4×4 SOUTH AFRICA
It was our dream to travel to Africa. And what better way, than to plan an open-ended Africa road trip across this incredible continent?
The first adventure was to 4×4 South Africa.
Getting off the beaten path on a self-drive safari is freedom at its best.
Our first decision, as foreigners, was deciding whether we should rent or buy a 4×4 South African vehicle.
So, if you are travelling to South Africa, this article will help:
- Explain the benefits of driving a 4×4 vehicle over a 2×4
- Where to purchase or rent a South Africa 4 x4 vehicle?
- Make your decision as to whether to buy or rent a 4×4 overlanding vehicle in South Africa
- Explain how, as foreigners, we bought and own our South African 4×4
- Equipment Considerations for a 4×4 South African Vehicle
- Upgrades completed on our 4×4 in South Africa
- Should you consider an accredited 4×4 training course in South Africa?
Planning a Trip to South Africa?
- 🚗 Hiring a car? We recommend getting a quote from DiscoverCars
- 🚐 Hiring a campervan? We recommend Motorhome Republic
- ⛑ Arranged your travel insurance? Compare quotes from World Nomads & Safetywing
- Order your International Driver’s Licence online here
- 🏩 Booked your accommodation? We use Booking.com to find the best deals
- 🐾 Is someone pet-sitting for you? 🐾 We use and love TrustedHousesitters
- (Get 25% off at checkout for new memberships with our discount code: LIFEJOURNEY25)
RENTALS: SHOULD I CONSIDER A SOUTH AFRICAN 4×4 RENTAL OR A 2×4 RENTAL?
The benefit of travelling in a 4×4 over a 2×4 is that you have the freedom to go almost anywhere where you want.
If your plan is only to visit the main National Parks, for example, to self-drive through Kruger National Park then a 2×4 vehicle would suffice.
But if you want to explore more of the country, and want to maximise your opportunities to get off-road to lesser travelled locations then a 4×4 is a must.
Additionally, if you want to go further afield, such as overlanding Botswana or Namibia, you will definitely need a 4×4.
Off-road or on-road, in wet, dry, rocky, muddy or sandy conditions, 4x4s are made to tackle the harsher terrain.
The advantages of a 4×4 are:
- Improved height advantage over normal sedans, meaning you will have better game viewing,
- Improved ground clearance and
- Off-road vehicle specifications enable the vehicle to handle tougher conditions.
4×4 RENTAL SOUTH AFRICA
4 x 4 Rental Through an Agency
No doubt about it, there are plenty of 4×4 rental company options to choose from.
Not only will prices vary, but so will the vehicle options.
A trusted and experienced 4×4 rental agency is Motorhome Republic, which deals with reputable 4×4 companies in South Africa, such as Britz and Avis Safari.
Motorhome Republic works for you; acting as the ‘work-horse’ to find the best-priced 4×4 rental deal based on your requirements; at no extra cost to you.
They do the footwork and also have a Price Beat Guarantee.
We used them when we travelled through Europe for a year and they were incredibly helpful and negotiated the best deals for us.
🚐 Thinking of Hiring a Camper in Southern Africa?
We recommend using Motorhome Republic to find you the best deal – they search all the local reputable African rental companies, including the most popular (we’ve seen them everywhere here), Avis and Britz
They do all the hard work for you and have a PRICE BEAT GUARANTEE
4X4 Rental Using Bushlore
Another option is to use Bushlore, one of the main 4×4 rental companies in South Africa.
The go-to man at Bushlore (the Johannesburg branch, South Africa), when you want to rent or buy, check out pricing, or simply have someone ‘local’ answer your queries, is Dieter Marx ([email protected]).
You can check out Bushlore’s rental vehicles and rates here.
Just a quick note, Bushlore offers a minimum rental period of 5 days for rentals within South Africa and a minimum rental period of 7 days for rentals outside of South Africa.
