The Off-Road Vehicle Guide for International Travelers
One of the first things you must do when moving overseas is acquire an automobile that can adequately maneuver the terrain. If you are moving to a developing country, that likely means you will probably be purchasing an off-road vehicle.
Unfortunately, most westerners are not well equipped to buy the proper 4x4 vehicle, and they don’t know what to look for and what to avoid. Just because something looks tough doesn’t mean it is tough (I’m looking at you, Hummer H3).
This guide will help new buyers make an educated decision. If you get this decision wrong, you will regret it and will throw away a lot of money on mechanics and repairs.
King of the Jungle
The number one vehicle in this class is the Land Cruiser Troop Carrier. Affectionately called the Troopy. It has a long wheelbase, which affords good stability, and the torquey diesel engine makes it an ideal choice for traversing rugged terrain. The Land Cruiser also sports a low-range transfer case that can take you almost anywhere. The only downside to this vehicle is its high price tag. Because Toyota rules the automotive world, parts can be found almost anywhere, and mechanics are well versed in keeping this beast on the road.
The second best vehicle for bush driving is The Land Cruiser pickup. Like the Troopy, it is tough as nails and can traverse any terrain. It has a shorter wheelbase but makes up for it in functionality. The pickup bed has saved my bacon on many occasions. The Troopie is the only vehicle to have a lower gear ratio than this one. Meaning you will be able to get up and over steeper climbs without going down into low range (which makes it harder on your transmission). The diesel engine in this truck has enough torque to pull a tank out of the mud. Yes, that happened. The downside to the pickup is that it can get a bit squirrelly on some roads because of the lack of weight in the rear, but this shouldn’t be a problem with good tires. The other drawback is its high price tag. Parts and mechanics are also easy to find for this vehicle.
The Land Rover Defender 110 is an incredibly capable vehicle. It can go almost anywhere and has a low-range transfer case like the Troopy, but it doesn’t have quite as much torque (a big drawback). The Defender also has excellent ground clearance, which means that you won’t scrape your undercarriage on steep climbs. Off-road capability isn’t its only strong point. The Land Rover Defender 110 is also great for towing and has a large payload capacity. Parts and mechanics are easy to find all over the world. Unfortunately, they are notorious for being a little fussy and leaving puddles of oil wherever they go. But, if you are British, that is a small price to pay to support the British Automotive Empire. God Save the Queen.
The Cape Buffalo
Like the Cape Buffalo, the Mercedes G-Wagon may not be pretty, but it is sure tough. This vehicle has a reputation for being nearly indestructible, and the V-6 diesel engine gets excellent gas mileage (important in developing countries with high fuel prices). The G-Wagon is also endowed with german engineering and reliability. The downsides include limited cargo space and a high price tag. Parts and mechanics are easy to find in Europe but can be a little tough to come by elsewhere.
The Nissan Patrol is tough but more elegant and comfortable than the other options on this list. It can’t get into as small of spaces, but it has a smooth ride and is more comfortable on the road. It also doesn’t have quite as much ground clearance, which means you are more likely to scrape underneath when going over bumps or rocks. Parts are relatively easy to find, but Nissan mechanics may be hard to come by in some places.
The Mercedes Uni-mog is the holy grail of offroad vehicles. It is huge and can do ANYTHING! But it can be hard to find, and it isn’t the most reliable vehicle. Parts and mechanics are often hard to come by for this rare vehicle, but If you can find the Unimog, it is worth their weight in gold. I’ve always wanted one but have only seen a dozen or so in circulation.
The H1 Hummer (the original) leaves no room for doubt in terms of toughness. It is a tank that can drive over anything. It has excellent ground clearance and torque, but it isn’t very comfortable on the road. Off-road capability comes with high fuel costs and limited cargo space. Parts and mechanics are almost impossible to find outside of North America, and the ridiculous width of the vehicle can make it difficult to maneuver on some roads.
In addition, here are some Bonus features to look for in an off-road vehicle. These options will make your travels easier and keep you out of the mechanic shop.
high road clearance
locking differentials (front and rear)
large fuel capacity
Good approach, break-over and departure angles
I hope you have enjoyed the Off-Road Vehicle Buyers Guide for International Travelers. I am 100% sure some of you will disagree with my assessment; feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.