Our beloved 1993 3L (petrol) V6 Nissan Sani is a South African derivative of the D21 Nissan Hardbody/ Patrol which converted a double cab into a spacious 5 door station wagon. It has the following extras:
- 60L long range petrol tank providing a total fuel capacity of 150L
- Aluminium Roof Rack
- Custom rear bumper incorporating high lift jack points and spare wheel mount
- Front high lift jack points
- 2nd Spare Wheel
- Removable 4 drawer rack which includes a fridge/ freezer slide tray
- 100L water tank
The following pictures attempt to show how the vehicle was packed.
The solar panels were an addition picked up in Tanzania to supplement the 2nd battery charging systems which previously relied on the vehicle alternator. It was useful when the vehicle standing still a a few days. In practice 70W is not sufficient and the standard vehicle alternator should probably be upgraded. Of greater importance is the thickness of the wiring and the quality of any solder joints. When your 12 VDC is in short supply, you don’t want it wasted in these areas!
The Cobb is a small and very efficient kettle braai (barbeque) fueled by 8 or 10 pieces of charcoal. It is used as an oven for roasting and baking, (nothing better than a roast chicken and potatoes or scones and jam in the wild!). In the sundries box I carried a selection of tie wraps, adhesives, nuts, bolts, screws, pop-rivets, pipes, batteries, wheel bearing grease, hand cleaner, electrical goodies, brake fluid…..
The portable braai we used is manufactured bu Poitjieking.com. It is a round stainless steel braai with folding legs and is ideal for 2 people when there are no open fire facilities. We took an empty Wolfepack/ Ammo Box/ Box (what ever you want to call it) to carry charcoal bought along the way.
Although the ground sheet was the subject of some discussion before we left as it could have been a space waster, however it did prove useful in dusty, grassy and wet conditions. We used it in most camps. A good quality air compressor is an essential companion. Not only for tyre repairs but predominantly because a) your need to adjust tyre pressures to suit the terrain and b) because compressed air is not generally available (nor is it very often free!). A good quality tyre pressure gauge is also essential since gauges are either non-existent or hopelessly unreliable.
Under the ground sheet and compressor, we stored our portable shower, collapsible braai grid, collapsible dustbin and frying pan. The latter two were hardly used and we would not take the again. The braai grid was used when ever we had an open fire which was quite frequent.
The off-road recover kit is self explanatory and essential. We used some of the kit with he winch to help someone erect a solar panel installation however, if we did not have it, we would have needed it for recovery I am sure.
The fire extinguisher bracket is empty because the extinguisher fell out on the road from South to North Luangwa in Zambia (despite being secured which bungy chord in addition to the mounting bracket. The new extinguisher (compulsory in most African countries) we bought was stored under the wooden floor.
North of South Africa, the fittings for LP Gas cylinders differ from ours and thus refilling cylinders becomes a challenge. We took enough to last the 4 months. The steel trunk held a good selection of general purpose tools, hand drills, bottle jack, engine oil (we found multi grade oil to be a scarce commodity). Spares were limited to oil and fuel filter, light bulbs, fuses, belts, tyre repair kit (including tyre levers and two inner tubes). Bicycle inner tubes come in very handy when cut into long strips for strapping and binding – they can even be used to temporarily bind a leaking water or fuel pipe!
The 20L HTH Pool Chlorine bucket proved to be a most efficient washing machine for clothing – add dirty clothes, soap powder and water; strap to the roof rack and drive for 4 – 6 hours; empty, rinse and hang up to dry. It also doubled as a receptacle for washing daily dishes as there were very few formal facilities.
We never needed the extra fuel but there were times when we were glad it was there just in case!
Most of our day to day requirements were accommodated in the back of the vehicle – our clothing, chairs, bedding , PC, camera equipment etc. We mostly used the fridge as a freezer and rotated freezer blocks through the cooler box in the back.
In most cases, local water could be used for boiling and cooking. We took along an MSR filter and used it when our water tank was a bit low and bottle water was scarce. We were able to fill the tank a couple of times with safe water and on occasions topped it up with bottled water.
The second battery is coupled to and charged by the vehicle alternator via a solenoid which isolates the main and second batteries when the engine os not running. The inverter was adequate for charging the PC, camera batteries and a few other 220V chargables. Cigarette lighter to USB converters kept cell phones and other USB devices charged. Whenever we had access to external mains electricity we were able to use the external supply and not the inverter. The battery charger is configured and connected to charge the second battery whenever external mains is available.
We added the relevant flag as we entered each country. These stickers proved to be a fantastic conversation piece, often distracting officials who could otherwise be looking to cause trouble, but also facilitated many conversations with the local people. Many overlanders carry these or other custom made decals describing their trip.
