How does our 6 tonnes off-road camper survive in Africa?

After more than 50 thousand kilometres in rough terrain and 13 countries in Africa I try to answer the question, if it was the right decision to use a 4×4 MB Sprinter for the challenging environment of the black continent.

And the crucial question is: Will the 4×4 Sprinter take us home again?

To make a long story short: traveling through Africa with a Dopfer Sprinter was a good decision, but there are still 15,000 km to go, but we are sure that our Sprinter will make it!

The basic setup:
we use a Mercedes Benz Sprinter 519 4×4 (Oberaigner ZG3) 906, which means it is a 5 tonnes chassis mit 3 litre Diesel, 5 speed automatic gear box and 4×4 with reduction gear (1:1,42) with electronic diff locks.
On top of this chassis sits a GFK cabin from DOPFER-Reisemobilbau in Bavaria Germany. The over all dimensions is 6,80 x 2,25, 3,65 meter with about 6 tonnes in total.

The 4×4 drivetrain:
The Oberaigner ZG3 4×4 was till 2021 the standard 4×4 setting which was offered by Mercedes with the Sprinter. Which means there is no really low reduction gear (1:1,42 instead of 1:2,8 with serious off-road setting – ZG4). And there is no real diff lock, only the electronically option which uses the brakes to substitute the mechanical locks.

diff lock function is needed and works well
Oberaigner 4×4 with good performance in sandy condition
Sometimes the fuel tank capacity is to little for Africa …
And filling stations are too far!
PONTON crossing from sandy LIUWA NP
Endless gravel with corrugation is very stressful for the structure
Main gravel roads all over Africa
Rain is coming ….

The engine:
3 litres turbo charged Diesel V6 (OM642) with 190 HP, which is a standard engine of the Mercedes Benz company and was built from 2005 until 2022.

Pretoria: after 182.000 Km, new Turbocharger in place

The tyres:
We use 235/85/16 BF Goodrich AT (a standard Toyota Land Cruiser dimension in Africa) which is 5 cm higher than the original 205/75/16. This tyre gives us a perfect setup for rough terrain including snow (Lesotho), mud and gravel.

235/85/16 versus 205/75/16
old & new
African routine, changing wheels

Maintenance, spares and repairs:
To outlast in Africa, it turns out, maintenance in advance is the key of survival.
Even if the MB Sprinter is a common vehicle in south eastern Africa, the supply with spare parts was not easy. e.g. in Tanzania was the expected delivery time for brake pads six to eight weeks. So it was very important to plan ahead and to use every possibility to check and repair the vehicle in advance.

brake pads, self imported from Europe

Except Filters, oil and some bolts, we imported all spares directly from Europe, like brake parts, shocks, gaskets, turbo charger and wheel spacers. In most cases the delivery time from Europe was, desk to desk, 10 days. Prices were about double than in Europe because of transport and customs.
Most of the needed spare parts we carried on board, the spreadsheet of our spare parts contains 147 positions, even all needed tools for most of the repairs are on board.

wheel repair kit
MAKITA, makes wheel change easy

On some occasions, it was impossible to solve problems on our own, but we could always find some helpful hands to support us.

African tyre changer in action!
Pretoria, South Africa
Jungle Junction, Nairobi
mounting new tyres in Uganda
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
changing brake pads in Tanzania
repairing shocks in Nairobi
welding a rim in Botswana
changing oil in Bloemfontein
patch a tyre in Lesotho
Lionel changing the turbo charger at LA-Sports in South Africa
changing gear box oil in Botswana

6 thoughts on “How does our 6 tonnes off-road camper survive in Africa?”

  1. Hi both,
    full of respect and fascination for your great skills, patience and everything that is needed to cope with this.
    Would ist make sense to have at least some spares such as brake pads on board?? Or ist it too much to carry …

    1. Hallo Gunter,

      we do carry a lot of spares, like 4 spare tyres, 2 spare rims, shocks, Diesel filters, oil filters, air filters, oil, gaskets, bolts, screws, most engine pipes and hoses, brake pads, mirror glasses, all type of fuses, light bulbs and much, much more. In total for sure 80 kg of spare parts. I can send our list of spare parts if you want.

      Alles Gute

      1. Wow, impressive. Yes. if you have a chance to send the list, would help to make us more professional 🙂

      2. Thanks, I received it. Hughe list 🙂 80 kg eats a lot of space….
        I learn a lot…. and learning is surviving i guess 🙂

  2. Hello Eddy,

    I enjoy reading your posts thoroughly because we have an identical chassis (2014 519 3.0 3665mm 4×4 Euro 6 ZG3 but 6 speed manual) which we are getting ready to install a nearly identical box on with a levelled roof like yours not dipped down after the Alcove like the new models (ours shall be slightly larger overall at 6.95 x 2.30 x 3.65 and a different layout as we will have 4 rear seats with 2 being removable, all on row 2).
    I have so many questions and don’t want to bore you from the start but can you please also send me the list of spares and tools you are carrying so we can allow future space accordingly ?
    Also we still have the original wheels and 205 75 R16 tyres and I can see you changed to 235 85 R16 possibly on the same original 5.5J wheels as the tyre seems slightly rounded, can you please tell me did you change the rear hub flange (possibly to the slightly longer US Version?) to increase the very slim clearance between the suspension leaf and tyre, and also do you have a wheel spacer between the twin rear wheels as I can see quite a healthy gap between the twins ? I may probably be better to swap the wheels with some 6J ones from Sprinter T1N 616 but I cannot find clear details on how to do it.
    What also makes me curious is your 6t weight, I can see the Marquart shocks but the rear axle has a 3500kg limit which added to the 2000kg from the front axle results in 5500kg max whilst the vehicle has a 5000kg gross weight from the factory, please tell me how did you manage to get to 6000kg and yas this affected the towing capacity in any way? Ours still is 5000kg GVW and 7000kg GTW although some flexibility would be quite helpful like 6000+1000 or even 6000+2000 if possible.
    I want to ask you about what rear Air Conditioning unit you have and if it is good enough for the heat of Africa, about the size of your rear garage and ultimately what you would wish to change to your vehicle if you could in order to make things better. Any information would be really helpful to us at this stage.
    We wish you many safe and happy travels !
    Best regards,

    1. Hallo Gabriel,

      lot of important Questions, we use the 235/85/16 on the original 5,5 rims which works very good. We do have wheel spacers. You are right that the max weight is 5,5 tonnes but max weight we ever measured was 6,0 which was so far technically no problem. I can not give any information concerning the towing capacity. We do not use any air-condition in the box. I will send the list of spare parts via your eMail.

      All the best

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