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4x4 Vehicle Driving
in South Africa


South Africans love their 4x4s. Everybody who can possibly afford it, has a four wheel drive vehicle in his garage and uses it to get to work and for family outings on the weekend. The favourite make is Toyota, the prestigious Landcruiser in particular. Also popular and and much more often to be seen on the roads is the less expensive Toyota Hilux Double Cabin. People like it for its big loading space. Nissan und Mitsubishi also produce this type of vehicles which are called "bakkies" in South Africa. Many city dwellers prefer the light-type SUV 4x4s like Hyundai Tucson, Kia Spartage, Honda CRV and Nissan Xtrail which all sell like hot cakes. The Landrover Defender, once the one and only Africa and safari vehicle, lost a lot of its acclaim - too noisy, rough and uncivilised, not sufficiently insulated against dust and not sturdy and reliable enough. Very different is the reputation of its noble brothers Landrover Discovery and Range Rover. One still likes to be seen in either one of them.

I
n South Africa four-wheel drives are - due to the high import tax - impossibly expensive. The Toyota Landcruiser 200, the champion under the most favourite 4x4s, costs almost as much as a modest house. Bakkies, mainly being assembled in South Africa, are more affordable. The high purchase prices reflect in the rental rates.

Which Vehicle to Rent for the Trip?

Generally a 4x4 is not required for a trip through South Africa. Almost all roads are tarred, and the few gravel roads usually are in good condition and easily manageable with a normal car. Beach driving is not permitted, with the exception of very few coastal stretches.

For some areas, however, one needs to have a 4x4, e.g. the Richtersveld National Park, the very north of KwaZulu-Natal (Kosi Bay) and the Sani Pass to Lesotho, whereby the vehicle's ground clearance matters more than the actual all-wheel power. While the access to the Kalahari Park is tarred nowadays, some of the routes within the park consist of soft sand, and are only permitted for off-road vehicles. But one can leave these difficult roads out and still have a great Kalahari experience.

Driving a 4x4 has some advantages on safari drives in wildlife reserves. From the elevated position of a 4x4 seat one can observe the animals much better, especially if there are other cars ahead of you. For this purpose a comfortable SUV like the Hilux or Nissan Xtrail would do. It doesn't need to be a Landcruiser or Landrover.

In some parts of South Africa's neighbouring countries the situation is different. To travel through the Moremi Game Reserve or Central Kalahari in Botswana it is necessary to have a good off-roader. The same applies to the Kaokoveld and Khaudom Game Reserve in Namibia. If you want to experience such remote areas, don't spare the expense and get a fully equipped expedition vehicle. The make of the car is not as important as its state of maintenance and the additional equipment like a long-range tank, 2 spare wheels, hi-lift jack and extra recovery tools. A water tank and a compressor fridge should also be included. And with a double battery system the fridge can be running through the night and the car engine will still start the next morning. Helpful is an air compressor to pump up the tyres after driving through soft sand for which one must have deflated them.

The weather conditions are another major factor for deciding which vehicle to hire. After heavy rains the gravel roads are muddy and extremely difficult to negotiate. Off-road vehicles perform better under these conditions, but also reach their limits.


Photo bottom: Toyota Hilux Double Cab, fully equipped expedition vehicle. Photo top: Landrover Discovery on Sani Pass road.

Photo: Nissan Double Cab with 2 Rooftents. The extra load on the roof requires cautious driving, especially on gravel roads.

Do You Need a Rooftent?

All 4x4 rental companies in southern Africa offer rooftents. The demand for them is the reason behind it. People fear to be visited at night by snakes, spiders and other creepers. So one prefers to sleep on top of the car rather than in a ground tent. However, rooftents are potentially dangerous as they shift the centre of gravity upwards. Especially with two tents on the roof the maximum roof top load is more than reached. With a high gravity centre, one easily looses control over the car on the vaulted dirt roads, especially when taking the bends with too high speed. The many rolled cars in Namibia prove the point. Rooftents are definitely a hundred times more dangerous than snakes and insects.

The Standard 4x4 Vehicles in South Africa

The ubiquitous bakkie, double cabin with five seats or as a single cab, is the main offer of South African car rental companies. If they are properly equipped, one can explore all areas of southern Africa in them. The passengers on the back seats of a bakkie don't have much leg space, though.

Toyota Hilux 4x4 Double Cab
This 4x4 is a fovourite with the rental companies. It usually comes with a 3.0 litre Diesel engine. The Hilux is robust and affordable. It has enough space for 4 or 5 passengers and for any amount of luggage and equipment. One can get it with or without camping equipment.

Toyota Hilux 4x4 Single Cab
It has a smaller cabin and is only suitable for 2 persons. It is as sturdy as the Hilux Double Cab. Single Cabs are available with and without camping equipment.

Nissan Navara 4x4 Double Cab
The Nissan is very similar to the Toyota Hilux. It offers enough space for up to 5 persons and their luggage. It is available with and without camping equipment.

Nissan Navara 4x4 Single Cab
This type has a smaller cabin and space for 2 persons. It is as robust as the Nissan Double Cab. Available with and without camping equipment.

Landrover Defender
The Defender is in regard to its off-road capabilities unequalled, in particular if one has to drive through soft sand and on mud. It is less comfortable than its competitors. One feels like driving an old truck. It is noisy, slow, not dust-prove. The worst about it is its proneness to breakdowns, even if it is new. On the other hand the Defender is technically quite plain and any bush mechanic can fix it. Only few companies offer Defenders for rent nowadays.

Nissan Xtrail 4x4
The Nissan Xtrail is an ideal vehicle for South Africa. The SUV allround 4x4 offers space to up to 5 persons and has comfortable finishes. The passengers in the back seats also have enough space. Some reantals offer the Xtrail as an automatic. If you don't want to travel through too inviable terrain, this is your best choice. It is not equipped for camping.

4x4 Rentals
We cooperate with many 4x4 rental companies in southern Africa and will gladly give you advice which type of vehicle to get for your particular tour. Our offers are usually cheaper than a direct booking with the car rental would be. Send us an email with your dates of travelling (dates and place of delivery and return, intended travel areas): 4x4hire@suedafrika.net

Note: We only act as agents of car rental companies. The rental contract is entered into by the client and the car hire company in South Africa or Namibia. We cannot be hold liable for any damages.