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Vehicle Choice - Fit For Purpose..
Choosing a vehicle for use outside Europe changes one's priorities. Reliability suddenly becomes probably the most important aspect of a vehicle which might be hundreds if not thousands of miles from a main dealer with computer diagnostics and a warehouse of spare parts. Yet most of us also have to live with using the same vehicle for everyday commuting when at home. Compromise is therefore the order of the day: a basic early Land Rover Defender 90 might be brilliant off road in the Sahara, lightweight and easy to fix in the bush, yet prove difficult to live with in a wet UK winter commuting to work!
| Nissan Patrol. Warn 9.5XP WinchAsfir underbody Protection
|| Old Man Emu SuspensionLong Ranger 150Litre Fuel Tank
|| Front ARB Air-locker DifferentialRear Nissan Locking Differential
Undoubtedly the current Land Rover Discovery 4 offers the most car-like on tarmac drive with sophisticated & spacious interior together with awesome off-road ability. Yet, despite recent improvements it is in the lower half of Which? latest reliability survey. Reliability data is also available from: What Car's reliability Index. Customer satisfaction is good, however, as is the 3 year Europe-wide warranty with vehicle recovery. If your plans don't extend beyond Western Europe then it probably represents a good bet - finance permitting! This is more the case now that specialist Off-Road preparation companies are getting to grips with the vehicle and serious off-road use is becoming more popular with owners. See the information available and vehicles prepared by Frogs Island 4x4. Even the daddy of off-road vehicles, the Land Rover Defender in its latest guise is stuffed full of modern electronics - however it does still offer unparallelled meccano-like adaptability when it comes to customisation. Sadly Land Rover doesn't offer third world retro-spec vehicles new in the same way that Toyota does, enabling you to buy a 1970's spec vehicle brand new that may not meet European emissions regulations, but which offers simple bush-fixable reliability. These can be personally imported from the Middle East. See Frog's Island website as above. Warts and all reviews and data on UK market vehicles are available from columnist Honest John's website.
When in 2007 my faithful 1992 160,000 mile Range Rover Tdi Classic was becoming increasingly rust-ravished I started drawing up a shortlist of my requisits for a replacement. If you have ever been bounced along a rough off-road trail in a leaf sprung vehicle you will understand my putting coil springing near the top of my list. Reaching Africa involves a long haul through Europe, so quite comfortable air-conditioned motorway cruising also features highly. Solid axles mean more protection for transmission components and less reliance on rubber gaiters to keep sand and water out. The reduction in comfort versus independent front suspension was a trade off I was happy to make - plus a heavily laden vehicle doesn't suffer the loss of under diff clearance that goes with independent suspension.
All singing and dancing traction control systems are great - while they are working: I prefer manually locking diffs even if this requires more driver input. Traction Control systems rely on the ABS braking system and sensors. When worked hard in hot sand this can result in overheated brakes and possible failure. When the brakes overheat the electronics shut down for safety - which may be the last thing you want if you are only half way through a difficult stretch! However the latest electronic traction control systems with crawl control are effective in sand and mud where simple mechanical diff locks may not succeed on their own. In conjunction with locking differentials it allows the vehicle to creep forward where otherwise you would be digging! See video
Expedition Roof Racks may on occasion be a necessity, but they move the centre of gravity of the vehicle dangerously upwards as well as increasing the '& the kitchen sink' mentality of packing. Land Rovers, particularly those with aluminium rooves and gutters, are susceptible to problems with gutters bending if racks are overloaded preventing the doors opening! Winches certainly make self recovery quick & easy - if there is something to anchor the cable to (not always easy in a sea of sand!). They are however heavy. SWB LR Defenders have meagre fuel capacity: plumbed in extended range fuel tanks are very worthwhile and keep fuel weight low and save the dirty task of man-handling Jerry cans. An Auxiliary battery with split charge enables all power drain when parked to be independent of the main vehicle starting battery.
In July 2007, while I was deciding what vehicle to choose, I spotted an advert in the classified pages of 4x4 Magazine offering for sale an 8 month old Nissan Patrol Trek fully expedition prepared by Frogs Island 4x4 with only 2,000 miles on the clock. It had been prepared at the same time as they were building Ewan MacGregor's Long Way Down support Patrols. It ticked all the boxes on my list...and then some! Three weeks of negotiation culminated in my buying the vehicle at the end of August - in time for my expedition to Morocco leaving late September. My account of the trip with photographs was published in the May 2008 4x4 Magazine, and is available as a PDF file on this website's Home page.
"Old Blue", Matt Low's Defender descends sand dune in Southern Morocco ©Dick Morgan
Since purchasing the vehicle I have added a Safari Snorkel, more to keep sand out of the air filter than to extend its wading depth. Frogs Island have fabricated high lift jacking points in the front & rear bumpers, and I have a 50 Amp Anderson plug socket under the rear bumper from which I run my heavy duty Viair Air Compressor. See www.mattsavage.com for compressor advice and supplies. The Patrol has not been without some problems: returning from its first N. African expedition it suffered an engine chip failure which took 3 weeks to resolve by getting another chip from Japan under warranty. Then on the way to Turkey in 2011 at 46,000 miles the clutch failed necessitating a replacement in Greece. The heat from the slipping clutch distorted the dual mass fly-wheel. Nissan GB under extended warranty replaced the fly-wheel on return to the UK. I think the clutch problem was exacerbated by my oversize tyres which alter the gearing. This meant more clutch slipping was necessary on my 2007 Morocco expedition when rock crawling up a dry riverbed in the Atlas mountains to 8,000 ft. The Patrol's low box first gear isn't as low as a Defender's. I have subsequently fitted a new Australian transfer gear set from Marks 4WD Adaptors which lowers the low box gearing by 40%. Australian companies also offer heavy duty clutch kits for the manual Patrol. (See TBRUK ) I remain happy with my vehicle choice and it continues to give me excellent service. (now at 59,000 miles as of March 2014)
In 2010 I purchased an Off Road Adventure Trailer designed and built in California, but now built under licence in Yorkshire and available from Kevin Baldwin at Mud UK. The Chaser has an Eezi-Awn rooftent on the top which deploys in 10 minutes offering a dressing room alongside the trailer and a comfortable queen-size mattress on the top of the trailer.