Which 4×4 to buy for an overland trip?

All you need to know to find the best 4×4 to travel

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Over the years, our passion for adventure has led us to create original travel guides sold in over 70 countries worldwide. Our mission is to spread a travel philosophy based on adventure, freedom, improvisation and exploration. Our guides inspire travelers to explore the world's forgotten paths, encountering wilderness and civilizations.
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Your car will become your traveling companion. It will take you to the most beautiful places in the world and get you out of the worst situations. Don’t be surprised if you give it a personality, feelings or a name. No matter how material it is, you get attached to it! You should therefore take the time to choose your 4×4 because it is the most important purchase of the trip. Above all, don’t rush! Here are a few tips to know which 4×4 to buy for your trip.

Features of the 4×4 vehicle


  • A 4×4 vehicle, as the name implies, is necessarily equipped with four-wheel drive. Avoid cars with AWD (permanent four-wheel drive) and forget about SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles) that only have two-wheel drive.
  • A 4×4 also has a differential lock system. The differential is a device that allows power to be distributed to the wheels in an adapted manner. For example, in a curve, the wheels on the outside of the curve must turn faster than those on the inside. However, if your SUV gets stuck in mud, locking the differential ensures that you send the same power to all the wheel shafts. Dry tires grip better, and locked tires spin less, which means less sinking. Of course, you should never use the differential lock on the road, as you risk going straight at the first bend. Make sure you have at least one rear differential lock. If you are an avid off-roader, you can always fit a front differential lock of the ARB Air Locker type, but this will be an extra expense.
  • Your 4×4 must imperatively be equipped with a short and long gearbox. The short gearbox allows you to increase the torque rpm. This is useful in off-road, for quicker gear changes and to take more speed over a short distance.
  • Finally, what will characterize a 4×4 under the chassis are its axles. Indeed, the rear axle guides the wheel axles independently from the front axle. This feature ensures that the 4×4 always keeps at least one or two tires on the ground, even in the most inextricable situations, and thus maintains grip.

Choice of the 4×4’s brand


Be sure to choose a vehicle that is frequently encountered in the areas you are going to visit; well known to local mechanics with relatively easy access to spare parts.

For example, if you’re driving through Africa or Central Asia in a Jeep Wrangler, this one is too typical of the American market. While Jeep Wranglers are sometimes imported as “exotic cars” or “luxury cars”, they do not benefit from a real technical support and too few mechanics know them. Spare parts will often be hard to find.


Don’t think you’re smarter than the others. If a vehicle has a good reputation, it is certainly not usurped. And if all you’ve heard are unfortunate stories about a vehicle, there’s usually no smoke without fire.

4×4 fuel ou diesel ?

    In favour of gasolineIn favour of diesel
    PriceLower purchase price.The diesel engine is more expensive to buy, but diesel per litre is generally cheaper.
    Availability and qualityIn some parts of the world (especially in Central Asia) petrol is preferred because the quality of diesel can be poor.Most of the trails you will take are trails that were made either for the timber industry, mining, agriculture or to supply remote villages. Globally, all construction machinery, trucks, tractors, pickups, large generators use diesel. So it will often be easier to find diesel along the tracks or even in the jungle than petrol.
    ConservationIf you travel to cold regions, be aware that diesel freezes below -10°C while gasoline freezes below -60°C. If you are transporting jerry cans, remember that diesel is combustible and gasoline is flammable. Diesel burns above 52°C when petrol burns above -43°C (depending on the additives used).  It will therefore be less dangerous to carry diesel jerry cans than petrol on your roof in direct sunlight.
    RobustnessA diesel engine is heavier but also more robust.
    PowerThe petrol engine offers more power, which can be interesting when crossing large dunes or at high altitude.Diesel is less powerful but has more torque at low rpm, and it's this torque that we're looking for when crossing.
    PollutionGasoline is less polluting than diesel.
    Engine brakeThe diesel engine offers better engine braking.
    River fordingWhile it is true that the diesel engine does not like to ingest water, the gasoline engine is very "electrified" and will not like to cross water.

    Simplicity or electronic?


    A modern car is fantastic… when it works. When it breaks down, in the bush, the savannah, the desert or in the mountains, it’s a real nightmare and it’s almost irreparable.

    You have to keep it simple. Even if you’re not a mechanic, you’ll always find a small mechanic in a village. And even if its repair will look more like a do-it-yourself than anything else, it will at least allow you to reach a big city.

    So choose cars that are simple, easy to repair, easy to maintain. They will break down less often.

    4×4 manual or automatic ? 


    While automatic gearboxes have made a breakthrough in the world of 4x4s for their efficiency, overlanders are abandoning them for their unreliability. Things are changing, but a manual transmission will always be safer for a long trip.

