Vehicle and Modifications
VEHICLE AND MODIFICATIONS FOR WILDERNESS AND OVERLAND TRAVEL
For an excellent article, “Choosing an Overland Vehicle” go to http://www.xor.org.uk/silkroute/equipment/choosevan.htm
Land Cruiser in Uganda at the Equator
For details on the modifications we did to the Land Cruiser see details under Vehicle tab. We purchased a Land Cruiser for our Africa expeditions as it is the vehicle of choice for most UN and NGOs working in Africa so parts and service was readily available. We strongly believe that the Land Cruiser 80 Series is truly the best and toughest vehicle to take across Africa. No matter what the vehicle faced she went up the steepest roads, down the worst roads, cruised over 1000’s miles of corrugation, over the biggest rocks, deepest mud and rushing waters, she stopped at nothing except the gas(petrol) station.
We purchased it in South Africa and it was modified by Stuart Bailey who did a magnificent job. It we had to do it again we would change nothing. Unfortunately we were unable to import the Land Cruiser into Canada and sold her in South Africa. We felt like we had lost a best friend, we loved that cruiser.
CHOOSING AN OVERLAND VEHICLE FOR THE AMERICAS
As strange as it may seem North America does not have the selection of off road expedition vehicles found in Europe, Africa or Australia. It was a tough decision deciding how we were going to get a vehicle that would meet our needs without breaking the bank. Finally we decided to go the truck with pop up camper scenario, as we planned to be on the road for up to 3 years. So we had 2 questions which truck, and which camper, our research had began.
CRITERIA FOR CHOOSING A TRUCK
- Payload; does the truck have the payload capacity for a camper and all our equipment and supplies. Weight to power ratio important
- Off Road Capability reliable and safe 4X4, can this truck survive the roads and conditions we may encounter?
- Serviceability and ability to get spares and will it be easy to repair, is this a “global vehicle” with representatives in most countries we are planning to travel to?
- Fit into shipping container, can this truck with a camper fit into a shipping container as we plan to ship the vehicle as we travel between continents?
- Affordability, can we afford this truck?
- Cab interior suitable can we make the inside of cab livable for extended driving and many months perhaps years on the road
- Comfortable to drive; we have a 3 hour limit rule for driving so we each take turns driving, switching driver every 3 hours. The truck must be comfortable for both drivers to drive
- Safety and Security, what is the safety record like, is it easy to upgrade the security, should we need to
- Stick to what we know Diesel or gasoline a big question but we decide we know gasoline engines so we are going to stick with what we know. despite most recommending diesel. It was also our experience in Africa that we could always purchase petrol (gas) which is not always possible with diesel
- Modify only what we need to. What modifications do we need? We do not want to add modifications or equipment that we will not need. Waste of money and adds to curb weight
- Maneuverability; could we travel on those narrow tracks, across the river on that flimsy ferry, and may even fit into a parking space
- Left hand drive; as most of our future travel plans will be in countries for left hand drive vehicles we would not consider a right hand vehicle. Our experience is driving on the “wrong” side of the road adds to the stress of driving in poor and dangerous conditions
- Weight and size of truck not restricting us, must be able to cross small/primitive bridges or be put on small rafts or ferries
Preparing Cruiser for the 1st Overland Journey
SO WHY A NISSAN TITAN PRO4X4?
Choosing the truck was a difficult decision as most trucks that met our criteria were all very similar. The decision came to to the payload capacity of the Nissan and price. We seriously considered the Toyota Tundra and Ford F150. We were also very impressed with the service and advice offered to us by Nissan when they knew what we needed the vehicle for. They even took the time to search out dealers in South America who could service our Titan.
An article with details of the Nissan can be found on the Expedition Portal Forum
POP UP CAMPER CRITERIA
- Weight; this was to be our biggest challenge keeping the camper within the weight limit of the truck when fully loaded.
- Ruggedized must be able to rattle and shake with out breaking. Everything needed to be well built and if broken easily replaced
- Daily living: camper that would enable us to attend to activities of daily living, sleeping, cooking, eating and washing
- Emergency living area; we needed to be able to sleep, cook and eat inside without having to put up the pop up tent in cases such as bad weather or unsafe areas
- Power Supply: must be independent of hook up so can function when electricity outlets are not an option
- Storage space; storage takes priority over luxury. Although we are minimalists we know we have lots to take on an expended journey and need tons of easily accessible storage space.
