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How to prepare a 3rd Gen Surf for African travel, on a budget. PART 1

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  • How to prepare a 3rd Gen Surf for African travel, on a budget. PART 1

    PART 1

    There seems to be an ever increasing number of people who enjoy kitting out a vehicle and travelling overland at some stage in their lives. My first experience of such pursuits was reading the 'Guides Routard' as a teenager. Flicking through those accounts of hippy Frenchmen driving their Renault 4s around Europe and North Africa, I caught the bug.
    Much as I enjoy this sort of thing, I am by no means an 'expert'. My experience of long driving trips is limited to Africa and a little bit of Asia ( I travelled the Americas a bit, but in the comfort of air conditioned intercity buses).
    I have put together a few notes, based on personal experience, on how to choose and prepare a Surf for an overland trip across Africa, such as a 'Cape to Cairo' type of expedition, or simply to travel around East and Southern Africa, which is the part of the continent I know better. I trust that with a few adjustments, the information contained here could be helpful to anyone who was planning to take a vehicle on a long journey anywhere in Africa.
    I have always been on fairly limited budgets for my travels and therefore the advice found in here reflects that.
    Living in Africa, I meet overlanders from all over the world all the time: on the road, in shopping malls, garages etc. I always talk to them and share experiences of what works, what doesn't , what's worth having and what's a waste of time (and money).
    I will discuss how to keep kit and mods to a bare minimum as not to break the bank but still be able to enjoy the trip in relative comfort and safety. Your surf will not necessarily look like a 'Camel Trophy' truck but hopefully it will take you there and back just fine.
    I will not go into which routes to choose or the technicalities of obtaining carnets du passage, visas and various paperwork etc.
    Given the current problems in Sudan and South Sudan, Egypt, some parts of Ethiopia and Eastern Kenya (Al Shabab), Mauritania, Mali and Niger, crossing the continent is not what it used to be. I have met people who took different options, shipped their vehicles to Nairobi (and then drove down) or Cape Town (and drove up). Others bought their cars here in Africa and drove around.
    My remit is simply to give some advice on doing some simple checks and adjustments so that your journey is hopefully trouble free and enjoyable.
    For detailed, technical info on how to prepare a 2nd Gen Surf for Southern African travel I would refer anyone to the excellent www.africa4x4cafe.com, which is packed with useful tips and pictures, common sense and local know-how .
    I enjoyed reading "Sahara Overland", by Chris Scott. Other, newer books and manuals are probably out there.
    Many threads on this Forum also cover overlanding in Surfs, also very interesting and worth a read.
    There are plenty overlanders travel blogs online that are also full of personal accounts and interesting tips, some of them written by members of this forum too. I would definitely encourage anyone considering embarking on a similar journey to have a good browse. A lot of valuable information and plenty laughs.
    So, why overlanding? Because it 's...fun!

