The vehicle we are using for this expedition is a 1980 Land Rover Series III. It’s definitely on the older side, but in Africa, that can actually be an advantage as it’s easier to repair on your own or with help of a bush mechanic since it uses less electronics, parts are more easily available, and it’s cheaper.
We acquired the vehicle directly in South Africa from a Belgian traveler who was just completing a 8-month overland trip himself. Luckily for us, it already came with a myriad of modifications and equipment that we were planning to add ourselves – which minimized cost and enabled us to prepare in a much shorter timeframe.
Selecting a vehicle for a such expedition presented a number of interesting choices and challenges.
The most commonly vehicles used are generally Land Rovers and Toyota Landcruisers. Ironically, the owners of each will generally praise their brand and find many faults with the others. Land Rovers are said to “always be sick, but never quite dying” – but I think it’s fair to say that even if they do get more reports of breakdowns, it’s because they are generally used in conditions that other vehicles are not.
There were a number of Land Rover models that we considered:
Land Rover 110 TdI 300 Series seemed to have been everybody’s favorite. They offer a ton of space (you can seat up to 12 people in them!), are quite comfortable to ride in, run on diesel, and easy to repair. Unfortunately, due to very high demand for them in South Africa, they are not cheap. A vanilla 1990s one would cost us around $10,000 – 12,000+ to acquire. With another $8,000+ in expected modifications, we’d be looking at a total cost of around $18,000-$20,000.
Land Rover Discovery TdI was an interesting alternative. Similar to its big brother, they are comfortable and well used throughout Africa with parts easily available. Unfortunately, it is much smaller, which made it impossible for us to fit 4 people and our gear. However, if you’re traveling as a couple, this is a fair option to consider.
Toyota Land Cruiser – we also looked at a Toyota Land Cruiser ’82 Station Wagon. Land Cruisers, in general, presented a pretty solid option. However, this particular model was just not in the best shape of its life, so we decided to pass.
At some point, we’ve stumbled across a guy on the Land Rover enthusiasts forums that was an engineer for an oil company and helped overland tourists find and equip vehicles for such travel. He provided invaluable guidance and advice and helped us think through what we needed. He also helped us find a number of vehicles – ranging from vanilla ones that required full modifications, to partially modified ones, to fully modified ones.
For us, the less work we’d have to do the better off we’d be. Extra work represented uncertainty – both in terms of cost and time that it would take us to complete it. Because we were not near the car and would only arrive shortly before the planned departure time, this posed a potential issue.
Diesel vs. Petrol
If we had the option, Diesel would certainly be preferred. It is more easily available throughout Africa, Diesel engines can deal better with lower quality fuel, and it gets better mileage, so you need less of it. The latter point is particularly important. From the price perspective, when you’re traveling up to 25,000km, the difference between getting 5km per liter of petrol vs. 8km per liter of diesel can quickly add up. Furthermore, you can achieve a great range with the same amount of fuel. Our vehicle is equipped with 2 extra fuel tanks for a total capacity of about 220 liters giving us a range of 1,100km. However, the same amount of diesel would provide a noticeable improvement.
So, why did we go with petrol? Essentially, it came down to price and available selection on the market. The vehicle we found was already fully equipped which made the price particularly attractive upfront – even though we realize that we’ll spend more on fuel along the way.
How to Buy and Sell a Vehicle
When we began the vehicle selection process in January, we looked through a variety of options. Buying a car in the U.S. and shipping it somewhere in Africa or London. Buying a car in London and starting it from there.
There were a few problems with our plan:
– Shipping the car to South Africa from the U.S. would cost around $3,000 adding considerably to the total cost. Plus, we weren’t sure of the abilities of the mechanics in U.S. to prepare a car for a trip like this.
– Buying a car in London was possible, but expensive. The British pound was working against us. Shipping the car to London would be around $1,000 but also presented issues with duties.
Ultimately, the only real feasible option was to buy the car in South Africa and get rid of it in the U.K.. Both countries have right-hand vehicles. There were more opportunities to buy a partially equipped overland vehicle in South Africa and we’d win somewhat on the higher selling prices in the U.K. Plus, it was the only other feasible option that would work – as it’s impossible to sell a car in other African countries without losing an arm and a leg on the carnet guarantee.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll post a detailed rundown of what sort of modifications were done to the vehicle and how they come into play when we travel.