WHERE TO PURCHASE AN ex-rental 4×4 SOUTH AFRICA
We ended up dealing with Bushlore which has its main office in Johannesburg, South Africa.
They have a large 4×4 rental fleet with support offices in most of southern Africa: South Africa (Capetown, Johannesburg), Namibia (Windhoek), Botswana (Maun, Kasane), Zambia (Victoria Falls) and Zimbabwe (Victoria Falls).
The major drawcard for us was that Bushlore retire their pre-equipped 4×4 vehicles and put them up for sale.
(Note: we have no affiliation with Bushlore).
OUR DECISION: PURCHASE A VEHICLE TO 4×4 SOUTH AFRICA
As we are long-term travellers, we decided that 4×4 rental was not feasible and decided to purchase a 2016 double cab 4×4 Toyota Hilux pre-fitted bush camper in South Africa (cost was ZAR 395,000).
For us, this was the most cost-effective means of transport for our long-term travel plans in Africa.
It allowed us the freedom to go where we wanted when we wanted. We were also able to complete an after-market fit out of the 4×4 using a third party for what we wanted.
This additional cost was ZAR 50,000 and included:
- Replacement steel front bumper
- Fabrication and fitment of a fixed aluminium ladder to access the rear accommodation part (the original method was to use a stand-alone step-ladder which we had to place into position. It wasn’t that stable and it was only a matter of time before one of us would have tripped up causing a fall. (2023 Update: we have since removed this ladder to gain more internal space and reverted to using the external step ladder)
- 3x weatherproof canvas side panels that fit onto the existing pull-out canopy to create an extra ‘room’ for protection from the sun, wind, and rain
- Removal of the back seats and addition of an aluminium security box plus the fitment of ammo boxes for food storage (canned goods). (2023 Update: the aluminium security box has since been removed to provide more storage in the rear seat area)
- Fitting out of the accommodation part of the vehicle with a cargo net for clothes, canvas multi-pocket storage for smaller loose items, and securing the mounting bracket for a 20-litre Lifesaver filtered water container. (2023 Update: the 20-litre container is now secured in the rear seat area for easier access)
It’s worth a mention, that Bushlore offered us the single-cab Toyota Land Cruiser, which is the ultimate model for extreme 4×4, just as good for camping and ready for any 4×4 trail, but the Hilux was tough enough for us.
It was cheaper and the money we saved, we put towards the upgrades.
BUYING AND REGISTERING A 4×4 SOUTH AFRICA VEHICLE AS A FOREIGNER
Entering into a 12-month buyback agreement with Bushlore meant that although we had bought the vehicle outright, on paper the ownership and registration would be retained by Bushlore.
This was due to us being foreigners and not having either a South African driver’s licence or a Traffic Register Number (TRN).
Under this buyback agreement, when our first year with the 4×4 had expired, we could choose to either: opt to sell the 4×4 back to Bushlore, sell to a South African citizen or keep the 4×4 ourselves.
A year was nowhere near long enough for the travels we had planned, so we had every intention of keeping the vehicle.
Bushlore would then arrange a TRN for us, meaning that they would transfer ownership of the 4×4 into our name but Bushlore would maintain the ongoing vehicle registration in their name, leaving us to find our own South African vehicle insurance provider.
Buying a vehicle sight unseen, from a foreign country, is potentially a risky venture but Bushlore was great to deal with. We had a lot of emails back and forwards followed by a couple of calls. They took the time and walked us through the whole purchasing process.
You can check out Bushlore’s pricing on their different second-hand 4x4s.
Update: Bushlore has stated they are unable to now assist foreigners in acquiring a TRN for vehicles bought from them.
VEHICLE OWNERSHIP TRANSFER (1 YEAR LATER)
( Feb 2021)
Approaching the end of the year buyback period, we had much of Africa still to explore, so it was a no-brainer to move ahead and take ownership of the Hilux and forego initiating the buyback agreement.
