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50 things every overlander should know.


Words by Neil Harrison and various.

50 things every overlander should know.

It’s always an interesting exercise to pose the same question to a bunch of different people – one’s always surprised by the range of answers and opinions. In fact, when we started conceptualising this piece we originally titled it 10 things every overlander should know. Take a read, and if you think we’ve left anything out, send an email titled Things an overlander should know to .

1. If you have manual hubs, engage them before you enter an area where traction might be an issue. That way, when you feel you need the extra grip, you just need to engage 4WD. African Outback – Richard Ransome

2. When driving in heavy sand always be aware of your steering position. It’s very easy to think you’re steering straight when in fact the front wheels are pointing slightly, or very, off-centre. African Outback – Richard Ransome
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3. To stop while driving in heavy sand, simply take your foot off the accelerator. Avoid using the brakes, as this will push up a wall of sand in front of the wheels which may make pulling away difficult. African Outback – Richard Ransome

4. Know how to read the terrain. This is one of the most important facets of off-road driving. By looking ahead and taking note of the change in terrain, you can avoid a lot of trouble. For instance, if you notice the ground getting sandier you would want to speed up a little to get through, especially if you’re driving on hard tyres and carrying a load. (Along the West Coast the sand goes from very drivable to thick and sticky within a few metres.) The opposite is true when the terrain starts becoming harder and rockier – here you would want to slow down. R&D Offroad – Cris Ingram

5. The tread of your tyre is the strongest part, so when driving on sharp rocky surfaces, try and drive straight over the jagged bits. R&D Offroad – Cris Ingram

6. If you own a 79/76 Series Land Cruiser, your vehicle is fitted with a fusible link – which is a 3 x 60 mm wire section connected to the positive side of the battery, and this plugs into the main supply wire linking the fuse box. This wire can burn out without your being able to see it. In a petrol model, the vehicle will begin to jerk until it eventually stops. If you fiddle with the wiring, the vehicle will start, but then will cut out again because the fuel pump is not working. In a diesel model the dash lights will come on intermittently – your battery will not be charged. The solution is to carry a spare fusible link. Replace the wire link section, and off you go. African Outback – Richard Ransome

7. Make sure your GPS is working, and that you know how to use it, before you leave on your trip. Kevin Bolton – Bolton’s GPS Warehouse

8. Never rely totally on your GPS; always take a map, too. Kevin Bolton – Bolton’s GPS Warehouse

9. Make sure that the bolts attaching the tow bar have a hardness rating of 8.4 or 8.8. Bush Trotter – Johan Nieuwoudt

10. In many popular destinations like Mamili, Kwai, Xaxanaka and the like, you travel through hippo pools. This means your radiator is exposed to a mixture of mud and hippo- and elephant dung – a great sealing mixture going into the core of your radiator. So, don’t turn off your engine once you’re back on dry land; rather rev the engine so the fan can force the mixture through, leaving the radiator unblocked. African Outback – Richard Ransome

11. Know the location and height of the breather pipes on your diffs. Bush Trotter – Johan Nieuwoudt

12. If you regularly drive in water, extend all axle breathers to make them as high as possible. Fit small in-line fuel filters at the end of these to keep debris out and allow air to move freely in and out of the diffs/gearbox. TAC 4×4 Traction – Ronald Hairbottle

13. Know where your vehicle’s air intake is located. If there’s the remotest possibility that you’ll need to do water crossings, you need to know where your vehicle’s engine draws in air. This position varies from brand to brand and from model to model. Some 4x4s have their air intake mounted in terrible places, like directly behind the front grille, which means that sucking in water and killing the engine is easily accomplished. Knowing where your vehicle’s air intake is located allows you to take preventative measures, like putting a tarpaulin over the nose of your vehicle before tackling a river crossing. SA4x4

14. Centre diff-locks are not axle diff-locks. Always lock the centre diff-lock when driving off-road. TAC 4×4 Traction – Ronald Hairbottle

15. Traction equals action! Fit lockers to your 4×4! TAC 4×4 Traction – Ronald Hairbottle

16. Take out what you take in. Keep our trails pristine. TAC 4×4 Traction – Ronald Hairbottle

17. Know how to drive with minimal damage to the environment. Also, make sure you have all the necessary permits, etc. 4×4 MegaWorld – Richard Giller

18. To identify a vehicle’s model number and year, look on the seatbelt. At the bottom, where the seatbelt is bolted to the vehicle, you will find a label with these details. Ironman – Christo du Plessis

19. Lights mounted above the roof are terrific off-road. They create shadows on undulating terrain, allowing the driver to spot drop-offs in the track quickly, thus making night travel safer. Lightforce (Lynx Optics) – Michael Rogers

20. Pencil, or spot beam, reflectors give the maximum distance and are the preferred choice for the highway traveller. If the terrain is steep with scrubby roadside verges, or if the original headlights require some support, then a wide-beam driving light will broaden the beam – but at the expense of beam distance. Some lights solve this by offering combo beams. These are predominantly spot beams with some spread component. This gives good distance but softens the edges to give a broader beam that is more uniform without intense hot spots. Lightforce (Lynx Optics) – Michael Rogers

21. Brilliant white light is perceived to be brighter, regardless of what the light meter reads. Halogen bulbs give a distinctly yellow output, whereas modern HID lights, with crisp 5 000 k output, flood the road ahead with noticeably brighter light that aids in reducing driver fatigue. Lightforce (Lynx Optics) – Michael Rogers

22. Practise, practise, practise with your recovery gear. Get it out at least once a year. This not only ensures that your kit is working properly (and complete), but also that you know how to use it. R&D Offroad – Cris Ingram

