Words and pictures by Pieter de Waal.
Reader DIY: Cleaning up after an Overland Trip
Take a trip to some of the remoter parts of Botswana and you’ll be sure to encounter heavy sand, some mud, some water and lots of grass. Great fun, for sure, but it does require some special care once you’re back home. A lot of nasty things may still be lurking underneath the four-wheeler even after the valet guys have done their best. I’m not one who believes everything must be squeaky clean; that doesn’t make the vehicle any lighter on fuel or any faster. But I do believe in checking everything underneath after a long trip, as skipping this step could cost you a lot of money later on.
Grass Net Savvy
The most potentially damaging possibility is a clogged radiator, especially if you’ve driven in heavy grass. The two most common problems are grass seeds and – the real killer – wet pollen. Most of us have some sort of grass net, but the problem is that very few of them are truly effective; all they do is give you a false sense of security. These items are normally draped over the grill with huge gaps all round where the airflow isn’t restricted. Air will always find the easiest route – if there’s a gap somewhere, the seeds will use that to get to your radiator.
If you have a net and are driving through grass, the net should be checked and cleaned regularly. The net doesn’t solve the clogging problem; it simply moves it to a surface where you can clean it easily.
The grass net shouldn’t be made from shade net, as this severely restricts air flow; use mosquito gauze, as the open area is about 300 percent better. There is a fibre type – not wire – which won’t easily damage the grill and paintwork. Design it so that it’s simple to remove, as you’ll probably have to take it off fairly often if the area is overgrown. During our Bots trip we had to stop every 10 – 15 km to clean it all out.
On a previous occasion, we drove through wet grass with lots of pollen – the worst combination I know of. It forms a putty which simply seals every possible opening. We had to stop every three kilometres or so to clean a double-net setup. Halfway through the trip, we had to clean the radiator from the inside with high-pressure air and a small nozzle. And after the trip we still had to remove the radiator to have it cleaned properly.
When you get home, remove the grill and covers around the front of the radiator for better access. Remove all debris from the fins, making sure not to damage these as they are quite delicate. If you have an aircon, try to clean between the radiators as well. There will be seeds in there, in fact, everywhere, even with the best grass net. Mine were installed at a slight angle to each other so you can get in there. I find a soft green branch works well since it’s stiff enough to get the stuff out but not hard enough to do damage easily.
If it’s really bad, use a compressed-air blower with a very small hole, and the highest pressure you can muster, to clean the radiator from the inside. Remove the fan cowling; but failing that, remove the whole radiator.