We were in Norway at this time so all this was done remotely relying on Bushlore who, again, came through for us.
Bushlore arranged for my own TRN, which allows a foreigner to purchase and own a vehicle in South Africa, at a total cost of R3000. So I was a step closer to ownership.
But at this point in time, our Hilux, although bought outright a year ago, still remained in Bushlore’s name.
The next step was to arrange my own vehicle insurance; without this, the vehicle ownership transfer could not take place. I did some research and tried my luck with some South African insurance companies but I was told that without a South African ID number, I could not proceed.
I took to the Overlanding Africa group on Facebook, a treasure trove of useful information by super helpful people, and put my question on the forum.
Following up on some recommendations, I settled on an insurance broker in Namibia, Herman Krause Insurance Brokers, who could offer both 3rd party and comprehensive insurance for all countries in Southern and Eastern Africa we intended to overland.
It was a straightforward process — I simply had to forward full vehicle details with modifications, personal identification and vehicle registration papers. I did explain to the insurance company that the vehicle was not yet registered in my name and that this was part of the process I needed to follow to transfer it over to me – there were no issues with pushing ahead with the insurance.
Now with my own vehicle insurance in place, Bushlore could take the vehicle for a roadworthy inspection. It failed twice but passed on the third attempt – just little issues luckily.
The transfer was now purely an administrative exercise and I soon received my certificate of ownership (NATIS), roadworthy certificate and the new licence disc in my name.
As we had no fixed address in Africa, Bushlore kindly agreed to have the annual renewal of the licence disc sent to them which they would then forward to us, wherever that may be in Africa. (2023 Update: this process of using Bushlore as an intermediary is working just fine without any hiccups)
Now, we were truly the proud owners of our own Hilux 4×4 bush camper.
EQUIPMENT CONSIDERATIONS FOR A 4×4 SOUTH AFRICA VEHICLE
There are certainly different options for 4×4 equipment and 4×4 camper accessories that may be a good fit for what you need.
Here are a few of the important ones to consider:
Sleeping Arrangements with a 4×4
The big question here is ‘Where do I or do we sleep’?
Options vary from a traditional ground tent to a more versatile rooftop tent. A ground tent does allow you to leave it erected on-site and then drive away, whereas you will need to pack down your rooftop tent first before you head off.
For our rooftop pop-up hard shell tent, it takes about 10 seconds (no joke) to get the tent up in place – a simple matter of opening 2 latches. Different designs of soft-shell rooftop tents take longer as there are metal tension poles to put in place for the window awnings.
Another positive for our style of a rooftop tent is that the bedding remains made up on the mattress when you close it so that you just pop the tent open and voila, your bed is ready-made. The pillows need to be taken off the mattress to properly close the tent top.
Another benefit of having the hard-shell top is that this allows for the installation of a solar cell that charges the second (auxiliary) battery.
Cold Food Storage
Our Hilux has one 40-litre fridge/freezer which we choose to operate just as a refrigerator. Why? Well, frozen food was kept frozen but unfortunately also froze everything else in the compartment including fresh fruit and vegetables even though these items were placed at the top of the compartment.
Newer model fridges/ freezers may do a better job than ours however I now see that 4×4 vehicles are equipped with two units, one acting as a refrigerator only and the other as a freezer.
Whether it’s raining or you need shade from the sun, a pull-out awning is a must-have item. In addition, we purchased some vertical panels that attach to the awning to block both the wind and rain.
A Second Battery
In times when you aren’t driving, the refrigerator will draw power from a second battery which can be charged via a solar cell. Alternatively, you can rely on campsites with mains power.
Ideally, the second battery should be a deep cycle battery which is ideal for longer sustained use.
Does your 4×4 have the correct load capacity?
The vehicle weight increases markedly with the extra cab and accessories fitted on the back and as such, the original car jack might now be under-rated for the lifting task.
Running with two spare tyres is the preferred option.
