, confidence, and a good friend.

–          See below for maintenance schedule

Spares

The age old debate about weight vs. probability of use. Lists below assume a transcontinental trip of approx 20,000 miles, and are tailored to Land Rover Defenders.

Essential

X3-6 20L metal jerry cans, tailored to desired range. Do not transport on the roof if petrol/harardous offroading!

X2 paper air filters. Quickly destroyed in the desert. Consider a washable filter such as K&N if planning lots of desert driving.

X4 fuel filters

X3 oil filters for engine services

4L engine oil on board at any time

4L gear oil (EP90) on board at any time

2L DOT4 Brake/Clutch fluid on board at any time

2L Dexron III gearbox oil on board at any time

~3m of spare electrical wire

Loads of electrical connectors/crimps

Loads of fuses of different ratings

Headlight/starter motor relay. Can’t start the car without one!

Side light, indicator, brake bulbs. Can be a pain at a border if noticed to have a light out.

X2 sets spare car keys. Recommend wiring one to a hidden location under the car.

Chewing gum. Good for shoring up holes in a fuel tank.

Exhaust putty – wrap the tub in a plastic bag to avoid it drying out

Tyre inner tube

Tyre valves – if running tubeless tyres, a valve failure can be a pain.

 

 

At your discretion

Spare fan belt – can use tights/elastic in extremis!

Gasket glue – can use cardboard instead

Wheel baring kit

 

 

 

Tools

Try and do as much vehicle preparation as you can so that you get an idea for what tools you need.

Pliers

Screwdrivers (remember a big flat head for those rear brake hubs!)

Spanners – work out which sizes you need, always worth throwing in an adjustable one too

Wire cutters

Hammers – lump, nylon, and tack hammers are all useful

Chisel

Grease gun – ideally one that you can refill from a tub, unless you want to carry all your cartridges with you!

3/8” socket set

1/2″ socket set

Tyre pump. Up to you if you want a faithful foot pump or a 12v pump (liable to melt and suck in dust in the desert). Consider an air compressor if lowering tyre pressures frequently

 

Offroading Essentials

Hi Lift Jack

Sand ladders/waffle boards. Consider x4 if doing serious/solo offroad.

 

Optional Tools

Tyre levers. Tyre repair places of varying professional standards available throughout the developing world (in varying quality!), but it’s nice to feel independent

Puncture repair kit. No point having levers without this!

 

Books

Haynes!

Parts Manual

Africa Overland

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Land Rover Defender Buying Guide

This is specifically aimed for those buying Land Rover Defenders, but certain points are applicable to other vehicles. It is skewed towards those buying a Defender for an overland expedition, but is applicable to all potential buyers.

Top tips:

–          Buy early, ideally 6-12 months before your trip. This gives you loads of time to get to know your vehicle and iron out any problems

–          Have a read of the basic anatomy of a Defender before you go and look at one. Better still, get someone to show you around one that you’re not intending to buy

–          Make a list of things to look at and tick them off as you go along

–          Go and look at a couple of vehicles before going to see ‘the one’ – the advert that sounds like it’s the perfect car

Vehicle Identification & Paperwork

Check the DVLA Vehicle Registration Document (V5) details are correct. Compare the chassis number on the V5 with the vehicle its self. On Defenders, you can find the vehicle identification number (VIN)/’chassis number’ in two places: on the VIN plate, located on top of the brake master cylinder at the rear left of the engine compartment on RHD models, and stamped into the chassis on the driver’s side. Look at the chassis under the front wheel arch; it should be in front of the wheel and behind the towing eye. You may need to use a wire brush!

Also check the engine number on the V5 matches the vehicle. This number should be punched in to the engine block.

Ask about service history. These are often non-existent on old Land Rovers as many owners service themselves. Engine oil and filters should be changed every 6,000 miles, differential and gearbox oils and brake fluid changed every 20,000 miles. When was the timing belt last changed? Have the universal joints been replaced on the drive shafts? Does it have the original brake/clutch lines? When were the brake pads last replaced? A good service history/working knowledge of the car implies it’s been well taken care of.

Outside Inspection

–          Is the car level? Sounds obvious, but unladen, it shouldn’t tilt to one side!

