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Why Land Rover Defender 110 300tdi ?

The question invariably arises: "Why did you choose that car to cross Africa in?" This section will deal with answering that question. There are several things we have to keep in mind when asking the above question. One of the most important is that we will be crossing the African continent by car. That means we will spend a great deal of time in the vehicle. In fact, of any activity on the trip, travelling in the car will take up the lions share of the time. So, the vehicle of choice must be comfortable, the equipment in it must be well organized, and it must allow convenience in all daily activities. It must also be reliable and easy to repair should something go wrong. There are portions of the trip where the vehicle will be the lifeline for the passengers.

So, with these tenants in mind, we broke down by category what the chosen vehicle should excel in. In no particular order those categories are:

  • Payload capacity / space efficiency

  • Off-road ability / toughness

  • Availability of spare parts

  • Prior knowledge of the vehicle

  • Reliability / simplicity of repair

  • After market accessories

  • Fuel economy

  • Comfort

  • Price

The reasoning behind all of these points for overland travel are covered very well in two books: Sahara Overland by Chris Scott and Vehicle Dependant Expeditions by Tom Sheppard. I will not reiterate everything that these adroit authors covered, but I will try to give the reasoning and logic behind the choices that we made for our trip.

To start with, I will cover why we did not choose some of the more obvious cars on the US auto market. There are a great many sport utility vehicles and pick-up trucks for sale in the US right now, and it may seem strange to the layman why we did not take the easy route and choose one of these. In general the problem with SUVs is the huge amount of luxury items that they come stacked with. While luxury items are nice for cruising the highway and commuting to work, they are very heavy and take up precious payload capacity. In addition all SUVs on the market have a substantial amount of electrical equipment tied into them including, but not limited to, computers for controlling the engine. Should the engine computer fail, the car becomes a paperweight that can only be repaired in a well-equipped garage by people with the right, sophisticated equipment. Should that happen in the middle of the Sahara miles from anywhere, with the likelihood that no cars will pass for weeks, the implications are obvious. Pickup trucks have fewer luxury appointments and higher payload capacity, but they are less convenient for traveling in, and virtually all US brands are not imported into most of Africa, so parts are hard to come by. In addition, most newer products also have the same reliance on computers.

So, a few more words on each of the above categories as we see them:

Payload capacity / space efficiency

The amount of equipment and fuel that you need to carry for a 6 month trans-Africa trip is prodigious. We will have to carry everything we need to survive independently for up to two weeks at a time. All food, water, fuel, clothing, living accessories, spare parts, tools, navigation equipment, camera equipment, medicine etc. etc. At this point I estimate that we will be carrying XX pounds of kit in each car. Not only must the vehicle be able to carry the weight, but also have sufficient interior room to organize it all neatly and efficiently. Everything should be easily accessible and be tied down so it does not get damaged on the miles and miles of rough, corrugated African roads.

Off-road ability / toughness

This may seem obvious, but any vehicle that is carrying close to its maximum payload will be strained when put onto African roads. We will cover terrain from the soft, soft sand of the Sahara to the mud pits of Central Africa that can swallow trucks whole. We will need a vehicle that can carry everything we need it to through some of the most punishing terrain in the world. We will not be doing any extreme four wheeling, but we will be straining everything on the car to its limit.

Availability of spare parts

Our cars, whatever we choose, will most certainly break down at some point in the trip. There are recorded trans-Africa trips with no breakdowns, but these are mostly in Toyota Land Cruiser BJ75s, which have never been imported into the USA. When we do break, if we do not have parts with us, they will have to be purchased locally, and so this plays a big role in vehicle choice.

Prior knowledge of the vehicle

This always plays a big role, not only in what we know how to fix, but also in our personal bias. I would be lying if I didn't admit that I am heavily biased towards Land Rovers because I really like them. But it is good to go with what you know, what you have experience fixing, and what you feel comfortable driving. Having owned 2 Land Rovers, it becomes an obvious choice.

Reliability / simplicity of repair

It's always nice to know that spare parts are available on the same continent, and hopefully in the same country that you are in, but often getting to them after a breakdown is the challenge. Vehicles that are simple and easy to work on are key here. Modern gas engines and even modern diesels that are dependant on computers and solid state electrical components are not simple and are not easy to repair or even bodge should the electronics break. For all their first world charm, electrical gadgets do not fair well under the dust and vibration seen on African roads. Also, simple mechanical system are superior; many newer automatic gearboxes cannot shift out of park if the battery is low, whereas a manual can be put into neutral and at least towed.

After market accessories

No vehicle comes from the factory fully equipped for an overland expedition. Luckily there are a host of manufacturers that make equipment from roof racks to long range fuel tanks for all makes and models of trucks. Care must be taken in buying accessories that are built to last and take abuse and not just built for posing. Most of the bull bars put on by vehicle manufactures are useless for busting through the bush.

Fuel economy

This is one of the most important issues listed here. While fuel is available all over Africa, the stints between filling stations are often very long and very grueling. In my opinion, any vehicle attempting this trip should have a cruising range of at least 800 miles. Others may advise differently, but it is hard to have too much range. The problem then arises of carrying all the fuel needed to attain that range. With a V8 gas engine a fully loaded truck may achieve 15 mpg on the interstate, but on soft Saharan tracks or through mud this will drop to 5 to 8mpg. To get 800 miles out of that you will need 100 gallons of gas. That's 20 jerry cans! That's a very large portion of any vehicle's payload. Going with diesel, you can cruise at 28mpg and may drop to around 18 under hard conditions. This means 45 gallons of diesel, which is much more manageable than 100 gallons of gas.

Comfort

This cannot be emphasized enough. A great deal of time will be spent in the car. Choose one that is comfortable, or adapt it so that it is. You will be happier, more relaxed and enjoy everything more if you are comfortable.

Price

Obviously, the cheaper the better! But in reality, you can often get what you are looking for at a manageable price if you have patience and persistence. The vehicles we wanted are not sold in the USA, so we have to have them built for us. Anything is possible if you invent the way!

Having said all of this, the US vehicle that would be most suited to the trip would be the older Jeep Cherokee Sport. It is not overly laden with luxury items, has good payload capacity, is fairly easy to repair, is very reliable with plenty of power and has a host of aftermarket accessories that could be used. The main problem is its cruising range. The Cherokee only came with a gas engine in the US.

And so, what did we choose? A Land Rover Defender 110 station wagon with a 2.5 liter turbo diesel, 5 speed manual transmission, full time four wheel drive, heavy duty suspension, long range tanks, Michelin XZL tires, bull bars, roof rack, roof top tent, refrigerator, winch, 2 spare wheels, etc.

Watch for additions to the information. 


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