Selection of an overland truck falls into three main categories New, Used and ex-Military and then the subdivisions of over or under 7.5t, Euro rating and Number of axles.
Like everything in Overlanding, there is no right or wrong answer. More often than not it falls to budget, licence and availability.
A few things we need to dig into are:
How many axles?
4wd 6wd or 8wd? That’s the question. The number of axles required is normally driven by the size of the habitation body you require. The downside to having more axles is manoeuvrability, access and running costs. With a 16.00r20 tyre costing £1200 having extra axles and spares can soon add up.
The advantages are increased off-road mobility, ride comfort off-road and on unmade roads and of course a much bigger habitation body.
On most vehicles with a GVM>10t assume the following:
4x4 Habitation body up to 5.5m
6x6 Habitation body 5.5m - 7m
8x8 Habitation body up to 7-9m
European emission standards define the acceptable limits for exhaust emissions of new vehicles sold in the EU, the latest of which is Euro 6.
At the time of writing in the UK, it is only possible to apply for the first registration of a vehicle with a Euro 5 or 6 engine.
If a vehicle has a first registration in an EU member state then it is possible to transfer the registration (if you have the correct documentation) to the UK registration authority regardless of the EU rating.
Many people chose to shy away from a new vehicle amid fears of electrical complexity, while this is true; if you intend to maintain and repair the vehicle yourself and your skills are limited to mechanical only. If you have no vehicle experience at all and intend to employ local services for repair and maintenance the increased electrical systems should be of little concern.
Newer vehicles do have the added inconvenience of having ‘Add blue’. There is an additional tank on the vehicle that needs to be filled with Add-blue to maintain exhaust emissions. If you let this run out the vehicle may decide to not run. As the use of adblue increases so does its availability.
As the world becomes more aware of air pollution the need for cleaner types of diesel engines is becoming more apparent as restrictions are appearing across many cities worldwide limiting the use of older diesel engines. The most impactful I can think of is the Mont Blanc tunnel has a euro rating for vehicles that can use it. If you don’t meet this then the detour could be huge.
Can be purchased to your specification
Euro rated engines give accessibility
Warranty and reliability
Latest safety features
Ride quality and comfort.
Need for Add-blue
By far the most widely used is the MAN TGM and TGS platform; these are available in 4x4 6x6 and 8x8 with each one having various cabin options ranging from single cabs to large double cabs to suit a large family. MAN has excellent reliability and build quality. Global parts availability is great in Europe, Asia, average in Africa and poor in the Americas due to there being no MAN presence there. At the time of writing a basic MAN 4x4 TGM starts at £48,000, a well spec'd 4x4 is around £65,000 and a well spec'd 6x6 TGS is around £120,000. Delivery on a new MAN is often circa 10months
Mercedes is the second most widely used overland vehicle available with all the same options available as the MAN across the Mercedes Actros, Atego, Arocs and of course the Unimog range. Build quality is marginally better than the MAN, prices are roughly 10% more than the MAN for an equivalent vehicle. Mercedes vehicles have better global parts availability and their vehicles can be found working commercially on most continents.
There are also notable offerings from Scania, Iveco, Tatra and Kamaz but these are much less widely used by the overland community.
With all the options available in the new vehicles available in the second-hand market there are a lot of options.
We source a lot of our vehicles from Europe as there is often more choice. It's not uncommon to find some very low mileage examples that are a steal.
No Need for Add-blue with older vehicles
No Advanced electronics
Can’t be purchased to your specification
No Euro rated engine to give accessibility to clean air zones
Less Ride quality and comfort in older vehicles
The market has seen huge demand for vehicles with a GVM <7.5t but over 3,5t. This is often driven by the UK drivers & vehicle licence agency giving rights to drive upto this GVM for people that passed before 1998. This has left the price of good vehicles very high and often more than an equivalent vehicle that’s plated over 7.5t.
If you want a vehicle under the 7.5 threshold then you have a few options
With few second-hand options available it's often only possible to get one new from a dealer. These very capable 4x4’s are very popular in Australia. The only major drawback to them is the small cab and cramped driving position.
Iveco Daily Chassis cab.
Readily available in the UK and Europe these compact 4x4 vehicles are available in both single and double cab and are normally plated to a GVM between 5.5-6.5t the latter being much rarer to find on the second-hand market. Generally, for a good vehicle you should be aware of the corrosion issues often found on Iveco.
