A guided Safari tour in the absolute best way to take in the wildlife and terrain of Africa, and although walking the grasslands, deserts, and forests on our beautiful continent is a must-do, it’s tough to cover much ground on a given day.
That’s where our safari vehicles come in!
These specialized vehicles are used to transfer our guests from one place to another safely and comfortably, but still allow them to get up close and personal with the environments they travel through. Today we wanted to talk about our fleet of rugged trucks, what they do, and the great care we take in maintaining them for a long life in the toughest conditions.
What’s make our vehicles “Safari Vehicles”?
Our transport vehicles are what is called “4x4s”. That simply means they have an engine that powers all 4-wheels as opposed to a 2-wheel configurations found on most modern cars and truck.
Having dedicated 4-wheel functionality is an absolute must on our trucks, however there are other things we look for when
First we look at the track width. This is the distance between the center line of each tire on your vehicle and measures how wide your tires are in relation to the overall height of the vehicle. A smaller track width will allow you to navigate tighter turns and turn more sharply, which can be great for driving through dense vegetation or crowded areas. On the other hand, a wide track width offers increased stability and better grip (and is therefore better in difficult terrain). That’s why some of our vehicles have a relatively small track with others having wider tracks.
Second we check the ground clearance. This is how far your vehicle’s undercarriage (or bottom) can be lifted up off the ground before anything hits it when driving over rough terrain. The higher the better! However, if something does hit your undercarriage or bumper, they’re most likely going to be destroyed. We have incorporated a skid plate on all vehicles to accommodate for this damage and have raised most of our fleet using an aftermarket suspension lift kit, such as those offered by Teraflex . Even with those two strategies we still end up scraping now and again, but they’re extremely helpful in preventing severe damage, which is worth it to us!
Third we consider the wheel size. This one is pretty self explanatory, but there are a few things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about buying 4″ oversized wheels with low profile tires. Naturally, they have a higher ground clearance and slimmer sidewalls, which makes them good for off-roading. The problem with them is that they’re no longer street legal in most countries. If you plan on going over the speed limit every now and again, then go ahead and buy 4″ or larger wheels.
Lastly we look at the reliability of the drivetrain. This is the guts of our car, from engine to transmission to differentials, and a good manufacturer should ensure they are able to handle extreme stress of on a regular basis.
Meet our safari vehicle fleet
Presently we operate three Land Rovers, a Unimog, and two Land Cruisers, and two Jeeps covering the much of Southern Africa, including Tanzania and on down to South Africa. It’s a lot of terrain to cover with many hard-earned miles adding to the odometer every year. If we didn’t have a robust maintenance program in place we would be out of business very quickly. While of of these vehicles have different maintenance schedules, the essentials are the same, and there is a lot that needs to be done on a regular basis. And it’s not just routine maintenance either. Before we get into the services specifics, let talk a bit about each vehicle.
The Unimog is mainly used for logistics, which is another way for saying we use it for driving to remote locations without having to bush-whack or fight through thick vegetation. It’s also used as a tow truck for getting stuck vehicles out of sticky situations, but recently it has been relegated for this duty by the Land Rover 110 LR4, which can perform better in tough terrain on its own. Since the Unimog is mainly used as a tow truck and for light work, it has a fairly straightforward maintenance schedule.
Land Rover 110 LR4 Defender
The Land Rover we use as a tow truck is the LR4, which means it has more horsepower and torque than the 110 (and therefore better in tough terrain), but it also requires a bit more maintenance.
For adding range, we have had to change out the standard alternator to a high output alternator and use a supplemental battery in addition to the single stock battery.
Land Cruiser 80 Series
The Land Cruisers we use are the Toyota 80 Series, which has been discontinued. They’re really tough and can soak up a ton of abuse. We have had them for over 20 years, but they have a lot of mileage on them and have been through many maintenance cycles already. However, they’re still going strong!