    In theory you don't need a 4x4 to travel within Africa, or even to Overland from Europe to Africa.
    A guy I know drove an old Renault 4 van (that he bought from the French postal service as scrap!) from Paris to Cape Town. A Polish couple did the same in a Fiat Panda a few years back. Guys drive Beatles from Cape Town to Nairobi all the time.
    As you drive through Africa, depending on the route you take, you'll probably be on tar roads most of the way, these days.
    Choosing 4x4s, however, gives you more freedom to go off the beaten track (and visit national parks, for example). It allows more load space, more height ride and, thanks to their size, probably increased safety in case of accidents or collisions.
    As you can expect, for me it's Toyota all the way. I wouldn't consider anything else.
    Forget the brochures with pictures of Defenders crawling up the dunes in the Namib...A few hundred miles into your adventures you will probably need a chiropractor...and a good mechanic. And a hearing aid.
    Discos will be more comfortable and quiet but unreliability will be a issue.
    So it's Japan, basically. Mitsubishi have limited dealership network, parts are expensive and a headache to obtain. The 2.8s are smoky and prone to turbo failure, the 2.5s (4D56) marginally better, but still... Unless you were thinking of a Mk 3, 3.0 L Pajero, maybe...but I wouldn't bother.
    I like the local Patrols, Africa and Middle East spec, with the 4.2 engines (and I think even a 4.5 petrol) that you get here. Not too keen on the 2.8 and 2.5 ones you get in Europe. Less common than Toyotas and expensive to buy. We are after a 'budget' 4x4 here, don't forget. Again, don't bother.
    Isuzu Trooper? it would have to be a manual, the autos have issues. Parts are rare here, main dealers even more rare...leave them alone.
    So, which Toyota?
    The following engines are dead common here, so they will all do.
    4.2cc, turbo or non turbo ( as in the LC Amazon types)
    KZ-TE (Found in Surfs, Prados, Regius, some Hi-Ace minibuses, Single and Double Cab pick-us and probably others)
    3L (2.8 cc)
    5L (3.0 cc)
    3RZ and 3RZ -E
    All 2.2 and 2.4 petrol engines fitted to the older Hilux pickups (is it called the 22R?)
    Parts for these engines have become widely available here in the last few years, thanks to the massive impact of Japanese imports.
    Nowadays all African capitals and any decent size African city has a main Toyota Dealership. Toyota is the blood that keeps Africa going.
    Non original spares for the engines mentioned are commonly found in independent spares shops. Good quality filters (Fram, Gud etc), belts and suspension parts can be found in the main cities. Same for oils, all major brands are now widely available, mineral, synthetic or half/half. Servicing your vehicle here will not be a problem. All those engines mentioned have been sold here for years, both by the Toyota network and the independent Jap importers. These same vehicles are used by the police, NGOs, civil service etc. Mechanics here know them well and will know how to work on them.
    Bush mechanics love Yotas and despise Landies...
    The same brands of tyres as in Europe or US can be found here, in a variety of specs and prices. In fact choice is wider because of how common 4x4s are here. I have no official figures but I would't be surprised if SUVs and Pickups accounted for more than 50% of all vehicles driven in Africa.
    As for the type of body you want on top of those engines , that's up to you. I personally love Surfs, Prados and LCs, because of how comfortable they are, compared to pick-ups. Leaf springs anyone?
    That matters when you spend the best part of the day at the wheel. Also the amount of load space, and the accessibility of the load, compared to pick-ups with canopies.
    All three are very common here. You will see plenty 2nd Gens and 3rd Gens, even a few 'post 1996', intercooled ones.
    If you like surfs and you like driving through open spaces, then you will LOVE driving your surf through some of Africa's scenery. In comfort.
    I really like the Colorados and Prados too: they have more load space, bigger radiators and to me they feel bigger and more solid than Surfs, but maybe that's just me.
    The LCs are excellent, but more expensive. Everything is big and tough, just take a look underneath one to get an idea. In an ideal world we would all buy a mint 80s or 100s series Landcruiser, with lockable front and rear diffs, drive into Frogs Island and get it fully kitted out...never mind!
    Since we are on a budget, our choice will be the 3rd Gen Surf diesel, with the 1 KZ TE engine. It's what I have used for my travels in the last 3 years. Before that I had a Prado petrol, 3RZ . I have also had a 2nd Gen Surf and various pick-ups in the past.
    From what I gather you can get a very neat 3rd Gen for just over 2000 these days in UK. That is a good start.
    Don't skimp on the car and/or the preparation. It will save you money and hassle later. Look for buying advice on this Forum.
    So...we have chosen the vehicle!

    Personally I love the combination of Auto and multimode in the 3rd Gen. It has got me out of many sticky situations. It seems to always find the right gearing and torque to keep you going, even when other 4x4s struggle. The down side is that the ATF fluid is piped in and out of the bottom of the rad to be cooled down. Which in turns further raises the coolant temperature. Especially if towing or carrying a heavy load (like you would probably do, on an overland trip) it's wise to fit a separate ATF cooler. Again, many threads on here with advice on what to buy and how and where to fit.
    Do a couple of drain and refill with Dexron II or III ATF fluid in the weeks prior departure to ensure your fluid is nice and red. Check the level following the guidelines on this Forum, with the engine hot.
    Toyota auto boxes are very reliable.
    Otherwise you have got the manual version, nothing wrong with that, just watch the flywheel...