Mercedes Vario 814da (often referred to as an 814d 4x4)
The holy grail of sub 7.5t overland builds are now only available in the second-hand market where they command very high prices. With the excellent OM904lm engine they are extremely reliable and are backed by Mercedes global parts network making them an excellent choice for an overland build as either a van or single/double chassis cab. As with most Mercedes commercial vehicles, buyers should be aware of rust and thoroughly check any second-hand vehicles.
MOWAG Duro II
The Duro is a 6,5t rated with a 4.2t Payload!!! This is huge for a vehicle of this physical size. It utilises the fantastic Cummins 5.9l engine coupled with an Alison gearbox. It has a patented stabiliser system, which allows axle twisting on rough terrain. Each wheel can travel independently. Such design resulted in great off-road mobility. Many parts can be obtained commercially as they are common with other commercial vehicles. Any specialist parts can be purchased directly from Bucher-Guyer AG in Switzerland. As per other military vehicles, the cabin can be very simple compared to commercial vehicles.
Mercedes Vario 814D 4x4 Converted for overland travel
Ex-military vehicles are normally selected due to their price point particularly in the UK where large AWD vehicles are rare in the commercial sector.
There are both advantages and disadvantages of using a military vehicle
Often found at very competitive prices
Widely available so you don’t have to wait for the right one to come along
Rugged by design
Often very low mileage versions are available
They are designed for function, not comfort. Don’t expect CD players and Carpets
Sometimes they can be abused
Often they have sat about for a long time; expect mechanical issues related to this
Some vehicles may have specialist parts and availability of these could limited
One important note is that ALL ex-military vehicles require an export license. Often this is an OGEL (open general export license) unless your vehicle does not meet the criteria. This is because your vehicle could be repurposed back into military use at any time.
Many people chose to not get an export certificate and cross the board freely without.
MOTORCRAFT DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS; YOUR VEHICLE COULD BE SEIZED
The most popular military vehicles are
Leyland DAF T244
Very popular in the self-build market due to availability and price (at the time of writing a good model would cost around £7000). These are very simple vehicles to own and operate with virtually zero electrics and good fuel economy. Due to their age and the fact that Leyland is no longer in business, parts are becoming increasingly difficult to source. Global parts supply is virtually non-existent outside of the UK and Africa. Their driving experience can be harsh and unpleasant in comparison to other vehicles. Despite their lack of front or rear diff locks they are very capable off-road when paired with a suitable tyre choice and competent driver. If buying it is worth considering a vehicle that’s been used as these have been sitting around for a long time and can be prone to perished seals.
Rheinmetall MAN HX60
By far the most popular military vehicle available today. Available from an auction at the time of writing for £18,000-£25,000 with the vehicle only having a few hundred kilometres on the clock.
They have an Auto selection manual gearbox that’s not always to everybody's taste and does require some preparations to drive off-road however their on road manners are superb, with great visibility from the mirrors and incredible air-conditioning unit and good sound proofing these feel much like a large van. Based on the MAN TGM platform, parts availability is said to be good. As they have not been released from service long, time will tell how well they adapt to civilian life
Both the DAF and HX60 have gained an almost cult following and have excellent support groups on Facebook.
Other various MAN 4x4s
There are several variants of MAN trucks all with different weight classifications. They all have similar characteristics to the HX60 with the one exception that they are either manual or standard auto transmission. They come with price tags that reflect their age and mileage.
Often regarded as the king of off-road machines, this famous truck from Mercedes comes in many different models and weight limits. Often there is little difference between the Military spec and civilian spec across the same models.
Possibly the vehicle with the best global parts availability as you will find defence forces and agriculture on every continent using Unimog's.
Their high price tag also reflects their high running costs as parts are often expensive. Unlike many of the other vehicles in this list, the Unimog came off the drawing board with the intent to drive off-road meaning that this is an off-road vehicle with on-road ability making its on-road handling and driving experience significantly less desirable than commercial vehicles that have off-road capabilities.
The MAN Kat is often regarded as the cream of the crop in off-road mobility when it comes to carrying heavy or bulky loads. Available in 4x4, 6x6 and 8x8 all on coil-sprung axles giving a great off-road performance. Much like the Unimog this was bred to be used off-road and the ride quality, unrefined cabins and air-cooled engines can become slow, noisy and tiresome when being used on the highway.
For countries where import regulations state that the vehicles have to be over 25 years old the Unimog and Man KAT are often the best and most popular choices for conversions.
There is no right or wrong vehicle. The worst thing to do is to never make a decision and pursue your dreams. Each vehicle has its pros and cons and you will need to decide what you can live with and what you can live without.
If you need any further guidance or have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us.