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Vehicle Preparation

1 Golden Rules

We cannot possibly give detailed advice on vehicle specification and preparation which covers every type of 4x4 that might be entered for one of our events. These notes must therefore be regarded as general guidance only.

Three important principles are:

1 KISS - keep it simple, stupid

2 Travel light

3 Prepare your vehicle from the ground up

Rule 1 Keep it simple.

Although it may be tempting to run a high-specification vehicle, the old hands will tell you that it is best to have as little to go wrong as possible.

For classic cars, this means not fitting a highly tuned engine - keep to standard specification, or only make modifications which improve reliability and efficiency (such as balancing and strengthening), rather than power output or performance.

The best modern 4x4s are highly reliable vehicles in standard form, used widely in the countries we visit, and there is no need to spend a lot of money on special preparation - something like a Land Cruiser, sensibly driven, should be able to cope "out of the box", especially if you just take a couple of suitcases.

On balance, we suggest that you don’t choose too luxurious a specification.

Things like air conditioning, automatic transmission, central locking and electric windows add weight, in some cases absorb power and add to the strain on the engine, and can cause knock-on problems if they do become faulty. The jury is still out on power steering and turbochargers, as these do confer genuine advantages, but you are probably better off without. A high-spec vehicle is also a more tempting target for thieves and hijackers.

Rule 2 Travel light.

This is the most important Golden Rule for tough long-distance rallies and drives. Excess weight is easily the single most common cause of mechanical problems, putting extra strain on chassis, springs, shock absorbers, brakes, transmission and engine. Leave the kitchen sink at home!

This means cutting out most "contingency" items, like heavy spares and extra equipment. You aren’t going on an expedition across uncharted terrain, and you won’t need things like sand ladders or lots of extra lights. Except for those in smaller cars, you shouldn’t even need a heavy roof rack - if you do, you’re probably carrying too much! I would personally not fit a winch or a bull bar, as you are not likely to need either, but this is up to you. You shouldn’t need a deep water snorkel, but some people like these as they help keep the dust out of the engine.

Don’t take too much personal baggage. Try and limit yourselves to one grip or small suitcase (airline cabin baggage size) per person. (All the rest-day hotels have a same-day laundry service, and we try to organise overnight laundry where possible). A well-known saying is "Take half the clothes you think you may need, and twice the money"!

On the other hand, there are important simple spares and tools you should take - see below - and of course you must be able to carry five litres of fresh water per person and enough fuel to give you a reliable range of 500km.

Rule 3 Prepare your vehicle from the ground up.

You should prepare for strength and reliability, not speed. Although we try to avoid very bad roads where possible, inevitably in remoter parts of the world there will be some rough going, and many miles of gravel or bumpy tarmac where the car will be subject to small stones, rattling and vibration.

The order of priority is therefore:

i tyres

ii suspension

iii chassis

iv cooling

v electrics

vi engine and transmission

vii other items

2 Tyres and Wheels

Your most important and most vulnerable component. Your biggest enemy is punctures, so choose tyres that are as near bombproof as possible.

The ideal tyre is one which is very hard wearing, with a strong carcass and thick, strong sidewalls (these last are especially important on stony or potholed roads). It must have reasonable all-terrain capability, but should not be a specialist mud, sand or snow tyre, as these tend to get hot and shed chunks of themselves at high speed on asphalt, especially if the vehicle is heavily laden - bear in mind that you may be travelling fast across the Namibian or Atacama Desert, on good smooth tarmac, in temperatures of 40C - plus! Good grip, road holding and handling are of secondary importance.

We advise you to carry two spare wheels, plus one or more spare tubes. Carry at least one spare wheel where you can get at it without unloading everything else. Both should be securely fastened.

If possible, you should consider fitting 16" tyres (4x4s) or 13" (classic cars) as these seem to be the most commonly found tyres.

On a 4x4, use heavy duty (truck) wheels if these are available. Don’t use cast alloy wheels, as these fracture unless you have rally-quality high-grade magnesium ones, don’t use cast alloy wheels, as these fracture rather than bend; steel ones can be hammered straight when you hit a rock.

3 Suspension

For 4x4s, we suggest fitting heavy duty shock absorbers, such as Proflex (see below), but the standard suspension of any reasonably robust and "serious" 4x4, should cope if the vehicle is not overladen. Fit heavier duty options to tropical specification if these are available.

Fit strong bumpers and towing eye; these should be mounted quite high, and not too far under the vehicle, up for easy access.

4 Cooling

Ensure that the cooling system will stand up to labouring up mountain passes at altitudes of up to 3,000m (10,000ft) in Africa, and up to 5,000 m (16,000 ft) in the Andes or Himalayas, and sustained high speed running at desert temperatures of 40C - plus. Make sure the system is clean and free-running, and that the water pump is good and powerful.