    The new automatic transmissions on some 4x4s let you select your gear, making it a kind of hybrid between manual and auto. 

    Solid Front Axles or IFS ?

      IFS or Independent Front Suspension, it’s a bit like the “new” technology, the way to modernity. While it offers several advantages such as better comfort and manoeuvrability, it is also more complex and made up of more fragile parts because they are more numerous and smaller. Most latest-generation vehicles are equipped with it, such as the Toyota Hilux, the Toyota Landcruiser 100 and 200 or the Ford Ranger.

      Another advantage is the addition of a “bash plate” at the front under the engine followed by a “skid plate” just after the “bash plate”. The “bash plate” takes the hits and the “skip plate” takes over to continue sliding over the obstacle. This system is very interesting and efficient especially in mud. Equipped with an IFS, one should pay particular attention to its cardan heads when riding on branches and other debris. Indeed, these are protected by bellows that could be quite easily damaged. In addition, the cardan heads are articulated in two axes of rotation which makes them more fragile. 

      The Solid Front Axles or Live Axles or Beam Axles are known to be more robust. For example, the gimbal heads only hinge on one axis. The second axis of articulation is the articulation of the axis itself. Less comfortable, less manoeuvrable, a Solid Front Axle is preferred especially on a heavy and heavily loaded vehicle. We often only put a “bash plate” with this type of axle because the axle does not allow a continuity between the “bash plate” and the “skid plate”. Nevertheless, larger tyres can be used to compensate for this disadvantage. The Solid Front Axle can be found on vehicles renowned for their robustness: Toyota Landcruiser 70 & 80 series.

      The transition from the Landcruiser equipped with a Solid Front Axle to an IFS from the 100 series onwards will make many off-roaders say that the Landcruiser has become a city vehicle, that it has become gentrified. Rightly or wrongly.

      Changes to avoid


      • No spacers (track wideners) to widen your axis. Spacers are plates that are added to the back of the rim to make the tires stick out. Besides the fact that spacers are certainly illegal in your country, they wear out your wheel bearings prematurely.
      • No lift kit more than 4 or 5 cm. They increase the risk of roll-over and require major modifications especially if you have an IFS type front suspension.
      • No off-set on the rims for the same reason that you won’t put spacers. Although they are not dangerous like spacers, they will wear out the rolling of your wheels prematurely as well. A rim with an off-set will not be centered. It will have an off-set, a positive or negative offset. It is this offset that will cause premature bearing wear.

      Pick up 4×4, a good choice ?


      Pickups are usually longer. Which means a little less good in crossing but with more room for the cargo.

      If you choose a pickup, you will have to invest in a hardtop (or canopy) for the body, but this hardtop – if you choose the right one – will have several advantages: a compartment without glass, safe from prying eyes, better protected from thieves and more dustproof and waterproof when fording.

      Final checks before choosing the 4×4 model


      You’ve chosen the vehicle of your dreams, bravo. But before you buy it, you need to make sure you can equip it to transform this city 4×4 into a real 4×4 for overlanding. It’s very easy. Go to the ARB  or Euro4x4Parts website, and check if your 4×4 model has a complete list of equipment in the catalogue.

      You will thus be able to see if this vehicle is “equipable” for the “overlanding” trip.


      Our choice : Toyota Land Cruiser

      We bought in June 2019 a Toyota Land Cruiser 80 series (HZJ 80 VX 4.5) from 1998. It is a 205 horsepower gasoline model. This model has a very good reputation, which was a big factor in our choice. Many overlanders even qualify it as puncture-proof. We chose the gasoline model because the quality of gasoline is better than diesel in Central Asia and the power at high altitude is more interesting. There is little electronics in this model and the engine is easily repairable and at lower cost (Toyota brand very widespread in Central Asia, known by garages and parts at very interesting prices). Its double tank offering a capacity of 150L allows a great autonomy. We equipped it with Dunlop M/T wheels (285/75R16) with 16-inch aluminum rims. We have two spare wheels. It has a roof rack and metal clips to fix two wheels on the trunk. The car is raised by 5cm with a factory suspension kit. The car is also equipped with a factory Snorkel, a bull bar and a ramp with two LEDs. We plan in the near future to buy a roof tent and a second battery to power a small refrigerator.

      mud and dust overlanding blaise ountravela safari


      Overlander - MUD & DUST Overlanding - Garmin Ambassador

      Thanks to Blaise, photographer and seasoned adventurer, for contributing to this article by sharing his experience and knowledge about 4x4s! He is about to cross Africa with his Toyota Landcruiser 79, to follow his expedition, visit his website or instagram.

      If you would like to participate in the writing of an article (mechanics, 4×4 equipment or motorcycle), do not hesitate to contact us. OunTravela is a collaborative resource centre!

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