For those who have been following us and our travels (through this blog and our social media profiles), you will know that #RBOF started it's adventures around Botswana two years ago in a second-hand 2001 Toyota RAV4 all-wheel drive compact SUV, or soft-roader as this type of vehicle is commonly referred to. While the RAV4 was capable of taking us to quite a few places around Botswana (and surprised many onlookers as it did so), the more adventurous we got, the less capable the RAV4 became. We wanted to go further and deeper into the bush but the RAV4 eventually started reaching the edge of it's comfort zone. Enter the Toyota Prado!
Low ground clearance, lack of a proper 4x4 system (low-range gearing), weak suspension and less than sufficient carrying capacity slowly but surely started to mean that we weren't able to go quite as far or as deep into the wild as we wanted. So after more than six months of online research, visiting various car dealers around Gaborone and Mogoditshane, looking through the car-section of the weekly Advertiser and speaking to 4x4-knowledgable people we knew, we finally bit the bullet and bought ourselves a proper 4x4 - a 1999, Toyota Prado TZ, 3.4L, V6 with low-range gearing, permanent four wheel drive and Bridgestone Dueler all-terrain tyres!
We test-drove five or six Prado's of varying specifications and trim models until we found the one that ticked almost all the boxes and didn't scare our wallet too much. The car dealer at NSK Motors managed to find for us a very clean, Japanese-import, Prado TZ, with not too many km's on the clock, in pearl white with a 3.4L, V6 engine and for a decent price too. We had considered the 2.7L as well, since we knew the V6 would be thirsty but our research told us that the 2.7L engine wasn't as powerful as the V6 and would struggle at times to move the massive vehicle, which would result in a higher fuel economy anyway.
So after driving this model once, twice, a third time, we took it to a mechanic to give it the once over - he said it was all good after test driving it - and after analysing our budget for the 20th time, we signed the paperwork, made the transfer and at the end of February of 2018 we were the proud owners of this fine specimen of a 4x4... a model that I had been eyeing for quite some time now. And given what we wanted to use it for and given our budget wasn't reaching into the hundreds of thousands, this seemed like the perfect 4x4 for us.
That very first weekend we took it on a short drive through the Mokolodi Nature Reserve just outside of Gaborone to give it the once-over and see how it handled the dirt and gravel roads. While it did provide a comfortable ride over all the rocks and bumps in the reserve, there was a horrendous rattling and shaking of the passenger side of the dashboard. Something to be looked into for sure. But all in all the Prado handled off-road driving without any problems....even though it was hardly put through its paces.
Seeing as the Prado was also going to be used as my wife's daily driver, we decided to fit a central-locking/alarm system to it. And since part of the dashboard would be removed to install that system, I figured we might as well change the CD player (as the original Japanese unit was faulty and needed to be replaced). With this came replacing the radio antenna which was also faulty and couldn't slide back down into the body of the car.
Once the electrician at my dad's auto electrical repair workshop started opening up the dashboard, we tried to figure out what was causing the dashboard to rattle and shake so much. After some online forum research and peering into the depths of what lies behind the dashboard, we concluded that some of the clips that held the dash to the actual chassis of the vehicle were either missing, loose or broken.
So more of the dash was taken off and sure enough, 4 of the 6 plastic clips that held the dash to the chassis were broken, but with some luck we managed to find replacement ones at a local car junk-yard off of the same model Prado. Clipped them back in and no more rattling! A new CD player was also fitted along with a new antenna (that could manually be extracted and retracted when necessary) and the alarm and central locking were also installed.
Once this was done, I took the Prado to Super Tyres in Gaborone-West Industrial to get the wheels aligned, followed by brake-skimming at Exact Exhausts, which was all done during the course of one day.
Now, the Easter holiday was coming soon and we wanted to really test the Prado out somewhere in the bush. Ever since we had to moved to live and work in Botswana three years ago, we had the Khutse Game Reserve on our bucket list, but could never risk going there with our RAV4. And now that we had the Prado, we figured "we the heck not?!" So we made the reservation for two nights camping at Khutse (read the full article about that trip, along with photos and videos, here) and slowly but surely started getting the vehicle ready for this exciting trip.
The first thing we had to figure out were our sleeping arrangements. We had no tent as we had thrown it away on a trip last year (read about that fateful adventure here) and had already spent so much on the car and fixing it up that we didn't want to spend anymore on buying a good quality, durable canvas dome tent (not yet, anyway). As I perused though the Japanese instruction manual one evening, looking at the photos if nothing else, I came across a chapter that discussed seat arrangement. The drawings showed that all seven seats could fold down or some be taken out and a combination could be made that would allow for sleeping in the vehicle.