23. Know where your vehicle’s owner’s manual is. You should also have read it. 4×4 MegaWorld – Richard Giller

24. Know the location of your jack, wheel spanner, fuse box and spare fuses. 4×4 MegaWorld – Richard Giller

25. Know the condition of your spare tyre (and its pressure). 4×4 MegaWorld – Richard Giller

26. Know how to repair a punctured tyre with your tyre repair kit. SA4x4

27. Know how to change a wheel. Yes, really. You know how to change a wheel, but have you ever changed a wheel on the rig you’re driving now? When last did you check that your wheel spanner is where it should be, or that your jack works? For that matter, do you know where your jacking points are? Don’t get caught out by not knowing how to do the most straightforward of roadside repairs. You should also be conversant with changing a wheel in soft sand or mud. And, if you’re carrying a high-lift or air jack, be sure you know how to use these items safely. SA4x4

28. If you have a winch, you must know how to use it safely. 4×4 MegaWorld – Richard Giller

29. Check (and tighten) your suspension regularly, especially on extended corrugated-road trips. 4×4 MegaWorld – Richard Giller

30. In dusty conditions, clean your air filter regularly with your air compressor, blowing from the inside out. 4×4 MegaWorld – Richard Giller

31. Always carry a basic recovery kit that contains, at the very least, the following: jacks (air or high-lift), gloves, shackles, a spade, a snatch block, a pull strap/winch extension, a kinetic strap, a tow strap, a drag- or choker chain, and a tree protector. Tuffstuff – Michelle du Plessis

32. Know the telephone numbers of the South African High Commissions or Embassies in the countries you are visiting. The numbers of the South African High Commissions in our neighbouring countries are: Mozambique +(00) 25 82124 3000, Zimbabwe +(00) 26 3475 3147, Botswana +(00)26 73 904 8000, Namibia +(00) 26 461 205 7111. Tuffstuff – Michelle du Plessis

33. Know how to communicate effectively with the people who can help you. Satellite phones, or cell phones with full international roaming, are essential. SMSs are not effective when arranging a recovery/repatriation. Tuffstuff – Michelle du Plessis

34. Know how to use satellite phones. They are much cheaper than before, even roaming. And there are many cost-saving tips and tricks to keep your usage low and cost-effective. Zippisat – Morné Conradie

35. Know how to read – and give – GPS coordinates. In an emergency, you need to be able to give your rescuers your precise location. Directions such as “40 km north of the town by the river” will not help someone to find you. Tuffstuff – Michelle du Plessis

36. Have the right people on speed dial. The TUFFASSIST international call centre is open 24/7 to assist all TUFFSTUFF clients, whether it be in a breakdown, in the full recovery of their vehicle or in a medical emergency. Tuffstuff – Michelle du Plessis

37. Know how to do basic mechanical repairs to your vehicle, and own and carry the equipment to do so. Gerbers – Wouter

38. Know that when fitting an aftermarket bull-bar, it’s best to fit one where the winch plate mounts directly onto the chassis. Saraé and Willie Randles – WR Offroad

39. If you’re a Navara owner, you need to know whether your vehicle is a Thai or Spain specification when ordering certain aftermarket accessories. The Thai spec Navara has a rear cabin light; the Spain spec model doesn’t. Saraé and Willie Randles – WR Offroad

40. Know which solar panel is right for your needs. The applications and solutions are more complicated that you might think so consult an expert when buying such kit. Andre Potgieter – Xplor portable power

41. Make a list of your important phone numbers. Make a copy of this list and give it to someone in another vehicle in your convoy. This list should include the numbers of important family members, and emergency numbers locally and on your route. Zippisat – Morné Conradie

42. 086 numbers cannot be phoned from abroad or from satellite networks, so get direct-line numbers for your insurance and medical-aid companies. Zippisat – Morné Conradie

43. Know how much ground clearance your vehicle has. This is not a case of knowing the actual measurement so much as knowing what size rocks you’re likely to be able to drive over, and which ones are going to snag your undercarriage or diff. SA4x4

44. Know where the lowest point of your undercarriage is. When terrain gets very tricky, your ability to choose the right line means the difference between progress and recovery. 45. Knowing where the likely snag points are on your undercarriage is key. Typically, your diffs are the lowest points, but on some vehicles you’ll find suspension members near the wheels that also reach down pretty low. SA4x4

46. Know how big your vehicle is. Again, the physical measurements don’t mean as much as your experience and familiarity with them. Not all 4x4s are blessed with boxy bodies and great driver sight lines. Do you know how far your front or rear bumper protrudes? Or do you have to drive by ‘bump feel’? If you’re driving with a loaded roof rack, you need to have a sense of what your vehicle’s vertical dimensions are – otherwise it’s only a matter of time before you collide with a branch or boom. SA4x4

47. Know how far you can drive with the fuel you have left. Running out of fuel hundreds of kilometres away from the next filling station is inviting trouble. Most overland rigs are equipped with auxiliary tanks or jerrycans – you need to know what range these will give you under different driving conditions. SA4x4

48. Know how to override your vehicle’s alarm/immobiliser. Whether aftermarket or OE spec, a faulty alarm/immobiliser can put a stop to your trip very quickly. Most systems have override components – ask your dealer or fitment centre how to find and use these. SA4x4

49. Know where your vehicle’s VIN and engine numbers are located. When you’re at a border crossing, you might be asked to point these out so officials can check them against your registration documents. And, check that these numbers correspond with your paperwork before you leave! SA4x4

50. Know where to buy good biltong. Before you leave and (((italics en route))). Biltong is essential sustenance for overlanders! SA4x4

To read more articles from this issue please click here. To buy a copy of our magazine, please click here.

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