Need Now, Need Soon or Just Want?

So, you’ve arrived in the UAE, discovered that there are wonderful deserts all around and cannot wait to get out there!  Alf Mabrook (1000 congratulations)!  You’ve spent time researching your ideal car, considered your family/daily ride/prospective offroad needs, bought it, registered it and it’s in your driveway ready to go.  Next thing to do is invest in a few accessories but I suggest you start by splitting your shopping list into three categories.

Need Now – Things you should consider before your first off-road trip.

A Bashplate – If you are buying a second hand offroader there is a good chance it will have a bashplate fitted already, but if you don’t then get one.  It’s really important to protect the underside of your engine, particularly the sump and radiator, against any impacts – more likely when you have just started offroading.  Buy a strong one, ideally 6mm or 8mm.

Recovery Points – these are not always fitted as standard, even on some 4×4 vehicles!  Note that the tie down points are not strong enough to withstand snatching operations so check yours and upgrade as required.

Shovels – always have more than one; it’s part of the passenger’s fare to help dig you out of stucks!  The folding ones are passable, but you will get on much better with a larger lightweight one which will move more sand quickly.

Jack Plate – (a plate to put under your jack) – Should you need to change a tyre in the desert you’ll need one of these as your jack will just sink into the sand once it starts to bear your car’s weight.  I have seen and used all sorts of plates – a piece of 25mm hardboard, a piece of metal (with the edges buffed down), a high lift jack based used upside down, and my favourite, a 25mm thick plastic chopping board.

Bungee Cords/Cargo Net – it’s important to have everything tied down in your car to protect everyone inside. If yours comes to an abrupt halt everything not tied down will go flying and could injure you or your passengers! Also, ensure you have enough points to tie them down to.

Tyre Gauge – deflating your tyres to a suitable pressure is vital for sand dune driving but to start with a key to press on the valve stem and a good gauge will do.  Later on, you can buy tools to remove the valve stem and tell you the correct pressure.

A Compressor – go for one which clips directly onto your battery as the ones which plug into your cigarette lighter are more suitable for emergencies where you have one flat tyre!  Not everyone in your group will need one but always make sure you have at least one compressor in your convoy as sometimes a tyre will “pop off” a rim and you will need a decent compressor to pop it back on!
Not vehicle related, but important for passengers and driver alike- a cool box is essential to keep water and drinks cool on your desert travels – thicker walled ones will keep stuff cooler for longer!

Need Soon – Things you need sooner rather than later

Snatch Strap – Good quality snatch straps are available for as little as 350 AED and these, along with two rated shackles (which fit the holes in your car’s recovery points), are a sound purchase which, when used properly, will last for a few seasons.  Note: you want a snatch strap, not a lifting sling or a towrope. Make sure you are shown how to use them properly, either by an experienced driver or manufacturer’s You Tube videos.

A Lift – If your car is not lifted, then consider lifting it – many models can be lifted by 1.5 or 2” using suspension.  Doesn’t sound much but that extra inch or two could be the difference between clearing a bowl or ridge and bumper damage.  Do some serious research before you buy as there are so many systems out there.

Wheel Spacers – Some cars have a high centre of gravity and once lifted, benefit from wheel spacers to increase the width of the wheelbase.  Available in various widths, these might make your wheels protrude beyond the body, which means you will need fender flares before your car’s next registration test.

All Terrain Tyres – For some reason, most 4x4s come with highway terrain tyres when they are new, but these are never the best for offroad.  If you plan to drive on sand frequently then purchase ATR/ATS tyres with a soft sidewall which will give a wide area of contact when deflated.  Conversely, if you plan on doing a lot of rock/wadi/mountain driving then get yourself a set of ATR tyres with strong sidewalls and an “aggressive” tread as these will withstand impact with small rocks and stones.  There are tyres out there which are ok on sand as well as on rock, though, like with all compromises, they are not perfect for both!

A Tent – If you plan on staying overnight then a good tent is essential.  I recommend you buy one which is very easy to put up and take down, and large enough for your family.  For those driving overland or on rocks then a rooftent is also good; you don’t need to worry about finding a level rock-free site before turning in each night!  I am not too keen on rooftents for big sand dune trips though, as putting a lot of weight on top of your car affects the centre of gravity, which causes a problem if you have to sideslope a dune.

A GPS – There is so much choice now, either an app which works on or offline using your phone (or even better, a 7” or 10” tablet), as well as a stand-alone dedicated GPS device.  I love my Garmin Montana which works faultlessly everywhere!

Things you probably want but are not really essential…until you have caught the desert bug and are there every weekend!

A Roofrack – Buy a good one which is rated to carry at least 100kg.  Cheap ones will disintegrate very fast, whereas good ones will last for years.

An Awning – There are lots out there from standard pull out rectangular ones to the top of the range wing style ones as folding arm awnings Melbourne.  Great for picnics and short stops when exploring. Once you have one you will wonder how you ever managed without it.

Extra Lighting – Makes night driving so much easier whether you are driving short distances out after an evening barbecue or full-on night driving then they are a worthwhile purchase. Make sure you have them covered when on the road, or at least when you go to get the vehicle tested for registration.

Jerrycans/holder – Once you are going long distance, unless of course you are blessed with a 160 litre petrol tank, then you will need to carry extra fuel.  It is highly recommended to carry it outside your car, either on your roofrack or on an external mount.

A High Lift Jack – Bought with a set of wheel lifters, which will make putting unseated tyres back onto the rim a very easy job indeed!  You can also purchase a hand winch kit to turn it into a (very slow) winch!
A Winch – Bought more to help other people more than yourself!  Very handy thing to have but, as with all expensive purchases, do your research before committing your cash.  Learn how to use it properly and also invest in a snatch block to make heavy recoveries easier.

A Fridge – so much better than coolboxes if you plan on disappearing into the desert or mountains for a few days at a time.  These come in various sizes but be sure that it will fit comfortably in your car before you purchase!  Buy a good one as it can double up as a spare house fridge when you have a party! Do remember that the larger models will drain your battery overnight so you’ll need to add a dual battery system to your shopping list or turn it off before retiring for the night.

Cosmetic Upgrades – For many of the most popular offroaders  (Jeep Wranglers and Toyota FJ Cruisers immediately spring to mind here) there are endless kits and gadgets to improve the look and performance of your ride.  Some of these will add value to your vehicle at resale time whereas many will just make your ride look ultra cool (and there’s nothing wrong with that!). ■

So whatever you get for your vehicle, enjoy the desert, stay safe and make memories that last for a lifetime!

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Words by: Marina Bruce
Photos by: Neil Bruce and Catherine Gibson-Poole