    If you are buying your 3rd Gen afresh you will need to do some thorough checks, and I would refer you to the many threads on here on how to choose the right Surf.
    If you are using a Surf that you have owned for a while, hopefully you will know its condition, its weaknesses and its 'bad bits'.
    What will get you through your trip is not the fancy kit on the outside but the engine, suspension etc .
    Preparing for an overland trip is very different from 'modding' a car for recreational, 'playsite' type offroading. Here it's all about durability, strength and comfort rather than clearance and articulation.
    Here it goes.

    If you have no records, change the timing belt, idler and tensioner. Also all the ancillary belts. Prevention is better than cure.
    Make sure it starts well, otherwise check the starter motor and glow plugs.
    On your last service change all filters as usual and put some injector cleaner through, maybe run a whole bottle of Forte or similar in 1/4 tank. Diesel in Africa can be very dirty, get used to doing this at every service while you are away. Fuel treatments and injectors cleaners are widely available here now, from parts shops, filling stations and the main supermarkets.

    Get someone to test that the alternator charges as it should. Get a quality, heavy duty, maintenance free battery (or two if you have dual battery).

    Make sure this is spot on. Get it re-gassed ad serviced properly. You might not use it all the time (it gets quite cold down here in July and August) but at times it will save your bacon. The old spec aircon gas is still available here and local welders can try and repair leaky systems but better test it properly before departure.

    It goes without saying, this will be crucial. And worth spending money on. My 3rd Gen has the rad with a plastic top tank, probably the original Toyota one. Make sure your radiator is free of leaks and works well. Buy a new rad cap and fit a new thermostat since they are cheap enough. Thoroughly flush the entire system, including the heater matrix and rear heater pipes. Refill with good quality coolant as by manufacturer advice, in the right ratio. I use BP Isocool, mixed at 50% with distilled water. Fill up to the 'full' mark on the expansion tank. Test the cooling well before embarking on your trip. Monitor the level in the expansion tank, it will raise a bit (between 2 and 3 cm) when the engine is hot, it will drop back to the 'full' mark when cold. Investigate any apparent loss of coolant asap, no matter how small. If it's being lost, it's going somewhere (leaky rad or pipes or water pump? Cracked head?). Check the rear heater pipes as they are notorious for rusting over and slowly leak coolant out. Maybe delete them altogether before the trip, info to be found on the forum.
    Check the functioning of the viscous fan with the engine cold and hot (see advice on the Forum). After a good drive, with the engine nice and hot, turn off and then try to manually 'flick' the blades. The fan should hardly spin. In the morning start the engine and let it idle for 5 or 10 minutes. Then switch off and try the 'flick' again. The fan should spin quite freely. If needed get a new fan unit.
    Spend money on the cooling and suspension rather than on fancy looking stuff you'll never use.
    If in doubt about anything get the system pressure checked and/or sniff tested by people that know what they are doing. Test accurately so that by the time you leave you know your cooling system is 100%. You will need it. Don't skimp in this department.
    After that, it's in the hands of the gods.
    I have often driven 7-8 hours in crazy heat, loaded to the gunwhales, and , touch wood, nothing has ever gone wrong. The coolant level goes up the usual bit and then is back to the full line by morning. People fit gauges to monitor the actual coolant temperature with accuracy. Probably a good idea, so that you can stop and cool things down should you go above 100C, before doing lasting damage. Many threads on the subject on here.
    I get the feeling that the 3rd Gen is a tad less prone to head issues than the previous diesel surfs, but maybe it's just wishful thinking. Or maybe it's because they are newer.
    If the head goes, no drama. If you monitor the cooling system on a daily basis you will catch any issues early and you will be able to drive to a city with a decent garage that will replace it for you. Sometimes it takes months, or hundreds of km, before a cracked head really 'shows', so no need to panic. Non original, average quality KZ- TE heads are available in major cities since it's such a common engine here. You will find cheap heads too. Avoid them.
    Last edited by tashtego; 3 December 2015, 06:37.