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Most frequently asked 4x4 questions (FAQ)

2002-11-05 16:25

Johan de Villiers

These recommendations are my personal opinion, gained from experience and obviously the normal disclaimer applies in that no liability will be accepted for any loss, injury or whatever situation that arises should you decide to follow this advice!

Low range and diff lock or traction control with HDC?

A lot of the new generation of SUVs or "soft-roaders' come equipped with traction control, rather than a proper mechanical differential lock.

In addition to that, to keep the cost of the vehicle down, an electronic braking mechanism, such as HDC (Hill Descent Control) gets fitted to the vehicle instead of a second low range gearbox.

This obviously impacts on the maintenance cost of the vehicle as well.

If your 4x4 spends 85-95% of the time on a tar road, you probably would never miss low range or a diff lock.

However, if you are serious about your sport or are considering an expedition or safari, there is no substitute for proper low range when descending a steep gradient as opposed to HDC or some other form of electronically linked ABS system.

In addition to that, the low range gearbox more than doubles the available torque to the wheels in a serious situation.

Traction control is great, until the electronics fail on you in the middle of Zambia....

Are long range fuel tanks worth the money and effort?

The fitment of long range fuel tanks depends on a number of factors.

Is your 4x4 vehicle petrol or diesel, what is the current size of your fuel tank and is the expense justified compared to simply taking with a spare jerry can or two?

If you intend to overland through Africa or even do the normal Namibia, Botswana, Zim trip, I would strongly recommend the fitment of a long range fuel tank.

There is nothing more painful than getting to a small village, with a supposedly reliable source of fuel, only to be told that the pump is broken or that the fuel is contaminated!

On long trips, always carry a spare jerry can or two in addition to your long range fuel tank.

In the event of your tank rupturing or getting a leak, you have a backup plan..

PS: Never have stainless steel tanks fitted...they will crack. Stick to aluminium, regardless of what the supplier tells you.

Do I need a satellite phone if overlanding Africa?

If you intend to cross our border and venture into other countries, a satellite phone is useful in emergency situations, especially for a medical evacuation or requiring critical spare parts.

By providing your longitude and latitude information from your GPS receiver, outside help can quickly and effectively locate you anywhere on the globe.

It really boils down to the cost versus the benefit that you will derive from having a satellite phone.

If travelling in convoy, generally it would probably end up being a luxury, as help would be available close by. ,P>However, if you intend to overland solo, it could be a life saver in a life-threatening situation.

Bear in mind that the cost of all calls are charged in US Dollars and are normally in excess of $2 a minute, with the capital outlay of the phone in the region of R12 000 to R15 000 depending on make and model.

Do I really need to fit a winch to my 4x4?

If you have a proper recovery kit, consisting of a snatch strap, tow rope, 4 x 3.5 ton D-shackles, a 10m chain and a tree trunk protector, there is really little need for a winch to be added to your vehicle.

Utilise your high lift jack as a manual winch if need be or request the assistance of another vehicle to help in a difficult recovery.

Once again, should you venture solo north of our borders, have one fitted as it remains the most powerful recovery tool in an emergency situation. I would recommend Warn or Ramsey winches.

Refer to the articles on hi-lift jacking, winching and recovery elsewhere in the 4x4 section.

When would I require a water purifier?

Water purifiers would generally be viewed as useful only in an extreme emergency, e.g. stuck in a foreign African country without clean drinking water.

You should ask yourself how you would get into this situation without adequate fresh water supply from jerry cans and so on!

If your 4x4 expeditions are limited to South African trails, running out of clean drinking water really entails driving to the next available tap, so rather spend your money on something more useful, such as an air jack.

Remember that when you purchase a water purifier you should considering the following five criteria before making a decision:

  • Does it micro filter protozoa, bacteria and viruses.
  • What is the clarity and smell of the end result? I prefer MSR or the Swiss Katadyn range of water purifiers. They work.

    Alternatively you could consider stocking up on some water purification tablets.

    If you run out of drinking water in an emergency situation, (without a purifier or tablets being available), boil any potential drinking water for at least 10 minutes before consumption.

    Is a dual battery system necessary?

    There is a big difference between a dual battery management system and simply having a second battery installed in your vehicle.

    In the case of a dual battery system, considerable expense is incurred and a lot of unnecessary electronics gets fitted to your vehicle.

    Obviously if you have a fridge, you will need to fit either one of the two options, as your standard vehicle battery will never cope.

    Bear in mind that a lot of other equipment probably needs charging when you are on a long trip, such as your GPS, electric camplight, cell phone and so on.

    Personally I believe simply fitting a 100 amp spare battery is more than sufficient for most situations.

    Connect your fridge to this battery and when necessary, the vehicle can charge the second battery if required.

    Another benefit is that if your main battery gets depleted for whatever reason, this second battery will bail you out of a required jump start situation.

    Always purchase well known brands of batteries with a charge indicator embedded on the top.

    Should I fit a snorkel to my vehicle?

    Contrary to popular belief, fitting a snorkel to your 4x4 vehicle is not primarily for water crossings, but rather to allow the engine to extract air higher from the ground.

    This leads to two benefits, namely cooler air, delivering more power to the engine and secondly, less dust, in terms of maintenance and lifespan of your air filter.

    Obviously, if you intend to do deep water crossings, a snorkel is a pre-requisite.

    Just don't forget to have separate feeds installed for the breathers from your gearbox, diff and axles!

    I would recommend sticking to the Safari snorkel brand if you intend installing one.

    Refer to the article on water crossings, elsewhere in the 4x4 section.


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