Preparing the van for the journey
The van needs to be prepared with strength and reliability in mind. The order of priority is as follows
- Engine and transmission
- Habitation systems
- Other items
Tyres are your most important and most vulnerable component. Punctures are your enemy so very tough tyres are needed. The ideal tyre is very hard wearing, with a strong carcass and thick strong sidewalls (important for stony or potholed roads). It should have reasonable all terrain capability - good grip, road holding and handling are not so important (eg Michelin XC4). Get advice from the tyre manufacturers for your vehicle.
Carry 2 spare wheels with one at least easily accessible. Extra tyres can probably be bought en route if needed.
Heavy duty shock absorbers (dampers) are advisable particularly if your van is loaded close to the Gross Vehicle Weight.
Good ground clearance is also advisable with a minimum of 20 cms (8 ") and more if your van has long front or rear overhangs. Make sure there are no unnecessary underfloor protrusions such as exhaust clips.
Ideally engine, gearbox, and radiator mounts should be strengthened with heavy duty mountings. Drain plugs, sump, fuel and water tanks, brake lines, and vulnerable transmission parts might all benefit from strong underbody shields. Foam between shields and sump etc protects against impact damage and prevents stones getting caught in the gap and wearing a hole.
Strong bumpers are likely to be essential and make sure you have front and rear towing eyes.
Make sure that the water pump is good and powerful and that the system is clean and free running. After all, our route takes us through the Himalayas. We may need to fit tropical specification radiators and oil coolers depending on the route. Protect the radiator with a stone guard if needed.
Fit a switch if you have an electric fan to switch off while crossing fords. Cover the fan with a plastic bag.
Ensure that the electrics are in good order - particularly the alternator(s). Waterproof them as much as possible. Carry some WD40 for protecting/drying electrical circuits.
Make sure the exhaust is in good condition and is not too close to the ground. Exhausts which are slightly loose fitting are less prone to fracture. Steel straps under the exhaust will stop it falling off if it does break.
We should not be doing much driving at night but a couple of spotlights may be useful. Lights are vulnerable and need protecting. Fit mesh or plastic stone guards. A directable spotlight is also useful. Get a good make which does not flop when travelling over rough roads.
Obviously make sure the van is in tip top shape particularly brakes and steering. Have a major 12,000 or better still 24,000 mile service carried out. Talk to your garage to spend time with them while they do the service - this can pay dividends in the field. Take notes. Acknowledge that it may take more time and therefore cost more. Consider adding extra gauges. In addition thought should be given to installing an oil cooler - at least have an oil temperature gauge. Slow speed travel over difficult terrain in hot conditions can cause the oil temperature to rise rapidly and eventually the oil will break down - a seized engine is the result. On the other hand over cooling the oil is not good either.
Investigate of the means of construction of the furniture. Much of the construction may well be screwed together. When the vehicle is constantly travelling over poor roads high point loads occur around the screw heads resulting in cracked and broken woodwork. Screws need to have clawed washers to spread the load. Glued joints also makes for more secure fixing.
Allow for extremes of temperature - metal sided vehicles expand noticeably in high temperatures and any furniture screwed directly to the body will be pulled apart. Although it may seem ridiculous, glue the furniture to the walls using Sykoflex about 5mm thick.
Have a full habitation check to make sure all gas systems etc are in full working order. Again ask the dealer if you can spend time with them while it is done.
Written by Clive Barker
in preparation for UK to China and back.