4WD a Must? – Do We Consider a Different Overland Vehicle?


This is part 3 of a 4-series story the question whether a 4WD is a must for overland travel. Here are part 1, part 2, and part 4.

Our Land Cruiser has required so much maintenance that people have regularly asked if it wasn’t time to ditch it and buy another vehicle.

Which raises the question:

If Not a Land Cruiser, Then What Overland Vehicle?

A Land Rover?

Land Cruiser or Land Rover – it’s a never-ending discussion among the die-hards. We are traveling in a Land Cruiser and never drove a Land Rover so we can’t make a reasonable comparison.

Having said that, we have noticed two things about Land Rovers (apart from the fact that they are bad-ass looking rigs, of course):

  • They are made of aluminum! Toyota, why didn’t you pick up that brilliant idea?!
  • We know of 2 Land Rover TD5s that had massive problems with their computers in South America. The sole dealer in the southern part of this continent was Buenos Aires. As a result, one couple had to truck their truck from Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia) and the second from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires.

Read More: Meet the Land Cruiser

The latter hasn’t anything to do with Land Rovers specifically but does bring up an important issue to think about when investing in an overland rig:

Mechanically vs. Digitally-Built or: Old vs. New

Like the Land Cruiser vs. Land Rover discussion, the opinions differ on traveling in an old or new car. A discussion on this topic can even get heated.

Campsite in Ushuaia, Argentina.
Oberland Hotel parking lot, near La Paz, Bolivia.

The Old Vehicle Argument

Go as mechanically as you can. We have been able to find parts in most countries. Sometimes original but often we’ve settled for local copy version (because of either of price or availability). Or, if that was unavailable, mechanics have made and modified parts for us. Ergo: there has always been a solution and that’s what counts.

Our pointing being: this is an option that works for mechanical parts, not for a broken circuit board.

Read More: The Best Workshop in South America – Ernesto

In La Paz, Bolivia

Ordering Parts from Abroad

You can always have a spare part sent to you from wherever in the world, whether this is mechanical or digital. Make sure you check the rules on import taxes for spare parts because in some countries this will add enormously to your expenditure (e.g. Brazil and Argentina).

If you do have a spare part send to you:

  1. Try to find a local whose address you may use for the shipment so you don’t depend on a post office (where, in some countries, things tend to get ‘lost’, in our experience).
  2. Ask for the sender to send it as inconspicuously as possible (without receipts and such), which may give you a better chance of avoiding the import tax department of that country.

Read More: Problem Solving on the Road – The Last Bolts

Recommended Books on Overlanding

(click on the images to look inside)

Drive Nacho Drive 1 – Brad & Sheena van Orden

Travel the Planet Overland – Graeme Bell

Revolutionary Ride – Lois Pryce

Products from Amazon

The New Overland Vehicle Argument

Others are set on traveling with a brand-new vehicle, arguing it won’t need any maintenance yet and won’t break that easily, which are totally reasonable arguments. It’s also a perfectly sensible option for those who don’t want to spend time in workshops or work on the car themselves.

We didn’t consider this option for the simple reason that we didn’t want to spend so much money on a vehicle having no clue whether we were going to like overlanding at all.

New cars, however, may have other issues, related to fuel. Two points to remember:

  1. Shreesh and Neena bought the newest FJ Cruiser and drove from the US to South America. This worked great until they reached Brazil. They couldn’t explore Brazil as Brazil’s fuel consist of 23% ethanol and the computer wizardry didn’t take on that fuel too well (Maybe you’d be able to adapt a chipset so that it would work, but that’s a whole different ballgame.). To learn about Shreesh and Neena’s story first-hand, check out their website.
  2. An old rig like ours drinks everything (although it does perform better on clean diesel rather than dirty fluids it got e.g. in Bolivia). From what we understand from other overlanders, new vehicles are more demanding in good-quality fuel.