On the face of it, we had very few issues (especially compared to many other overlanders we came across):
- Cracked fuel tank – This happened early in the trip in Zimbabwe. We had the tank removed 4 times in an attempt to repair it – all attempts were unsuccessful. We elected to simply continue with a dripping tank. This mishap was suspension related as we bottomed-out and knocked the bottom of the tank under conditions when it should not have happened.
- Cracked windscreen – repaired by a ‘windscreen repair man’ on the side of the road in Zambia using a small battery powered drill an d superglue. Not the prettiest, definitely not invisible, but it stopped the crack from progressing.
- I had an additional blade installed in the rear leaf spring packs to try to firm up the rear suspension. I am of the opinion that this was achieved despite the fact that the blades were salvaged from some unknown vehicle and ‘cut to size’!
- Broken shock mounting on front right wish-bone. This happened in Northern Zambia as a consequence of bad roads (and perhaps some inexperienced driving at that stage in in trip!). This was welded back in place at a lodge Kapishia Hot Springs.
- Broken exhaust bracket resulted in broken exhaust pipe. Repaired in a small town in northern Uganda.
- The fridge sliding tray locking bracket sheared. We used a wooden wedge in combination with a sleeping bag to keep the fridge in place when mobile.
- The spare wheel locking pin sheared. Just nuisance value.
- Front brakes – front left disc cracked – likely to be a consequence of heavy and frequent braking coupled with river crossings in Western Tanzania. I identified this in Southern Uganda when investigating why front wheel hub lockers were so tight when engaging 4X4. I had to strip, clean and re-grease these – probably also due to over-heating. Front wheel bearings should signs of play at this point.
- We developed a leaking water pipe in a very inaccessible spot. Fortunately it remained manageable until we reached Nairobi.
- In Nairobi at Jungle Junction the following work was done:
- Water pipe was replaced (required removal of radiator and timing chain cover!)
- Oil and filters change (air cleaner was blown out as replacement was not available)
- New front brake discs and pads – front and rear wheel bearings cleaned, checked and re-greased
- Rear right axle oil seal replaced
- Fan belt idler pulley replaced
- Cooling system flushed
- Brake fluid flushed and replaced
- Steering damper replaced (steering had become quite erratic)
- Shock Absorber bushes replaced
- Numerous steering and suspension bolts and nuts tightened
- Front left inner CV boot split. Fabricated plastic bag boot is still intact (and not leaking grease) on return.
- A number of ball joint sealing rubbers have split of broken – the ball joints will need to be replaced.
There is generally not much that the bush mechanics cannot do or overcome on the side of the road – we have seen engines and diffs stripped and repaired in the dust on the side of the road. They keep ordinary sedans running on these horrific roads so the mechanical problems encountered by genuine off road vehicles don’t often pose a challenge. However, such repairs should be considered temporary and should be re-done properly when ever it is possible.
Suspension, suspension, suspension…..The biggest threat to the vehicle on such a trip up north is suspension. What we have learnt is that most people behind the counters of 4X4 fitment centres who are advising you on such things as suspension have never experienced such a trip and the road conditions encountered. I was ‘advised’ concerning my Old Man Emu suspension fitted just before we left – my suspension was hopelessly under-rated. My shiny yellow OME front shocks are now black! My leaf spring packs on my empty vehicle are flat – even with an extra blade.
Regularly check the tightness of the wheel nuts.
Lower tyre pressure on long heavily corrugated roads – this makes for a smoother ride and provides some ‘cushioning’ for the shocks and suspension.
Don’t drive at high speed on heavily corrugated roads for more than 20 – 30 mins without stopping for a break. Both you and your shocks need it!
Stick to speed limits where ever possible; be as polite and patronising at police road blocks as possible; try to avoid night driving; don’t plan for more than 200 – 300 km’s a day; ask frequently about road conditions ahead.
Cell phone coverage is generally very good. Local sim cards are easy to obtain and airtime (connectivity) and data is widely obtainable. Take an extra cell phone, load it with a local sim, configure it as a mobile hot spot and link your wireless devices to it – Whatsapp and internet are then available whenever the signal is sufficient (which is often).
Visa and Mastercard Autobanks are widely available. Prices are often quoted in USD and converted to local currency at the going rate. We will try to give some indication of expenses in a followup blog for those interested, but be advised that north of our borders is expensive!
We needed very little in the way of spares but from our experience and listening to other peoples experience, I would recommend:
- Wheel bearings
- Fan and accessory belts
- Bulbs and fuses
- Suspension bushes – better still, replace them before leaving
- Start with new shocks or take spares
- Front disc pads (ours lasted 8000km on the Western Tanzanian and Ugandan roads)
- Break fluid
- Power Steering fluid
- Wheel bearing grease
- Q20/ WD40
- Cable ties, bungies, nylon rope and duct tape cover a multitude of sins