Most breakdowns in the bush can be handled with a good tool set and spares such as fan belts, rotor arm, points, spark plugs, gasket paper, silicone sealant, a packet of odd nuts, bolts and screws and a length of wire.
Don’t start taking complicated components apart until you are absolutely sure that this is the cause of the problem. On my travels I have assisted with a number of breakdowns and it is startling how many times the carburetor is the first component to be accused as the villain and stripped only to find that it is not at fault. Once the carburetor is reassembled its settings have been altered and the vehicle now has an additional malfunctioning component. Remember, if you need to strip something, you will be working in far from favorable conditions and repairs will have to be improvised with what you have with you. With a workshop repair manual a repair job is made very much easier and one should always be carried, even if you think you know your vehicle well.
If you have a breakdown and intend to do what you consider to be difficult repairs, do not do these repairs too far away from the side of the road or track; do not hide your reasons for stopping. Nobody will stop and offer assistance if they think you have merely pulled over for a picnic.
Regular inspection of a vehicle on safari is advisable. Check the undercarriage for bent suspension components, oil leaks, leaking shock-absorbers, loose wiring, loose transmission drain plugs, and any other parts about to drop off. In the engine bay, radiator caps, fan belts, battery clamps, high tension leads, engine oil, coolant, hydraulic fluid and battery electrolyte levels should be checked daily.
The following is a check list of vehicle support items that should be taken when traveling into unpopulated areas:
• Jerry-cans • Funnel
• Tyre pump/s • Tyre repair kit
• Workshop repair manual • Engine mount
• Spark plugs • Globes
• Fuses • Fan belt/s
• Fuel filter • Rotor arm
• Distributor cap • Condenser
• Points • Coil
• Plug suppressor • Hand cleaner
• Various nuts and bolts • Electrical wire
• Galvanized wire • Spare keys
• Radiator cap • Gasket cement
• Quick set epoxy glue • Epoxy putty
• Five liters gearbox oil. • Hydraulic fluid
• Insulation tape • Prestik
• Locktite thread fastener
• Fuel hose – more than two meters – long enough to double up as
a siphon hose.
• Second spare wheel (not essential if two similar vehicles are
• Automatic transmission fluid (automatic gearboxes, power steering)
• Medium and fine water paper.
• Water repellent – Q-20 or equivalent.
• Carry enough engine oil for at least one complete engine oil change.
• Set of main leaves for springs – (well-used vehicles) an entire spring
is not necessary. These can conveniently be carried by securing
them to the front bumper and attaching a set of shackles and shackle pins onto which the leaves are fastened.
• Set of half shafts (Land Rover Series II), essential if vehicle is fitted
with wide tyres.
• Exhaust sealing compound and tape.
• Various electrical connectors matching those used in your vehicle.
• Set of battery jump cables.
• Spark plug wrench • Set of sockets
• Ratchet for sockets • Power bar for sockets
• Two tyre levers • Tyre pressure gauge
• Screw drivers • Hacksaw
• Heavy chisel ±25 cms • Sharp nose pliers
• Cir clip pliers • Wire cutters
• Flat nose pliers • Feeler gauge
• Mole wrench • Impact wrench
• Watchmaker screwdrivers. • Valve spanner.
• Jump-cables. • Two hammers – 1/2 &2kgs.
• High lift jack – for breaking tyre beads.
• Set of spanners to fit your vehicle (metric and/or imperial sizes).
• Adjustable wrench – medium and large sizes.
• Ignition timing light or bulb and wire with crocodile clips.
Carrying tools in a strong canvas bag is preferable to steel boxes. In canvas the tools will not rattle and will not be covered in a layer of fine iron filings as will be the case if carried in metal boxes.
Big holes can be sealed with epoxy putty. Small holes can be fixed by breaking an egg into a bowl, removing the yolk, and pouring the white into the radiator. The water must not be hot when you do this. Do not replace the radiator cap until the temperature is up, otherwise the pressure will force the soft egg out of the holes. Remember to flush out your cooling system as soon as you can make permanent repairs. Porridge is an alternative to egg white.
This is a common problem when driving in thick sand for long periods, especially when towing.
The following causes should be investigated, and in this order:
• A broken or loose fan belt. A fan belt is an essential item in your spares kit.
• Low coolant level. Do not remove the radiator cap when the engine is hot. The sudden drop in pressure will cause the engine temperature to rise sharply and this could damage the engine. Scalding steam could also injure you.
• Low engine oil levels. Oil cools as well as lubricates the engine. Make sure that the oil level is always at the high mark on the dip stick.
• Grass and grass seeds clogging the air gaps in the radiator.
• Vehicles with an air conditioner radiator sandwiched to the engine radiator – grass seeds and insects often clog the air gap between them. This cannot be seen unless one radiator is removed. Gradual engine water temperature increase over a long distance is often a result of this. Check your vehicle before your safari. Fit a grille net to prevent this build up.
