Aftermarket 4×4 accessories and modifications are very expensive, so it is often tempting to make use of fitment centres that don’t charge a lot for labour and stock cheaper, less-established brands. But this is a bad idea, says Francois Rossouw. Cheap accessories and shoddy workmanship will cost you dearly in the long run.
Over the years, I have taken a great number of people on expedition with me. And needless to say, this has allowed me to witness some truly fascinating vehicle modifications. The ingenious ways in which people modify their overland vehicles never ceases to amaze me! Occasionally, however, those modifications go terribly wrong.
During a recent expedition to the Namib Desert, one of our group members arrived in a kitted out Hilux. Its suspension had been raised so much that the owner’s wife needed a ladder just to get into the cabin!
With its large tyres and lifted suspension it was quite imposing, so we immediately christened it “Goliath”.
After spending the night in a small town called Solitaire, we headed into the desert. The first 36km consisted largely of good gravel road, and we were travelling at a fairly brisk pace – around 90 km/h.
Driving a few vehicles behind Goliath in the convoy, I suddenly saw the bakkie veer sharply left and leave the road. We jumped out, and once the dust had settled, inspected the vehicle. We quickly discovered the problem: the left front wheel had collapsed and folded in under the body.
The ball joint had slipped out of the upper wishbone, causing the shock absorber and the wheel to collapse. To my surprise, the original wishbones had been used in conjunction with a long coil-over shock absorber, causing the wishbone to strike the rubber stops even before the vehicle was in motion. The constant hammering caused the circlip that holds the ball joint to collapse and the entire set-up to fail.
We jacked the vehicle up, and removed the wheel. Once this had been done, we used ratchet straps to keep the ball join in position. These straps are quite amazing and had helped us in similar situations before.
The rest of the group carried on, while I accompanied Goliath back to Solitaire. We drove at an incredibly slow pace, but eventually reached the town.
Now, you won’t find much in Solitaire. It consists of a filling station, a lodge and a small shop (which, incidentally, sells the best apple pie in the world).
We asked about, and discovered that there was a mechanic in town who could apparently “fix anything”. We tracked him down and he assisted us in welding the side ball joints to the wishbones. Of course, this is far from ideal, but it was the only way to make the vehicle driveable.
While the mechanic was busy, I had a chance to look at the rest of the modifications made to the Hilux. The quality of the workmanship was shocking. The rubber between the replacement bumper and the body had been dislodged completely after only a few kilometres of gravel driving.
Spacers had been fitted between the rims and the brake drums, but the original wheel studs were still being used. As a result, the oversize wheels were not being held securely enough.
A plastic auxiliary diesel tank that had been installed in the load area had already collapsed, and subsequently drenched the owner’s camping equipment in diesel.
The steering rods were running at such extreme angles that the steering wheel shook heavily each time the vehicle hit a bump.
What is the moral of this story? Be very careful when choosing a 4×4 fitment centre – especially if it boasts unbeatable prices. If a deal seems too good to be true, there’s probably a very big catch.
Make use of reputable 4×4 centres. You might pay a bit more for premium products, but they will save you a lot of money and trouble in the long run.
Halfway Toyota George