Make sure you have good-quality brand tyres. You’ll get the mileage out of them as long as the tyres are treated properly. Running with two spare tyres is the preferred option.
You should ideally have long-range fuel tanks or extra jerry cans for fuel. Driving in 4wd does decrease the vehicle’s economy and fuel stops aren’t always to be found when you need them.
Does the Snatch strap have an adequate load rating? Consider the shock loading on a snatch strap. Mine is rated at 10 tonnes.
THE BEFORE AND AFTER 4×4 UPGRADES – WALKTHROUGH VIDEOS
Below are two videos of our Hilux 4×4 Bushcamper.
In the first video, we step through the standard equipment of the 4×4 and in the second video, we discuss the upgrades mentioned further in this article.
THE UPGRADES LISTED ON OUR 4×4 HILUX
- Upgraded the original aluminium rock sliders with steel rock sliders
- Upgraded the original front bumper with an extended steel bullbar
- Added 2 tow points on the rear of the vehicle
- Fitted the hi-lift jack to the underside rear of the vehicle
- Removed the rear bench seat and fitted 2 x ammo boxes (hard plastic containers) on one side for food and a lockable aluminum security box on the opposite side
- Fitted a seed net above the rear seats to store jackets and hats etc.
- Added pocket storage: on the vehicle dash for maps, pens, insurance papers, etc, on the vertical bulkhead behind the rear seats and inside the rear cabin
- Added an external mains power socket and 2 x 12V plus inside the cabin
- Added 3x mains power sockets inside the cabin
- Mounted a Lifesaver water filtration jerry can inside the cabin
- Added shelving into some of the existing storage compartments
- Fitted a seed net between the bull bar and the radiator
- Fitted mosquito screens to the rear door and side window area of the cabin
- Upgraded snatch strap
- Tow bridle
- Upgraded load-rated jack
- Upgraded towing shackles with a higher load rating
- Added a hinged aluminium ladder to the cabin floor that folds down to the ground to allow access from the ground into the cabin itself and stores inside the cabin and flush with the cabin door when the door is shut
- Installed an additional sliding bolt to lock the rear cabin door from the inside
When buying a second-hand 4×4, consider having the suspension inspected by a suspension specialist.
Source an independent inspection, even when the vehicle has valid roadworthiness. If faults are flagged then this may give you extra bargaining power to lower the asking price and regardless, it’s good to know the overall condition.
UNSCHEDULED MAINTENANCE: 4×4 SOUTH AFRICA
I started to have some problems with the Hilux being difficult to start. Over the course of a month, the situation didn’t change and the breaking point was when the vehicle needed towing from a bush camp in Klaserie near Kruger National Park into Hoedspruit.
Long story short… 2 weeks later … the fuel pressure rail was replaced (nearly cost me a kidney).
The likely root cause of the problem was dirty diesel and helped by the fuel hoses and fuel tanks being all gunked up with sediment.
All fuel hoses were replaced and fuel tanks were cleaned.
But I wanted more safeguards.
So, after a bit of research, I invested in a Racor inline pre-fuel filter (rated to 10 microns) due to the Toyota OEM fuel filter not being able to separate suspended water from the fuel. I initially looked at the same Racor pre-fuel filter but rated to 30 microns however was informed that the water separating ability (87%) is not enough for the new common rail engines.
The cost of the 10-micron filter unit kit and spare filters (x3) came to R4700 which is not an insignificant amount, but certainly worth it for the peace of mind of knowing I won’t need to revisit the same fuel system problems in the future.
The rear suspension was sagging slightly. I could have done away with the conventional springs and instead go for air springs but the cost was way too high. Instead, I opted for an extra blade in the leaf spring suspension. This also gave an overall additional lift of about 1.5 inches.
In quick succession, I had two major repairs completed by Toyota.
The first was the replacement of the front steering rack that I previously had re-conditioned. After driving Moremi National Park and its many water hazards, I punctured the rubber lower bushing allowing water ingress.