–          Look for any leaks on the tarmac under the car (oil drips etc)

Engine Compartment

–          Start from COLD

–          Does it idle OK?

–          Is the engine block very clean? If it looks as though it has been wiped clean recently, it may an attempt to conceal an oil leak

–          Oil leaks, sprays, drips

–          Air filter. Take it out and have a look. If it’s full of oil, this implies the engine is running at too high a pressure, suggesting work piston rings or other major issue. If it’s dirty and clogged, it’s a good indicator that the car hasn’t been looked after.

–          Inspect all the pipes in there – radiator pipes, oil pipes, fuel lines, fuel injector lines, intercooler pipes. Check for leaks.

–          Check the oil level. If it’s low, again this implies the car hasn’t been looked after.

Gearbox

–          Check for smooth gear selection

Transfer Box

–          Test both the High and Low Ranges. Do they select easily, do they jump out gear at all?

–          Check for correct selection of the differential lock

–          Make sure the diff lock light works on the dash board

Clutch

–          With the car stationary, put the clutch in and select 5th gear. Bring the clutch up slowly. It should stall the car. If now, it implies the clutch is slipping.

Handbrake

–          Test the handbrake on a hill

Steering

–          Look for play in the steering wheel

–          Turn the wheel to the extremities – listen for any new squeaking. This implies the steering pump is on the blink

–          Veering on driving implies poor tracking/laxity in the track rods

Brakes

–          Inspect the brake lines as already mentioned

–          Does the pedal feel spongy? Implies old brake fluid or master cylinder fault.

–          Have a look at the condition of the brake disks

Underneath the car

–          Lubricant leaks – from plugs, gaskets, brake or clutch lines, or oil seals (big job).

–          Chrome swivel balls – rust, oil seals

–          Play in steering mechanisms – pull hard on the track rods looking for any play

–          Lubricated drive shaft? Well greased universal joints implies a well looked after car

–          Check for play in the universal joints. To do this, put the car on the flat and chock a wheel, put the car out of gear and take off the handbrake. Use a flat headed screwdriver or similar to rotate the UJs. There shouldn’t be any play/give in the joints.

–          Condition of brake lines and clutch line, including flexible brake hoses (one at the back, two at the front)

–          Chassis. Classically rusts on Land Rovers! Have a really good look at the front cross member, outriggers, and inside edge of the rear cross member. Use a brush and don’t be afraid to scrub away dirt! Tap with a hammer on any suspicious areas.

–          Exhaust. Make sure it isn’t loose, look for leaks (puffs of smoke on starting the engine)

Bodywork & Chassis

Land Rovers rust. Despite their aluminium body panels, the framework is steel, as is the chassis and the bulkhead (the large vertical divider between engine and passage compartments). They classically rust through the bulkhead or on the chassis cross members (horizontal bits connecting the left and right main parts). Any serious rust/holes require major welding, which is going to cost an absolute minimum of £100, much more if serious. Galvanised chasses are amazing if you can find them, but bear in mind they won’t have a chassis number which is a problem for African borders!

–          Bulkhead. Remove carpets, look under the bonnet, check for paint bubbling

–          Chassis. Inspect rear cross member, tap along with a hammer. Look the whole way along either side, especially in the wheel arches.

–          Doors. Big security issue. I would recommend removing the door cards and inspecting the internal framework. Replacing a door costs £100 or more each.

Wheels

–          Tyres are expensive. Five new BFGoodrich Allterrains cost ~£625! Factor this in to the total price – if the car’s going to need new tyres immediately, it’s a considerable amount on top of the asking price

–          Ideally you should jack up each wheel individually and check for vertical and horizontal play in the wheel baring

 

Electrics

Any Land Rover over 10 years old is at risk of electrical problems. They’re renowned for being very simple circuits (pre TD5) that often fail.

–          Check all the lights.

–          Dashboard dials

–          Diff lock light

 

MOT

Potentially costly little things can be worth looking out for if the MOT is about to expire!

–          Seat belts. Do they retract independently?

Test Drive

–          Vibration – can be expensive and difficult to find and correct!

