I lived in Tanzania and Kenya for 7 years and was in charge of a fleet of cars. Here are some ideas. Get a diesel if possible. They are more economical to drive which is important considering the price of fuel and require much less maintenance. For a great ride and durability nothing beats the Land Rover Defender but they are expensive and hard to find in the US. The 80 series Toyota Landcruiser ('89 to '97) comes a close second and are much easier to find. The 60 series Toyota Landcruiser ('80 to '90) is actually more durable than the 80 series and cheaper but has leaf springs which makes the ride rougher and because of age it may be harder to find one with enough life left in it to ship over there. I would avoid Isuzu and Mitsubishi and the Range Rover. I suppose Nissan is the only other option I’d consider. Anything else like Jeep, GM or Ford will be very difficult to get parts for. There is a slight disadvantage driving a car from the US in East Africa because they drive on the left side of the road. Many people buy used cars from Japan to solve this problem. When I left 10 years ago used cars from Japan were reasonably priced but I don’t know how things are now. I think there is a minimum period of time you must own a vehicle in the US before importing it with a “used” status to East Africa. We all used heavy duty steering wheel locks (see “the club”) and never had a car stolen.
Toyota Hilux, Diesel, Double Cab, 4X4.
Another reference point From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Hilux#Reputation
[Edit: one other note, also recommend lighter colors over darker colors for heat mitigation]
Yes the Toyota Hilux is very reliable but I suspect the ride would be stiffer than any of the vehicles I mentioned unless newer models have switched from leaf springs to coil springs. It’s difficult for people in the United States to comprehend how bad some of the roads are in Kenya and Tanzania. The range of motion and damping of the suspension systems in East Africa need to be much higher than anything we can imagine here except for people who specialize in “off-roading”.
Well, front are coil, rear are leaf. Seems good to go. Reliability should always trump comfort unless you’re in the USA/Canada or EU.
For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t want to be driving around there in a brand new vehicle, best bet is to find a lightly used or respectfully used rig.
Oh, I remembered something else. The other reason to buy a diesel is that you will sometimes have to drive through puddles deep enough to submerge (or even splash) the entire engine with water. It turns out the bottom of these huge pits in the “road” can be very deep (4 feet sometimes) but are solid to drive on while people who try to drive around them often get stuck in the mud even with 4 wheel drive. Anyway the ignition system of a gasoline powered car will almost always stall in this case and then the whole car can flood with water. But as long as water doesn’t enter the air intake of a diesel engine you will have no problem getting through. So having a diesel can save lots of anxiety on or after a day with heavy rain. I would also insist on air conditioning. East Africa is mild compared to many parts of Africa but driving with windows open is not a good option because of slow traffic, bad roads (causing slow driving), theft while driving (especially watches), dust and biting insects.
Here are some used Land Rovers with Right hand drive (RHD)
We had a Toyota Hi-Ace minivan in Nigeria. Parts were easy to come by and most mechanics knew how to fix it. The Hi-Lux pickup has an equally good reputation.
I went to Kenya in 2008, and took down a fairly extensive journal and wrote down all kinds of details… including the kinds of makes and models of vehicles I saw just because I thought it would be interesting to know some day (marveling that there were no Fords, GMs or Dodges)… Based on this, I personally would not recommend an American-made car at all. I’ll quote from the journal:
“About 70% of the vehicles were Isuzu, with not a Ford, Chevy or Dodge in sight for the entire trip. There were Verassas, Toyota TX Prados, Isuzu [NPR, NKR, NHR, ELF, TX and Forward] models, Nissan URVANs, Mercedes Actros, FOTONs, Renault 18-wheelers, TATAs, SCANIAs, and FAW Fighters, not to mention the Mitsubishi Canters, dozens of various Datsun pickups, a few OMNi Cargos, and a few Defenders, most of which I’d never heard of. Every once in a while there was a familiarish 4runner J, Subaru Outback, Corolla, but no or very few Hondas that I could tell. Apart from those, half of the vehicles on the road were a variation on the Toyota “HIACE” model, which would serve as our transport van for the entire trip and held up pretty well save one incident I’ll describe later. I am seriously considering Toyota for my next vehicle. Most of them were bus-type versions with the available destinations painted on the side, including the phrase “14Pass” (which at first suspected may have meant some kind of prepaid toll system, but later found out to mean it carries 14 passengers).”
I liked her comment about Toyotas getting stolen. I pictured the rebels with a machine gun mounted on their Hi-Lux.
I’ve lived in a small village in northern Rwanda for 3 years now. I agree with the advice on a diesel. Cars in Rwanda are extremely expensive compared with Kenya, but Kenya is still expensive. Shipping / importing a car is a hassle though so I’d consider buying one once you arrive unless your employer is going to sort out the details for you. I don’t think you should go for an older Land Rover unless you’re an enthusiast. It’s going to be a lot of trouble to pick one up in the US and ship it, all for a rough ride and not great reliability due to age. If you are set on importing your own from the US, I would consider picking up the US equivalent of a used Toyola Landcruiser Prado or similar. These are some of the best and most sought after cars in East Africa. Though they weren’t sold in the US, a nearly identical car was sold in the US as a Lexus GX 470. Most of these will be above your price range as it’s really marketed as a luxury SUV in the US, but you’ll find some in your range with more miles. The primary problem here is that I don’t think you can find one in diesel, and most if not all are going to be automatic transmissions, and a manual transmission is preferred both for driving conditions and resale. If you can’t find what you want in the GX 470, I’d consider a Toyota 4Runner. For your price range you should be able to get a really nice one. I believe you can find one in the US in diesel, and finding a manual transmission should be no problem. The the problem remains of needing a right hand drive, which you won’t easily solve without just buying one after you arrive. So if you’re considering saving yourself the hassle, just buy an older Prado when you arrive in Nairobi. You’ll find plenty of them for sale, though you’re right that they will be more expensive than something similar in the US as import tariffs are quite high. Good luck!
