By Gardy Chacha
If you are planning to take that much much-touted game drive – whether to the Maasai Mara, Tsavo or even to Nakuru – one of the key things you should consider is the type of vehicle to use for this excursion.
A game drive, or safari drive, offers an opportunity to have a one on one encounter with nature – as well as take a breather from the everyday hassles.
Why is it important to consider the features of the car that you will need for this adventure?
For starters, the expanse that is a game park or game reserve is virgin landscape – from the soil to the vegetation and even the terrain; with very little interference from man. You, therefore, don’t expect to have a smooth ride as you would on the tarmac.
Much as the following information will not guarantee you a perfect drive, but these tips will make the difference as to how you get out of that sticky situation, should you find yourself in one.
- The 4 by 4 factor
Forget about Joe who brags that his car is a 4WD just to get attention. The truth is 4X4 cars are important when driving off terrain. This is because such vehicles have high ground clearance.
According to Ash Sadique, a car mechanic and workshop manager at Mash Auto says that choosing a 4 by 4 car for a game drive is not only prudent but “it is the right thing to do.”
It is almost certain, that if you sign up for a game drive the vehicle you are most likely to use is a 4 by 4. They are the common vehicle type at private lodges and camps.
“A 4x4 car stands a good chance against difficult terrain of rocks, gullies, potholes and mud. They are especially handy during the rainy season,” Ash says.
- Manual transmission
There is no consensus regarding what kind of transmission is better that the other even among mechanical technicians.
However, according to Ash, a manual car is a better option for a game drive.
“A manual car gives you control over the car. And in an unpredictable terrain like on a game drive you want to be in as much control as possible,” he says.
This by no means implies that an automatic car is not sufficient for a safari. Of course you can opt for this, but with greater strain, “especially when one needs to navigate out of a muddy patch or a rugged terrain.”
With an automatic transmission, a driver is limited to controlling the steering wheel and stepping on the gas pedal. A manual transmission on the other hand offers the driver lower gears that have great power and that can be manipulated to unstuck oneself from mud or a ditch.
- High ground clearance
Ground clearance is the distance between the ground and the car’s undercarriage (or belly).
Higher ground clearance is good on vehicles with good off-road capabilities.
SUVs and pickups often have high ground clearance. This allows such vehicles to have more practicality such as transporting more cargo and travelling on rough roads.
You will definitely encounter such hostile terrain while a game drive with high chances of damaging the car’s undercarriage.
One drawback though for high ground clearance is an equally high centre of gravity – which makes it easier for the car to topple over: especially in higher speeds.
But then again, what are the chances that you would try to mimics Formula 1 antics on the dirt paths of the African Savanah?
- Weight of the car
Yes, a 4x4 is perfect for a game drive. But not quite so when the car is also heavy.
“Heavy cars are more likely to get stuck in the mud when you have to cross flooded spot or during the rainy season,” Ash says.
And when they get stuck, he says, it is more difficult to pull them out than lighter vehicles.
He recommends a light 4x4 car.
But, if the only available car is heavy, Ash advises that the vehicle should have larger tyres – this is because they have larger surface areas in contact with the ground.
“This should limit the chances of the car sinking in mud or sand,” he says.