For 4x4s: most modern vehicles should cope, but check with your dealer, and fit tropical specification options if available.

For classic cars: you should consider fitting:

(i) a larger radiator and/or header tank

(ii) an oil cooler

(iii) an electric fan

(iv) improved air circulation, in and out, by e g additional inlet/outlet vents; ducting; fastening the bonnet slightly open; etc.

(v) suitable thermostat

(vi) high-pressure radiator cap

If you fit an electric fan, make sure it has a manual switch. Switch it off and cover it with a plastic bag before fording a river. Kenlowe electric fans are recommended.

One major cause of punctured radiators is for the fan to act as a boat propeller and pull itself into the radiator when fording a river. To get round this, take the blades or fanbelt off if you have to go through deep water.

We also advise protecting the radiator with a stone guard.

5 Electrics

This is a vital component. Make sure all wiring is in good shape, especially on a classic car, and that all electrical components are correctly selected and installed. Do NOT economise on electrics - a new 4x4 is of course likely to be perfectly ok, but if you have an older vehicle have it checked and if necessary have it professionally rewired. Fit a new battery.

Ensure that the electrics are well waterproofed - some Third World rivers and streams can get unexpectedly deep - and carry a plastic bag to tape over the distributor, and a can of WD40, just in case! If you have to ford a river or drive through torrential rain, give all the under-bonnet electrics a good spray with WD40.

All leads and the ignition cap must be made waterproof. If the distributor cap is sealed tightly, you will need to fit a breather tube to enable oxygen to flow in.

On any vehicle it’s a good idea to fit an extra cigar lighter socket, to give you somewhere to plug accessories into.

6 Exhaust System

A vulnerable component of classic cars.

You must ensure that the exhaust is in good condition, and that it is not too close to the ground and will survive bumpy roads. Paradoxically, exhaust systems which are slightly loose-fitting are less likely to fracture than those which are welded up solid. Steel battery-straps slung from the chassis under the exhaust will keep it from falling off altogether if it does break.

7 Lighting

On most of our events there isn’t much driving at night in theory, but it’s probably a good idea to have a decent pair of spotlights and a good reversing light. Good under bonnet, boot and interior lights are also a boon.

You will need to have powerful lights. We recommend that you fit stone mesh covers for protection (such as those supplied with Oscars and Super Oscars) or, if possible, that you turn the lights inwards during the daytime.

For classic cars it is possible to buy round 7" acrylic headlamp covers to protect spot lights: the Signam Lamp Guard. These attach to the lamp with adhesive pads.

8 Mechanicals

Obviously, make sure that the car is generally in tip-top mechanical shape, especially brakes and steering.

9 Stowage

Make sure everything is carefully stowed and fastened down, especially the heavy items like spare wheels, spare parts, fuel cans and luggage. The battery must be well fastened down.

Make yourselves a plan of where everything is stored in your vehicle.

Carry spares in sealed plastic boxes where possible.

Ensure that everything is stowed neatly and tightly and in its correct place, and cannot move around, and is PUT BACK THERE after being taken out.

Remember that fuel cans must NOT be carried inside the passengers compartment.

10 Security

Ensure that the car can be securely locked up, with no valuable or desirable items left visible or accessible. Fit chains and padlocks to any items carried externally, including fuel, oil and radiator caps. Bolt a strong box out of sight on the floor to hold cash/passports, etc. Always lock your car and hide any valuables.

11 Crew Comfort and Safety

Make sure that

- your seats are comfortable and give good support

- the ventilation is good

- you have amply secure and handy stowage for the navigator's paperwork and paraphernalia

A fire extinguisher of at least 2 kg is compulsory for all vehicles. This must be securely fastened, within reach of a crew member.

A first aid kit is compulsory.

All vehicles should be fitted with airhorns, which can be operated by both driver and co-driver as necessary - a foot button for the co-driver is a good idea.

Seat belts are compulsory for most cars in most countries, and we recommend that you fit and use them whatever the age of your vehicle.

We do not recommend fitting a roll cage into a saloon car or fully closed 4x4. If you roll, the danger of creasing your skull on the tubing is greater than that of the roof collapsing, unless you are wearing a crash helmet. Roll cages should however be fitted to open and soft-top vehicles, and should be considered for those with detachable hard tops (including Land Rovers).

If you do fit a roll cage on any car (i) you MUST wear tight full-harness competition-style belts at all times; (ii) you must pad the tubing well at all points where your head or body might make contact in an accident; and (iii) you should if possible wear crash helmets.


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