You might want to consider a 4x4 diesel Isuzu Trooper. Way back then they were made for that kind of terrain. Also, Ablestmage noted in “his” journal that 70% of the vehicles in Kenya were Isuzus.
If you decide on an Isuzu Trooper I would be a happy substitute for Tom and Ray on safari.
My husband is living and working in Central America, and assigned me the task of locating a car for him. After an exhaustive search for new and used cars, how to ship them, what duties you pay, what age of car is allowed to arrive in El Salvador (and a secret attempt by me and a friend to purchase a used car in LA and drive it there ourselves, thrill seekers that we are, although strictly prohibited by the SRO) the best solution was to check in at the embassy for the local newsletter that US employees are getting. There you will find all kinds of used equipment, cars, trucks, housekeepers, child care providers, cooks that are being left behind as they prepare to leave for their next post. It’s the best - and WAY EASIEST -way to find a new, appropriate car.
My colleagues and I work in northern Kenya on several different science projects. I’ve worked there since 06 but my colleagues have worked there since the early 90s. We work primarily in Samburu District (now county) where there are NO paved roads. We do not see tarmac for months at a time! We have constant day to day rocky roads, washboard roads, washed out roads, and roads where people easily flip their vehicles on a soft shoulder because they are driving too fast. Kenyans drive very fast and they don’t where seat belts. And unpaved roads can turn to slick mud during the rainy season.
The project owns a Land Rover Discovery turbo diesel (4x4, of course), a Toyota Hilux diesel with a double cab, and an older Range Rover with a gas engine (a piece of junk that has cost more money in work than it is worth). Everything has trade-offs.
Low-down: Go with a Land Rover Discovery diesel if you can. The Defenders are pretty bare bones but certainly reliable. If not then the Hilux (4x4). But the Hilux really loses traction on the unpaved washboard roads. The rear-end wants to swivel around to the front if your truck bed is not loaded (thought I would like the Hilux but I don’t). The Hilux is OK if you are on a paved road. We did, one summer, use a small Suzuki Sidekick that surprisingly worked out pretty nicely! I have another colleague who used a Toyota 4-runner until it developed an oil leak and the turbo sucked out all of the engine oil, then they needed a new engine!
Make sure that you get AC cuz its no fun having fine dust blow into the cab cuz you have to leave the windows down for air.
Repairs: Everything will be much more expensive than you expect. We have dealt with many different types of repairs, several of us are necessary mechanics with experience in rebuilding engines. But, to buy a part you must remove the part and take it in to show the parts store exactly what you need (“Bring me the sample.”). Tire punctures can be frequent and you should have several spares. Extra tires will be expensive; Good tires easily be twice as much as what you pay in the U.S. We use high-quality all terrain tubeless tires. One project employee ran over rebar while crossing shallow water within our first 10 km of tarmac after two months without tarmac. Be careful when you are in a town as even someone standing near your vehicle can puncture your tires with a nail (even if you are sitting in the vehicle) in order to generate business for the local tire shop (happened to me, because I was naive enough to think it couldn’t happen to me, right after being told by my colleague to keep an eye out for someone near the vehicle).
Keep your spare tire on the roof or under the vehicle if it has a spot. Have someone build a roof mount. Don’t use those spare tire door mounts cuz the added weight on the door will damage the door hinges if you are constantly on unpaved roads. Always be on hand and on site to watch your mechanic when he is making a repair (they may inadvertently leave off a part or “something like that”). Carry extra fuel on your roof rack and a funnel inside the cab.
Take several high quality tools with you, especially a good breaker bar and several high quality sockets for changing tires (may be several different sized RoboGrip pliers). Bring a tire puncture kit as well as one of those small air compressors that can run off the lighter plug (and power converters that can run off the plug as well) You can get a good hydraulic jack at the Nakumatt in Nairobi.
I would avoid an American vehicle. Good luck getting parts or someone who knows how to work on it. I know of one Jeep Cherokee in Samburu District. I have no idea how they get parts. The only other American vehicles I’ve seen in northern Kenya were two Suburbans being driven by Christian “missionaries” wearing “camo.”
Your vehicles are everything when you are in country and in the bush. We do our best to take care of the vehicles but the roads and the driving conditions are hard. We do know people who have had good experiences with an Isuzu or the Toyota Prado, and, of course, a Land Cruiser.
Good luck with your job and trip.
Oh, what Skinnedknuckles said about theft while driving is true. One colleague had her watch taken off her wrist while she was in slow moving traffic. Another had someone who nearly stole a tire off her vehicle while in slow traffic. We drive in Nairobi with either the windows cracked or the AC on. With that said, surprisingly, we actually walk in the city as often as we can get a chance. Not having the car makes you less of a target.
You do know that these shows are reruns and Carole probably went to Africa 10 years ago.