So the next evening, after work, Dina and I opened up the car in the garage and followed the images in the manual to see what we could do with the seats. We could either fold the front seats forward and the fold the back bench and the two additional seats (that are usually hanging to the left and right side of the cabin in the rear) down all the way back and lie on them like that, or remove the two additional seats from the rear completely and then fold the front seats and back bench completely back and flat down and lie on them like that. We tried both options and opted for the latter (rear sets removed and front seats and bench folded back and down flat) as it gave us the flattest sleeping surface and we still had enough space from the end of the seats to the rear door to store some of our camping gear when we slept.
Having checked that off the list, the next thing was to figure out how we would carry extra fuel, a gas bottle, firewood, shovel, tools and sand tracks with us? We prefer not to carry fuel and gas with us in the vehicle if possible, although we did so a couple of times in the RAV4 until we bought a roof rack for it. Hmmm, would it be possible to perhaps transfer the rack from the RAV4 to the Prado, thus allowing us to carry all the smelly, dirty stuff up on top? I spoke with Brendon from Hi-Range Safari City in Gaborone, where we had gotten our Front Runner Slimline II roof rack fitted to the RAV4 over a year ago and came up with a solution that would indeed allow us to transfer the rack from RAV to Prado. The main concern was that the existing rack was slightly narrower than necessary for a Prado, and the problem could be that the rack would not be wide enough to reach the supporting legs, which would fit onto the rain gutters above the windows. Luckily for me, Front Runner also make and supply extensions that are mounted onto the legs and will allow for a narrower rack to be mounted on top.
I spent the following Sunday afternoon in my yard, dismantling and removing the roof rack from the RAV4 and took it in to Hi-Range the following Monday morning to get it mounted onto the Prado. I asked them to throw in a Front Runner shovel holder as well just because it was very practical when carrying a shovel on your trips.... and in all honesty, it did look cool as well.
Just before we bought the Prado, I realised it didn't have roof rails on the roof so mounting any roof rack in the future would have to be done by fitting legs onto the rain gutters above the windows, which I didn't have a problem with, except if the overall height of the legs and rack was too tall and thus prevent the Prado from bring parked in our garage which had a relatively low door. The lack of roof rails proved beneficial in the end as the rack could be mounted on the legs and still be low enough to allow the Prado to enter the garage with the rack on and not hitting the garage door!
Moving back to the interior of the vehicle, we came to the issue of the seats.... cloth material.... was in good condition, but we knew they would get very dirty, very quickly from the gear we'd be putting inside, or sand, mud, spilling a drink etc. So we decided to get poly-canvas seat covers for the front seats and back bench. We have a set in the RAV and considered transferring them over, but then the RAV seats (which were lighter in colour) would also be prone to getting dirty. So we bought a new seat of the same brand, Stingray, but in black, which matched the interior of the Prado nicely, would provide more than sufficient protection and were considerably cheaper than getting proper canvas seat covers. We bought ours at GAME, but a week later I saw the same identical set at Builder's Warehouse for less, so make sure you shop around if you are looking to get yourself a set as well.
Our vehicle preparations for our upcoming trip to the Khutse Game Reserve were almost complete. A new battery was fitted, a mandatory service was done, a new spare tyre, air compressor and steering wheel cover were bought and we were ready to go....almost! A couple of days before our trip we took the Prado in to see a mechanic to check why there was a relatively loud and very annoying squeaking sound coming from the steering wheel every time it was turned. From the slightest movement to a full turn, the squeaking was quite irritating, but more importantly I was worried if this was the result or cause of something more serious. The mechanic discovered that there was an issue with the bearing within the actual steering column and we had to replace the entire steering column. Luckily, again, the mechanic used to have the same model Prado and had the steering column from it, which he reconditioned and fit into our Prado literally the day before we were to leave. Talk about perfect timing!
The following morning we were packed, fueling up and ready for our first proper bush trip and the Prado's maiden voyage off-road! We had packed all the gear we needed (nothing more than the essentials), the roof rack was loaded with the dirty, smelly stuff and there was still space for more. The suspension, I have heard, on the original-spec Japanese vehicles leaves something to be desired and we could see and feel that it was sagging a bit under all of that weight, but the vehicle itself drove like a large, 4x4 limousine and once we hit the gravel roads covered with water and mud, we could really appreciate and understand the meaning of having a strong, capable and unstoppable off road vehicle that could probably take us anywhere.... and we intend to find out!
"We are a Botswana-based family of 3, with a passion for going out into nature and the bush any chance we get!"