When parked and the bushing drained, I noticed a fair amount of oil in the puddle. I consulted Toyota and was told that the steering rack bearings were leaking oil and this involved a whole replacement; re-conditioning was out of the question.
The second major bit of maintenance was the replacement of the rear wheel bearings which was not originally planned for.
I actually had our Hilux in for a replacement of one of the rear wheel speed sensors which not only gives speed information but houses the electronics that govern if 4WD can be engaged.
Certainly critical equipment.
Long story short, during the test drive to test if the speedo was now reading correctly and the 4WD could engage, the Toyota mechanic heard a slight sound (I couldn’t hear it) and pinpointed possible bearing issues.
He was right and within 24 hours the job was completed.
Another prevention measure completed at the same time was to add a Toyota bushing protector for each of the lower bushings.
New front shock absorbers.
One of my front shock absorbers (Monroe), originally fitted to the vehicle when I bought it, had developed a leak.
I did some quick price comparisons and settled on the South African-manufactured Gabriel heavy-duty shock absorbers. Apparently, this brand is also fitted to the Toyota Front Runner.
Also in March, I had the front brake rotors skimmed as I was experiencing some shuddering on the front end when braking sharply.
This was one of my cheaper fixes.
I’m certainly not upset about the maintenance costs, but they do add up.
I know I bought a second-hand 4×4 South Africa ex-hire vehicle that no doubt comes with some hard mileage. But, in the back of my mind, I do question the frequency and thoroughness of the previous maintenance.
SHOULD I CONSIDER AN ACCREDITED 4×4 TRAINING COURSE IN SOUTH AFRICA?
I mean why wouldn’t you?
You have just rented or bought yourself a 4×4 South African vehicle and now intend to go off-road. Are you familiar with that particular vehicle and how it handles the higher centre of gravity from all that extra weight from the rooftop tent and other accessories?
Give it thought! It makes perfect sense to test this vehicle in controlled conditions under the guidance of an accredited instructor.
We highly recommend ‘Protea 4×4’.
Owner/instructor, Jannie Rykaart, of Protea 4×4 has more than 20 years of 4×4 experience and gave us a thorough and informative one-day 4wd course covering both the theory and practical elements.
Protea 4×4 is based in the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve, an hour’s drive from Johannesburg, so if you’re picking up a vehicle from Johannesburg, then it’s right on your doorstep.
He also completed a walk-through of our newly purchased 4×4 and equipment, giving us some really good advice.
Another bonus is you get to drive the 4×4 tracks of the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve which are often within arm’s reach of many of the reserve’s beautiful animals.
RENT OR BUY YOUR 4×4 SOUTH AFRICA VEHICLE … That’s a Wrap
Whether you rent or buy a 4×4 South African vehicle will depend on your own circumstances, such as how long you intend to travel and of course, your budget.
Hopefully, the pointers above can help you make the best decision.
Personally, we did a lot of homework prior to our purchase and were also lucky to cross paths and do business with some great people here in South Africa.
Good luck with your 4×4 rental or 4×4 purchase.
Go out and enjoy as much of this beautiful African continent as you can. Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences as I’d really like to hear how others have tackled the whole vehicle buying issue in South Africa as a foreigner.
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PLANNING YOUR TRAVELS?
These are some of the travel resources we use when planning our trips.
- 🚘 Car Hire: We use DiscoverCars.com
- Motorhome/Campervan Rental: We highly recommend the Motorhome Republic
- 🛏 Book Accommodation: We use Booking.com to find accommodation that suits our budget
- 🆓 Free Accommodation: Check Out TrustedHousesitters here
- Activities and Experiences: Get Your Guide and Viator
- Travel Insurance: World Nomads
- 🥾 Travel Gear and Accessories: Check out our top picks here — Lifejourney4two page on Amazon
- 🛒 Wall Art: Shop our ETSY store
For a more thorough list visit our Travel Resources page here.