Vehicle selection for overlanding is the biggest decision you will make, bar your route, as it will affect your life every day of your trip. The options are described below.
Hugely widespread in every European/African country, a Toyota 4×4 will be strong, reliable and good value. Expertise and spares are widely available, even in the back of beyond. Go for the 70 series, they’re the offroad workhorses, although can be difficult to find in the UK.
Former King of Africa, Land Rovers are still mighty beasts, with a strong cult following. In general, in the UK expect to pay between about 120-150% of the price of an equivalent age Land Cruiser, and to get less features (no air con, basic interior, no CD player etc). Realistic options are the Defender or Discovery. If you’re overlanding in a Series III or older, I want to hear from you!
Land Rover’s replacements for the Series III were the 90 and 110 models, which they rebranded as Defenders in 1991. The 90 and 110 refer to the length of the chassis in inches, so 90 is the short wheel base and 110 the long wheel base (130 also available, collectors items!). I would recommend the 110 for overlanding, as there’s much more space and you sleep in the back stretched out if you’re 6’2” or less!
For overlanding, look for the 200TDi or 300TDi engines (1990-1997ish). These are 2.5L four cylinder engine blocks, with a reputation as the best engines LR ever made. They’re simple, will run off poor quality fuel, and have minimal electrics – all positives in developing countries. The turbo and intercooler give them more power than the earlier diesel engines. I would avoid the TD5 or later, as they have too many electronics on board.
Out of my area of expertise; buy a diesel (simpler and a more widely available fuel), aim for the 200TDi or 300TDi engines.
Nissan Patrol, Toyota Hilux, Isuzu Trooper, Mitsubishi Shogun are all options, but less common. As such expertise and spares are less available. Mercedes UniMogs are for the well endowed/family overlanders.
Many people overland in weird and wonderful vehicles. Do it! It’s very possible, so long as you have time on your side and infinite patience to wait for spare parts/tows! Possibilities include tuk tuks, Citroen 2CVs, VW Beetles…
Location of Purchase
If planning a one-way overland expedition, there’s always the option of starting at the far end and driving back home. Bear in mind that this may require you to spend a long while at the far end organising purchase of vehicle, tools, spares, and documents!
Diesel vs Petrol?
Buy a diesel if you’re going off the beaten track. Diesel is more widely available, the engines are simpler and easier to fix, and they’re often more economical. Diesel is also much safer to handle/transport.
These look great, but once bent they are good for nothing. Better to opt for steel wheels, which can be bashed back into shape! Consider 6.5’ Land Rover steel rims rather than the standard 5.5’, they will let you mount 245 width tyres and above.
Often fitted in tandem with alloy wheels, these allow bigger tyres but also put greater strain on the wheel barings and steering mechanism. Your call.
(Essential) Add Ons
Roof rack – a must have. The bigger the better in my opinion, as it gives you the flexibility to chuck everything on the roof. Expensive to buy separately, so aim for a car with one already fitted.
Roof tent – expensive, luxurious, convenient. Depends upon your budget. Allows safe and quick assembly of camp, but takes up a lot of roof rack space. A cheap alternative is to line a roof rack with plywood and pitch a bog standard tent on top.
Spare wheels x2 – punctures are common off the beaten track!
Snorkel – ideal for the wet seasons, and for the desert (reduced dust)
Split charge relay and second battery – great to run a 240v inverter, for charging phones, cameras, laptops etc
Winch – electric winches are expensive and require the correct bumpers. It depends how extreme the offroading you’re planning is, but most people use their winches infrequently if at all on overland trips. A decent hand winch is a good compromise. Alternatively, a slightly more labour intensive winch can be rigged using your hi lift jack.