Read More: The Stupidest Things Overlanders Brought on their Journey (and the Smartest)

Campsite of Quinta Lala In Cusco, Peru (©photocoen)
Campsite of Quinta Lala in Cusco, Peru.

Traveling in Warm Climates vs. Cold Climates

In Asia we said we had the perfect car. We could get anywhere, lived outside and slept in our rooftop tent. In South America, however, we nuanced our opinion. In Patagonia and the Andes Mountains the climates are not always that pleasant: think frost, strong wind, and (cold) rain. We lived inside the Land Cruiser for days if not weeks on end.

During those times we’ve looked with a bit of jealousy to e.g. VW Combis that offer a tad more comfort than our Land Cruiser. If ever a change takes place, a VW Combi is a serious alternative for us.

We can see the comfort of the large overland trucks such as the MAN, and we are grateful for all the coffee, red wine and even meals we’ve shared with our friends in their homes-on-wheels, however, those overland vehicles are too big and too expensive for us.

Read More: Why We Love our Rooftop Tent

Rough camp at Peninsula Valdes, Argentina.

Conclusion: Is a 4WD Overland Vehicle a Must for Us?

The whole discussion of what is the perfect overland vehicle can last long nights around a bonfire because there isn’t a sole answer. It is plain and simple: the perfect vehicle doesn’t exist.

It all depends on your need for comfort, your style of driving, the continent you’re traveling, etc. What works for one traveler, doesn’t for the other. What is of great comfort on one continent, maybe a cause of a lot of trouble on the next.

Our solution:

Enjoy our own overland rig while making lots of big-vehicle overlanding friends in cold climates:-)

Thanks, among others,  Bruno & Renate and Jan & Gerda for the comfort of your homes-on-wheels in freezing Patagonia.

Originally published in 2012 / updated in September 2017

Read More: Having Fun on the Road – The Amagá Railroad Bridge

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17 thoughts on “4WD a Must? – Do We Consider a Different Overland Vehicle?”

  1. Hi
    Really enjoy reading your site 🙂
    Our first “adventure vehicle” was a 1990 Suzuki Samurai – great car, but a bit small and the homemade roof-tent was cramped and moist. We agree on the point that the lesser electronics the better, and didn’t wan’t a big 8 ton truck. After a lot of research we settled on a ex-army 1975 Volvo TGB13 (C304) – it’s not to big (3,5 ton total) and can be driven everywhere a car is allowed. Theres plenty of room inside, and with 6×6 its begging for offroad-adventures 🙂

    But I agree – you don’t need 4×4 (or 6×6) – but it makes the journey a lot more fun to get off the beaten paths and into the mud 🙂

    It would definitely be a lot more comfortable to travel in a new car with normal onroad tires, but we would hate to drive by a nice mountain path and not be able to go that way…

    And old cars has more soul 🙂 – Your BJ45 is one of my absolute favorites; Old school, functional and a no-nonsense design 🙂

    Keep up the good work 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing your story. We feel the same that having 4wd does enable you to venture to places far off-the-beaten track and so are happy to have it ourselves. Our point in this series mainly is to say that it’s not a necessity in order to overland in Asia or South America. Some people believe you do, which simply is not true.

  2. As argued in your great posts, I agree the perfect car does not exist! We travelled through Australia for 6 months with 23 year old 4×4’s (Landcruiser HJ60 and Pajero). In Australia, a 4×4 is necessary if you want to go to see the more remote places (f.i. Gibb River / Kimberly’s) and sometimes even mandatory (f.i. the Bungle Bungles). Depending on the season there can be places where river crossings require the high clearance of a 4×4. If you stick to the standard backpacker routes then you don’t need a 4×4.

    Also in Australia, Toyotas are the best choice due to spare parts availability and the knowledge of mechanics. Unfortunately we had to switch to a ‘grey import’ Mitsubishi Pajero during the trip and some spare parts (like wheel nuts) were only available 5000+ km away or brake parts even only from Japan (4 weeks delivery).

