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Vehicle Choice

February 15, 2011

The Beast is pretty overkill for driving through North America, even for most of South America but we decided to buy this truck for a number of reasons.

The decision on which vehicle to buy went through a number of iterations. The key features that we wanted from whatever we bought were as follows:

4×4 – clearly most cars in all the areas we are going are not four wheel drive but we want the independence that this offers and the ability to go right off the beaten track if we wanted.

Permanent Bed – Right from the off we decided that most of our trip we wanted to be camping and right from the start Sarah said she didn’t want to sleep in a tent. A fixed sided camper then became the obvious choice and a permanently made bed allows you to drop straight into it after a hard day which seems infinitely better than having to rearrange everything to create a sleeping area.

Onboard Toilet – ok so we’re not slumming it but digging holes gets tired and once Montezuma’s revenge kicks in somewhere clean and private to suffer is worth its weight in gold.

Onboard Shower – again hardly bare bones travelling but a hot shower after a long day’s hiking is a real luxury and one that we will surely appreciate.

Those were really the key considerations in terms of the form factor. The second set of considerations were about where to make the purchase. The key factors here are registration and ultimately selling. Our initial thought was that the best place to buy was the USA as at the end of the trip we could ship back here and resell. However after a massive amount of internet trawling we discovered that this is very much easier said than done. The commonly held view of buying a car in the USA for roadtrip by a tourist is just not that easy. Each state differs in their rules but you have to have an address in the state you which to purchase in at the very minimum. However on top of this there are other rules. For example in California to register a car you must also have a California driving licence – or if you dig really deep in the small print on the DMV site – a California ID. This can be had if you have an address. In Washington you have to prove that you are a state resident and that is not just providing an address. So given all that we thought that arriving in the USA expecting to buy a car was a risky business.

We turned our attention to Canada. Here each state is again different. We focused on British Columbia where it does seem possible to buy and register a car as a tourist. The difficulty here is insurance. However this could work. The downside is having to sell in Canada at the end of the trip and probably in BC at that.

Given all this we wanted to buy our vehicle in the UK to make absolutely sure that we had it and could sell it easily at the end – or indeed keep it if we wanted.

So back to type of vehicle. At first we looked really hard at sportsmobiles. Now these things are cool. Proper 4 wheel drive and capable with it. But ultimately leads to pretty cramped living and no proper toilet or shower.

They do look cool though. They are also not available in the UK. So the next thought was to go with a pickup truck and slide in camper. We had almost decided that this was the way to go and had picked out a Ford F250 and a Northstar camper.

What put us off this combo was the fact that the truck is actually pretty overloaded in this configuration and conventional wisdom for overland travel is that you really don’t want your vehicle to be loaded to more than 80% of capability.

The other major factor is that these type of campers are made of really thin wood frames and have no protection from the truck under them shaking and twisting. So serious use off-road or on ripio (washboard) could cause them to disintegrate. The systems are also great for North American campsite use and some boon-docking but are not truly independent.

And the final nail in the coffin of this plan was the availability of trucks of the right size in the UK. They can be bought but they are expensive and only come up for sale irregularily.

It was purely by chance really that I came across a website where the original owner of the first Overland Vehicles Ltd produced truck was selling his after completing his trip in Africa. This led me to the website – www. and after visiting Ed Perry, the head honcho, at his workshop in Suffolk I was sold.

What I’d really like is one of the flashy German built trucks. But these things are €500k and up. Look at this one below from Unicat (€388k + VAT secondhand).

I mean these things are undeniably cool – but how can you justify being outside of the Western world with something that valuable. We don’t want to slum it but these things are more luxurious than home. This things even got an espresso coffee machine and a full size washing machine.

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