Travels around the world 2009-2024
Exploring our beautiful planet

Off-road driving of an old van

July 15, 2014  —  Various
Matobo National Park - Zimbabwe

Ha! The joy of having a vehicle on the African continent; great outdoor spaces, 4x4 trails, African animals and the freedom to go where one wants. However, this freedom can sometimes give some headaches and a bit of stress. Oh yes! Like any vehicle, the mechanic sometimes gives trouble and one can be stuck away from everything.

Driving a vehicle that is not really adapted to the African roads brings its share of small adventures. The van is very good, but I must admit that it is not a very robust off-road vehicle. Moreover, I drive it like it is a Land Cruiser or any other robust 4x4 car. Sometimes, I make mistakes when I evaluate the terrain and the vehicle is suffering from it.

All these small adventures occurred in the same week.


Height problem

Matobo National Park - Zimbabwe

On the two photos, you can notice that there are three diesel jerrycans. Weird since normally I had four. Moreover, one of them is quite damaged. These jerrycans are on the roof since more than 10 months, but that day, I forgot about them...

At the entrance of a park (Matobo in Botswana), there was an entrance gate that was not high enough for the car to go under. The result: I hit the roof of the gate and the straps broke. The four jerrycans went flying and crashed on the ground. Since there were full, they harshly hit the ground. I have been lucky not to destroy the sunroof or even hurt the ranger that was standing near the entrance.

One of the jerrycans was leaking, thus I emptied it in the van and I then gave it to the ranger who will weld it and resell it. For the three other jerrycans, I managed to tie the straps together and to put back everything on the roof.


Breaking the transmission box

Sometimes, the problem is more important. In the Tuli Block in Botswana, I was exploring a small private reserve when I hit a rock. Well, I have hit many rocks since I have the vehicle, but this time I badly hit the transmission box. I look under the vehicle and I notice that transmission oil is rapidly emptying itself on the ground; I see a stream of oil under the vehicle. Well, I am 10 km away from the reserve's reception. What to do?

I decide to quickly test the transmission... Shit, I cannot put the vehicle on 'park' (P). When I stop, I must leave it on neutral. I decide to quickly drive toward the reception area where, at least, I would be able to ask for help. I manage to reach a small house where the guard welcomes the guests in the reserve. When I reached the place, the transmission box was almost empty of oil and the vehicle could not change gear. Thus, I could not drive anymore.

African people are quite resourceful and can sometimes fix anything to help themselves. Luckily, the man that helped me was quite a nice guy. He had a product to make a quick repair (two tubes of a product that, after mixing, can be applied on motors or radiators to plug a leak). Thus, we use that product and we manage to seal the opening on the transmission box. However, a big problem is still left. I don't have any oil to replace what I have lost...

The next town is nearly 60 km. I decide to make an ingenious mix to replace the transmission oil. I use a litre of power steering oil, a litre of gear box oil and a litre of engine oil. It works and I can reach the small town where I flush the oils I have put and have real transmission oil be put.

I drive on toward Francistown where I find a real garage well equipped and I have the transmission box repaired. The problem is that the cover of the box is bent. The mechanic removes it, straightens it and welds it adequately. After another transmission oil flush, I notice that I can now put the car on 'park' and that everything is back to normal.

Wow, lucky in my bad luck. This type of problem is stressful, but all this story lasted only a few hours... About three hours for the initial repair of the box and the oil flush. The next morning, a few hours for repairing and welding the cover (in addition to normal car maintenance). To think that when I was seeing the oil pouring out of the transmission box, I thought that my trip was over.


Another small problem

Yes, what a nice week! In addition to all that, at some point an oil pipe broke on the engine. I drove on losing engine oil for about two days. I didn't notice the problem since I was driving on a dusty road. I didn't see the smoke coming from the oil being burned on the engine... However, I now understand why I had a headache for two days; I was breathing this smoke and road dust for a few hours...

I succeeded in repairing this problem by myself on the side of the road. Since that time, the engine is doing a different sound. It was probably damaged a little bit, but it seems to be still good enough. Thus, the trip continues.