• Badly adjusted ignition timing. You will need a timing light to set the ignition timing accurately. The timing specifications are given in the vehicle’s handbook or workshop repair manual.
• Malfunctioning thermostat. Overheating will result if the thermostat is not opening to its full extent. Remove the thermostat and see if the overheating continues. If this does not help, replace the thermostat – it is not good practice to run an engine without a thermostat and one should be fitted as soon as a replacement is available.
• Auxiliary equipment badly positioned in front of the radiator. Overheating caused by a restricted air flow may only become apparent when the vehicle is worked hard.
• Research has shown that antifreeze increases the cylinder wall temperatures. If your vehicle does not live in a climate where freezing is a threat, remove all antifreeze and replace with a solution of pure corrosion inhibitor. An example is Motor craft SXC103. The concentrations of water/antifreeze indicated on antifreeze product labels is often far too high for the Southern African climate. Reducing the concentration will aid cooling and reduce creep-seep. (The creeping properties of anti-freeze make it ooze from pipe connectors leaving green stains over parts of the cooling system).
Drowning an Engine
I have only once drowned an engine and in the event getting going again was painless and took about forty minutes. If water is sucked into the cylinder heads the process to safely evacuate the engine is as follows:
Recovery of a drowned engine:
• Remove the air filter.
• Remove water from the intake pipe and turbo. Check for deposits
• Chock the wheels and jack up one rear wheel. Engage two-wheel drive (or unlock the centre diff) and engage high-range fourth
gear. Release the handbrake.
• Remove the glow plugs (diesel) or spark plugs (petrol). An alternative for the diesel is to remove the injectors, but they are often more difficult to remove than glow plugs.
• Turn the engine by rotating the rear wheel. Rotating the engine in this way prevents the starter being stressed and prevents the possibility of a bent conrod at any stage of the flush because with hand-power, resistance can be felt and nothing is forced.
• Once all the water is out of the cylinders, clean, dry and replace the glow/spark plugs. Replace all seals. Only replace the air filter if it is dry, because a wet paper element could be sucked into the engine giving you a bigger problem than you started with.
• Have your mother-in-law stand behind the vehicle and start the engine. Why your mother in-law? Think about all the water in the exhaust pipe which has got to have some place to go when that high-compression engine starts up!
If your clutch fails, ascertain the cause of the problem. If you have a hydraulic clutch as do most 4x4s, check the level of the fluid. In the event of a fluid leakage from the master or slave cylinders this means that the piston rubbers are leaking. Bleeding the system may provide a temporary solution. If you dismantle and reassemble these components cleanliness is paramount. If you do not have hydraulic fluid almost any liquid will do. (In an emergency, add dish-washing liquid to water but avoid bubbles). Do not use mineral oils as they will soon rot the rubber plungers in the slave and master cylinders. If your vehicle has a cable operated clutch, check the tension of the cable. Adjust so that there is a very small amount of free play (±2mm).
If you are unable to get the clutch working, try changing gear without one. It just takes a little practice. When starting off, warm up the engine so that it will start easily and then switch it off. Engage first gear, and restart the engine. The vehicle will move forward and when the engine fires you will be on your way.
Gear changes are made in the following way: accelerate the vehicle until the engine is revving a little higher than for a normal gear change. By doing this you are allowing for the additional time it will take for each gear selection. Now, decelerate slightly until the engine is neither pushing the vehicle nor holding it back. The gear stick should move to the neutral position very easily. Now decelerate slightly until the engine revs match the wheel rotation as they would when engaged in the gear you are about to select. (If you are changing down a gear you will need to accelerate the engine). Change to the new gear slowly and gently – do not use force. When your engine revs are correct, the gear will engage quite easily and after a little practice you will make quite smooth gear changes. For obvious reasons, I do not recommend doing this in stop-start traffic.
Starting with flat battery
A flat battery need not cause panic. Assuming that the battery has enough power left to be able to fire the engine but not turn the starter motor, and you are unable to push start the vehicle due to heavy sand, by jacking up a wheel and rotating it with a length of rope the engine can be restarted. Do the following:
• Switch off all electrical equipment – conserve all of the power the battery has left in it.
• As the vehicle cannot be held by the handbrake the vehicle must be chocked. In sandy conditions one way to do this is to dig shallow holes behind the back wheels and push the vehicle into them. On hard ground, a heavy log, buried in a shallow trough and laid in front of the wheels, works well.
• Jack up one rear wheel but do not remove it.
• Wind a long length of rope tightly around the tyre so that when it is pulled the hub will rotate in the same direction as it would if the vehicle was moving forward. To do this make a knot in the end of the rope and wind the rope around the tyre crossing over at the knot. The rope must be wound as tightly as possible. Then wind the rope another two or three times, maintaining tension all the time.