Land Cruiser 70 Series
We also have two Land Cruisers that are the Toyota 70 Series. Because they are diesel, and built prior to any diff system, these models don’t require as much routine maintenance, but they do require more point-checks than our other vehicles because of their age and mileage.
Lastly we have two Jeep Wrangler Unlimiteds that are used mainly for off-roading. From an engine perspective, the service point are not they’re not as easy to maintain as the Unimog or Land Rovers, but they’re much easier than the 70 and 80 Series. They’re still in great shape despite their hard use and (of course) it’s because of proper maintenance.
When The Unexpected Occurs
While our trucks rarely breakdown without some prior indications, in the past we’ve needed to call for professional towing assistance to get us back on our way.
Unfortunately this is not as easy as simply calling a nearby towing company or AAA roadside assistance like when we lived in Dallas Texas. The lengthy process starts to a call center that mainly handles extraction for lost visitors. Typically many hours or sometime days away, these lifesavers are on-call 24-hour / 7 days a week to winch, drag, or lift our trucks out of the muck when needed.
Even towing our 4X4 vehicles special consideration as they cannot be towed on a flatbed and need to be dragged on four wheels behind the towing vehicle. For a standard car or truck, this wouldn’t be an issue, however drag-towing vehicles with fixed 4X4 can damage the transmission, so this procedure requires that we disengage the driveshaft.
This is not a simple procedure – just ask our mechanics who will tell you this takes six to eight hours or more to complete depending on conditions.
Suffice to say we prefer to avoid breakdowns at any cost, and that is why we take our preventative maintenance schedules very seriously at the Classic Tours.
Maintaining our lineup of safari vehicles can be a daunting task for the uninitiated. Not only do you have to worry about the conditions that the vehicle will be subjected to in the wild, but you also have to ensure that it’s in op condition for the safari guests who will be riding in it. Our company has a rigorous maintenance service program that helps us keep our vehicles on the road and in good condition.
The first step in our maintenance program is to perform a thorough inspection of the vehicle. We check every component, from the engine to the tires, to make sure that everything is functioning properly. If there are any issues, we address them immediately so that they don’t become bigger problems down the road. We also perform regular tune-ups, oil changes, and filter replacements to make sure that the engine is reaching its peak performance.
In extremely tough conditions such as those in Africa, we have to adapt our maintenance program accordingly. We inspect more regularly and perform some additional checks under more extreme circumstances. For example, we check tire pressure before and during each safari and ensure that the tire tread is sufficient to handle the terrain. We also inspect all of the components that are more prone to wear and tear, such as suspension and shocks.
After each safari, we perform a thorough inspection again. If there have been any problems with the vehicle during the safari, we address those immediately so that they don’t become problems down the road. If everything checks out, we do a more in-depth inspection at our workshop to ensure that there aren’t any issues that would require immediate attention.
As mentioned previously, our drivetrains are particularly susceptible to damage over time, so if not serviced twice a month, there’s a good chance they’ll either break completely or already be worn down before there’s a chance for repair.
Not only is it important to maintain a vehicle for safaris, but it’s also important to keep them in perfect condition when they’re not being driven. For that reason, we take precautions such as parking the vehicles in covered garages when they’re not being used. This keeps them safe from harsh weather conditions and potential vandalism. If our safari vehicle is taken out of commission due to maintenance problems, it can mean a loss in revenue for us and a disruption for our guests’ travels – which we always try to avoid.
Maintaining Our Fleet For The Best Tour Experience
With a sturdy frame, souped up batteries, alternators, tires, and raised suspension, our safari trucks that can handle the roughest terrain Africa has to offer, so maintaining these safari vehicles is a big part of keeping our operations running smoothly. As a customer-service business we want our clients to be both comfortable while efficiently transporting them from spectacular location to location.
Our rigorous maintenance program helps us keep our vehicles on the road and in good condition, and we actively adapt our program according to the needs of each specific vehicle in our fleet.
Thanks For Reading!