–          Temperature – make sure your test drive is long enough to weed out any overheating issues.

–          Wheel hub temperature. A hub that is hotter than the rest can imply a failing baring.

–          Have another look under the car after it has stood for a while post test drive. With the lubricants warm, a leak might be more obvious.

Choosing Your Overlanding Vehicle

Vehicle selection for overlanding is the biggest decision you will make, bar your route, as it will affect your life every day of your trip. The options are described below.

Toyota Land Cruiser

Hugely widespread in every European/African country, a Toyota 4×4 will be strong, reliable and good value. Expertise and spares are widely available, even in the back of beyond. Go for the 70 series, they’re the offroad workhorses, although can be difficult to find in the UK.

Land Rover

Former King of Africa, Land Rovers are still mighty beasts, with a strong cult following. In general, in the UK expect to pay between about 120-150% of the price of an equivalent age Land Cruiser, and to get less features (no air con, basic interior, no CD player etc).  Realistic options are the Defender or Discovery. If you’re overlanding in a Series III or older, I want to hear from you!

Defender

Land Rover’s replacements for the Series III were the 90 and 110 models, which they rebranded as Defenders in 1991. The 90 and 110 refer to the length of the chassis in inches, so 90 is the short wheel base and 110 the long wheel base (130 also available, collectors items!). I would recommend the 110 for overlanding, as there’s much more space and you sleep in the back stretched out if you’re 6’2” or less!

For overlanding, look for the 200TDi or 300TDi engines (1990-1997ish). These are 2.5L four cylinder engine blocks, with a reputation as the best engines LR ever made. They’re simple, will run off poor quality fuel, and have minimal electrics – all positives in developing countries. The turbo and intercooler give them more power than the earlier diesel engines. I would avoid the TD5 or later, as they have too many electronics on board.

Discovery

Out of my area of expertise; buy a diesel (simpler and a more widely available fuel), aim for the 200TDi or 300TDi engines.

Other 4×4

Nissan Patrol, Toyota Hilux, Isuzu Trooper, Mitsubishi Shogun are all options, but less common. As such expertise and spares are less available. Mercedes UniMogs are for the well endowed/family overlanders.

Novelty

Many people overland in weird and wonderful vehicles. Do it! It’s very possible, so long as you have time on your side and infinite patience to wait for spare parts/tows! Possibilities include tuk tuks, Citroen 2CVs, VW Beetles…

 

Other considerations

Location of Purchase

If planning a one-way overland expedition, there’s always the option of starting at the far end and driving back home. Bear in mind that this may require you to spend a long while at the far end organising purchase of vehicle, tools, spares, and documents!

Diesel vs Petrol?

Buy a diesel if you’re going off the beaten track. Diesel is more widely available, the engines are simpler and easier to fix, and they’re often more economical. Diesel is also much safer to handle/transport.

Alloy Wheels

These look great, but once bent they are good for nothing. Better to opt for steel wheels, which can be bashed back into shape! Consider 6.5’ Land Rover steel rims rather than the standard 5.5’, they will let you mount 245 width tyres and above.

Wheel Spacers

Often fitted in tandem with alloy wheels, these allow bigger tyres but also put greater strain on the wheel barings and steering mechanism. Your call.

 

(Essential) Add Ons

Roof rack – a must have. The bigger the better in my opinion, as it gives you the flexibility to chuck everything on the roof. Expensive to buy separately, so aim for a car with one already fitted.

Roof tent – expensive, luxurious, convenient. Depends upon your budget. Allows safe and quick assembly of camp, but takes up a lot of roof rack space. A cheap alternative is to line a roof rack with plywood and pitch a bog standard tent on top.

Spare wheels x2 – punctures are common off the beaten track!

Snorkel – ideal for the wet seasons, and for the desert (reduced dust)

Split charge relay and second battery – great to run a 240v inverter, for charging phones, cameras, laptops etc

Winch – electric winches are expensive and require the correct bumpers. It depends how extreme the offroading you’re planning is, but most people use their winches infrequently if at all on overland trips. A decent hand winch is a good compromise. Alternatively, a slightly more labour intensive winch can be rigged using your hi lift jack.