• Gear selection depends on the size of engine and you may find that if the gear selected is too low, the vehicle may fall off the jack. Some trial and error may be required. A good ratio to begin with is high-range third.
• Switch on the ignition. Add choke if required.
• Depress the clutch and get someone to pull the rope. Release the clutch when the wheel reaches maximum speed and the engine should turn over.
• If your battery is totally dead and an alternator, as opposed to a generator, is fitted, this will not work. (Most modern vehicles are fitted with alternators) It will also not work with automatic transmission.
During a safari a vehicle’s suspension takes a great deal of pounding and if the vehicle is overloaded it is often the suspension which is the first thing to break. Wearing of components such as rubber bushes is accelerated by the combination of heavy loads and mud and dust.
The most common causes of suspension noises are:
• Shock absorber rubber bushes worn or missing.
• Shock absorber mounts badly worn so that the shock moves
in the mount.
• Spring shackles worn (leaf springs) – replace
• Misaligned coil springs – park the vehicle so that the suspect
spring is extended. Try and rotate the spring. A clunk can be heard as it returns to its correct mounting position. If the noise persists,
slip a short length of plastic garden hose onto both top and bottom of the spring.
• Coil spring suspensions have many rubber bushes linking each component. Any of these bushes in a worn state could cause suspension clunks.
Violent steering vibration, sometimes triggered by the front wheels hitting a bump, is caused by a fault with the steering damper. The steering damper is a shock absorber that lies horizontally in front of or behind the front axle. It links the steering system to the axle, absorbing vibration so that steering kickback over rough terrain does not rattle the driver to pieces. The fault
can be a loose connection, a broken fitting, worn rubbers or a
worn damper. The symptoms seem to be aggravated by well-worn front tyres.
Ordering spare parts
Ordering parts when in an outback village or town may be possible.
Parts dealers will require the following information:
• Vehicle engine and chassis/VIN number.
• Part number if possible.
• Quantity of parts.
• Specify left or right side of vehicle. (This is indicated as if you are standing behind the vehicle and looking forward).
• If you do not know what the part is called but have to describe
the part, avoid colourful language – keep the description as simple as possible.
When the parts are received, check the packaging. Most genuine manufacturer parts are well packed and protected. Pirate parts are often mishandled, badly packed or damaged and may not be complete. Always order original parts if you can.
Welding on a vehicle
You will need two batteries connected in series to give 24-volts. (12-volts is not enough). Use a pair of jump leads to connect the two batteries and a third lead as the welding cable. Commercial welding rods are best, but if these are not available the carbon stick from a torch battery works well. Wrap aluminum foil around the back end of the carbon to prevent the lead from melting. Round the end and taper the rod slightly. You will need goggles. If you do not have any you will require a minimum of three pairs of sunglasses. Be warned, eye damage caused by arc welding without sufficient protection can be permanent! Coat hanger or fence wire or even winch cable will work as a metal filler.
Disconnect the battery and ground the positive terminal as close as possible to the welding site. Use a jumper lead to connect the negative terminal to the positive of the other battery. Connect the negative terminal of the second battery to the carbon stick. If welding is being done off the vehicle, run the engine to keep up a good charge. If welding is being carried out on the vehicle, disconnect the alternator to prevent possible damage.
This welding technique is a cross between gas and ordinary arc welding. Heat is controlled by the arc length – the arc is started by scratching the part with the carbon rod and then pulling it away. When the weld area is molten, feed in the filler metal and proceed along the joint. Have someone keep an eye on the temperature of the ends of the jumper cables as these could melt. A field welding kit should include two heavy jumper cables with soldered connections, a third cable of the same length with eyes to fit onto the battery, eye protection, a coat hanger and welding rods.
In very dusty conditions, the bigger the air cleaner the better. Air pre-cleaners, designed to filter out heavier dust particles before they enter the standard air filter, are a good idea if extended desert travel is intended.
Cleaning a paper element air filter is possible, although it is always preferable to fit a new one. Soak the element for up to 60 minutes in a solution of a biodegradable, non-sudsing type washing powder as used in automatic washing machines. Rinse well and allow to dry in a dust free area out of direct sunlight. Drying the element too quickly could damage it. Do not refit a damp element as the engine suction could collapse the paper. Cleaning a paper element fuel filter is done by thoroughly rinsing it in clean fuel. Wipe the filter bowl with a clean, dry cloth before refitting. See also Safari Snorkel air cleaner extensions in chapter-3.
If in-line fuel filters are fitted, a spare should be carried as these are not reusable. In Third World countries, it is wise to fit at least two fuel filters as the fuel is often full of sediment. Resultant clogged fuel lines and misbehaving carburetors are a common cause of vehicle breakdowns in these countries. Bowl-type fuel filters can be reused in an emergency after thorough rinsing in clean fuel. Be careful not to over clean the element as the paper becomes fragile as it gets old.