Ethiopia to Cape Town 2013-2014
8 months - with Gitane - Toyota Hiace 4x4 van

The vehicle

Which vehicle to choose?

A good vehicle should have the following characteristics:

easy to maintain
availability of spare parts

In Africa, Toyota is king; a vehicle of this brand will be easier to maintain since spare parts are available and mechanics are used to these cars. An old model is also advisable since the engine mechanic is simpler, without electronic gadgets and without a computer... A model with a diesel engine is often more economical than another one running on petrol. Diesel engines are also mechanically simpler than petrol-based engine, thus easier to maintain.

It is good to note that vehicles other than Toyota are rare in Africa (except in South Africa and Namibia). Thus, maintenance of such cars could be a major problem in the case of a breakdown.

Most overlanders swear by a Toyota Land Cruiser or else a Land Rover. These vehicles have proven themselves over the years because of their robustness, reliability and availability to find spare parts. In Tanzania, these vehicles are very expensive because of government taxes; from 20 000 $ to 30 000 $ US.

Personally, I don't think it is necessary to have a Land Cruiser nor a Land Rover. I often get the impression that most travellers simply do what others have done before them; some kind of fashion or myth. I found a web site of a father and son that went all around Africa in a Renault 4 - Google Images.

For a European traveller, it is much easier to find a low-priced vehicle. For a Canadian, there is very little choice and prices are high. Since price in Tanzania were too high for me, I opted for a vehicle that is almost never considered on such trips: a Toyota Hiace. This vehicle is similar to a Westfalia, but with a much greater mechanical reliability and 4WD traction.

See the article Introduction to the vehicle for a description and photos of the vehicle purchased.

For the first trip (7.5 months in East Africa), the vehicle has been modified as described in the article Preparation of the vehicle - East Africa.

For the second trip (Africa - Asia - Europe), the vehicle has again been modified as described in the article Preparation of the vehicle - The vehicle.

Why not buy a vehicle in Canada?

Even though this option allows for a more adequate modification of the vehicle than in Tanzania, it is not viable. Choosing a vehicle is more complicated since Land Cruiser and Land Rover are not so common in North America. Moreover, they are expensive and shipping a car by boat from Canada to Africa can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. I did not look much into shipping, but I think the cost of such an operation would be around 2000 to 5000 $.

When a vehicle reaches its destination, it cannot stay there longer than its owner. To put it another way, it is subject to the equivalent of a visa. For example, if your visa is valid for 3 months, the same will be true for the vehicle. Otherwise, the vehicle has to be imported in the country where it is located. This implies customs duties (taxes), a new registration, etc.; non-negligible costs.

With a vehicle bought in Tanzania, I can leave the car there as long as I wish. Thus, it is possible to explore Africa in several stages, without hurrying too much.

Why not buy in Europe or South Africa?

In Europe or South Africa, the market for vehicles equipped for overland travel is very well established. One can find several vehicles with adequate equipment. However, in order to buy in South Africa, one must be a resident of the country (a new law dating from a few years ago). With the help of a resident, it is possible to get the necessary paperwork for buying. It is a procedure that can last a few weeks. In Europe, I did not do any research.

Buying in one of the regions brings its share of problems. During the purchase, maintenance and modifications of the vehicle, one must live into that country. In Europe, cost of living is very high. At the end of the trip, the vehicle must come back to its country of origin (because of the carnet de passage en douane).


Web sites from other travellers contain exhaustive lists of equipment that a person should bring in the vehicle. The most important items that I noted are listed below. Please note that it is not an exhaustive list.

Equipment to bring:

recovery straps
tire pump
pressure gauge
2 spare tires
jerrycans for diesel (60-80 litres)
jerrycans for water (40-60 litres)
basic tools
spare filters (air, oil, diesel)
spare belt
oil (engine, transmission, brake)
tent for 2 persons
rubber boot
propane stove (purchased at the destination)
(optional) electrical fridge

Equipment that I don't bring:

electrical winch (very expensive and few places to use it)
spare parts (alternator and other big parts)

Spare parts could be useful; alternator or radiator, etc. However, Murphy's Law has a tendency to apply in such cases; this law means that the part that will break will be the one who don't have a spare for...

Moreover, I am not a mechanic and probably won't be able to change an alternator or a water pump in the middle of the desert. It is imperative to properly maintain the vehicle and hope not to get any problem in the middle of nowhere.