- Easy to Clean; surfaces must be washable and tough to withstand constant dirt, mud and moisture
- Security and safety; difficult to access when left in storage or if shipped in open container
- Protection against bug entry: use of no See Um mesh screens rather than regular mesh screens
- Affordability; it had to be built to our specifications and within our budget. If we don’t need it we don’t want to pay for it.
DESIGNING THE POP UP CAMPER
Tom downloaded the free Google Sketchup which we used to help us design the camper in a simple easy to use CAD program.
We visited several suppliers of Pop Up Campers and spoke to owners of pop up campers we were considering. We even considered building the camper ourselves, but quickly ruled that out due to our lack of knowledge, skills and time. Our challenge was also finding a supplier who was willing to build the camper to our specification.
Some of the challenges are the camper is to be as light and as compact as possible yet be able to be lived; in sleep and cook in it with the pop up down should we be in incumbent weather or unsafe environments. It also needed to have adequate storage space.
We are still in negotiations with a dealer but the details of the specification have began in earnest
VEHICLE EQUIPMENT REQUIRED
- Fire Extinguisher; this is mandatory in some countries and was asked to be shown by officials and of course it is excellent idea to have one
- Red warning triangles; mandatory in some countries and was asked to be shown.
- Recovery gear, high lift jack and sand ladders, we used all in Africa.
- Spares; this depends on your vehicle and the ability to acquire spares while on route.
- Mechanical Tools; good tools are essential we even had to lend tools to the bush mechanics when working on our cruiser.
- One full spare tires. We went through 3 sets of tires and had a total of 14 punctures (80,000km/50,000m). Certain roads “eat” tires e.g., Nairobi to Isiola. We are still debating whether it will be necessary to carry 2 full spare tires or whether we can get away with just one.
- Sunscreens for windows; invaluable in keeping temperature of interior of vehicle cool when parked and adds to security if others cannot see inside vehicle. I strongly suggest you get ones specially made for all your windows that are easy to put up and store.
- Window cleaning supplies; yes it matters, bugs and dusts are an every day occurrence. Make a habit of cleaning windows every day especially if planning to take photos through windows.
- Spare key; hidden on the out side of the vehicle
Vehicle Registration and License
- We recommend that you get your vehicle documents and registration translated into the language(s) of the countries you will be traveling through. For example in West Africa- French and South America –Spanish. Portuguese, French.
- Photocopy all the vehicle documents for traveling in West Africa and Central and South America. Many officials will accept the copies rather filling in all their forms and you make them happy
- Our vehicle insurance was purchased through Campbell Irving in London. There are several insurance companies that offer international insurance on vehicles, however make sure they actually will cover the international countries you plan to visit. We were turned down by several “international insurance companies” when they heard our intended route.
- 3RD Party insurance compulsory in some countries. What you need will depend on the specific countries you are traveling through. Some border crossing have insurance offices where you can purchase the 3rd party.
Carte Grise (grey card) Africa
- An international certificate for motor vehicle required in West Africa. The vehicle registration papers can be shown in place of a carte grise, however they will require a copy of the registration papers be translated into French.
3rd Party Insurance In Africa.
- COMESA is 3rd party insurance for several East Africa countries and can be purchased at the borders.
- ECOWAS Carte Brune insurance for 15 West Africa countries
- CEMAC Carte Rose insurance for Central Africa
If you are involved in an accident do not expect the insurances to pay out. You will need your own 3rd party insurance if you want actual coverage.
Update August 2015
We have received many emails asking us whether we would make any changes to our choice of camper and truck.
The Nissan has proved to be an excellent choice of vehicle for us. It handles extremely well both on road and off road. It is a pleasure to drive. We have been amazed at the 4X4 capabilities and comparing it to our Land Cruiser it does just as well. We love the power of the V8 especially when trying to pass slow moving trucks up mountain passes.
This camper and design has been excellent. It has handled our rough lifestyle well. It has stood up to some serious shaking and rocking when off road with no problems. We are very pleased with our design and would not change anything.
We are in the process of planning our next extended overland trip. We are debating whether to ship our Nissan and Camper or whether to purchase new. We have not made a decision yet.