    When we started planning our trip we felt that things like an aircon, mobile broadband, extra battery for electronic devices or a fridge were luxury items. When we switched to the Pajero these items were included and we enjoyed them thoroughly! Of course we could have survived without the luxury but nothing beats staying on top of a cliff far away from the nearest town, surfing the Internet using an aborginal’s community mobile broadband, filling in your Dutch tax form while enjoying a chilled glass of white wine.

      • Hej Coen,

        We used a USB modem with a simcard from Telstra (the Australian KPN) connected to our laptop. In Australia Telstra was the only provider that had decent coverage beyond the city centers.

        The case mentioned was a bit exceptional because of an aboriginal community that invested in mobile broadband for their community. The availability of mobile broadband varies and was available in unexpected (remote) places.

        Kind regards,


        • Aha, too bad, I thought you had a magnificent solution 😉 I guess we’re stuck with wifi in various speeds across the continent.

  3. I’ve owned Landrover Defender, Mercedes. G-WAGEN ,Nissan Patrol and 70 series Toyota Landcruiser and for me the Toyota wins easily!
    The Landrover suffered from electrolytic corrosion because of the reaction between steel and aluminium. Also unless you buy a 130 the front hubs are weak, just my opinion!

    • Thanks David for you opinion. Like I said before the perfect vehicle will be different for each and everyone. I’m happy with our choice and I would make the same choice in the same situation knowing what I know now and didn’t 11 years ago. But then again they didn’t have this: amphicruiser.com

  4. I own both a Land Rover Discovery and a 78 FJ40 land Cruiser. Both a very capable vehicles in their stock form. From a mechanics stand point, the FJ40 is better in areas where parts are NOT easy to get. For instance, the master cylinder leaks or goes out. Solution it can be rebuilt with a small kit you can carry with you in the glove box.. You do not even have to remove it from the truck to rebuild it as the end unscrews and the piston that needs to be resealed come out while leaving the master on the truck This goes for virtually all primary components found on that truck. All rebuild able.
    That being said….. Land Cruisers frame / body components leave a great deal to be desired the lack of rust treatment is a massive handicap and a hot riveted frame is terrible on a vehicle you overload.Cracks breaks and rust are the norm.
    Land rovers do not share the rebuild able nature of the Land Cruiser but do have a vast parts network around the globe.
    The Diesel aspect of both are quite comparable. The petrol or gas engines are night and day. petrol/gas rovers are terrible while a gas Cruiser is vastly superior.
    Lastly land rovers suffer from inferior electrical system that Cruisers do not. ” Lucas the prince of darkness is not a joke”. Though Cruisers tend to be VERY basic.

    Comfort and creature comforts the rover will win ” as long as they work” .

    In the end its all about taste, preferences, and where do you want to go. I could go on for hours but this is not my show just my .02.

    • Thank you Rene, I personally have no experience with Land Rovers. The only time I drove a Classic Range Rover was in Cambodia when David the mechanic had our Land Cruiser tied up in his workshop for a few days and he lend me his beast. Love the look and how they drive. But I have come to like the robustness of the Toyota and that whenever a part fails, the truck still runs and I don’t have to worry about it to much. The rust however is a never ending story and for that reason alone I would love to have a LR body with a Toyota drive train.

  5. Hello, Coen and Karin-Marijke!
    It’s good that you came to Russia in early spring. It’s another winter. This is not Patogonia)))
    Welcome to Russia! I hope we will get acquainted personally.
    Eugene, Krasnodar (@ overlandbound_russia)

    • Hello Eugene, thank you for welcoming us to your wonderful country! Hopefully we can meet in the future!

  6. The reliability question is interesting, older technology is more likely to suffer lots of little, but readily corrected faults but modern tech(especially electronics) are harder to identify and disable the vehicle completely.

  7. The question was: ‘is a 4WD vehicle a must?’ Since you were only discussing the pros and cons of 4wd vehicles and no 2wd, I guess the answer is yes?
    And the question of this article should be: ‘which 4wd is best?’


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