How We Maintain And Protect Our Desert Vehicles

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4x4 vehicle driving off road in Saudi Arabia near Oman
4x4 vehicle driving off road in Saudi Arabia near Oman

While often thought of as a baron, sandy desert expanse, the Arabian Peninsula is in fact a beautiful, unique landscape with a surprising variety of climates, topography, vegetation, and of course – people. From the the holy lands of Hijaz just off the Red Sea, to the desert ocean that is the Arabian Desert, to the incense growing regions in Oman and Yemen, to the glittering cities and of Doha, Muscat, and Abu Dhabi in the east – we absolutely love our unique corner of the world – as much as we love showing it off to visitors on our historical driving tours.

To be sure, it *can* be extremely hot, and sandy, and windy and maintaining a vehicle in these conditions can be a challenge, but its a challenge that’s happens to be an absolute necessity as our cars are not only our mode of transportation, but also our refuge from the elements.

Today we wanted to discuss how we, as mobile tour guides and as a ride-sharing company in the Middle East prepare and maintain our vehicles for the rugged desert conditions, and how you too can do the same to improve the lifespan and operation of your own car or truck in the desert.

Be Prepared For The Worst

Before we delve into what it takes to prepare your vehicle for desert conditions like those found here, first a word about preparing yourself as a driver for desert conditions. The most important thing to remember when driving in the desert is that the conditions can change rapidly, and often without warning. So be prepared for the worst, and always drive with caution. Make sure you know your route, and have a plan B in case things go wrong.

Pack plenty of water and snacks, and be sure to pack a first-aid kit and emergency supplies. If you’re traveling in a convoy, make sure everyone is aware of the plan and has a means of communication.

In addition, always keep an eye on the weather, and be prepared for sandstorms, flash flooding, and other potential hazards.

If your vehicle does breakdown, it is important to have a towing company / recovery service on speed dial, as getting stranded in the hot desert can be a very dangerous proposition. If your car is able to run, stay in the car, if not, find the nearest shady spot, if not next to the vehicle, to wait for the roadside assistance company to arrive.

Fast recovery is important, especially during the midday summer hear, so be prepared to give your GPS coordinates, intersection, or distance marker to be able to find you.  This is easier said than done in a area as sparsely populated as the desert. In our previous role as a fleet manager for roadside assistance services in the United States (Charlotte NC to be exact), there were literally dozens of companies to choose from – here we are lucky if there are two located within an hour’s drive. The point here:  have at least two reputable towing services in mind that with the capability for desert driving and winch recovery.

Protection From The Sand And Dust

Blowing sand and sandstorms can be a common occurrence in the early spring to mid summer in the desert regions east of coastal mountains in the west. This fine sand acts as an abrasive element on not only your car’s paint and windshield, but also on its internal components as well. Unless you like cleaning or replacing your engine intake filter weekly (or daily in some cases), you may want to consider modifying your car, truck, or jeep to include a snorkel unit, as well as a extreme duty air filer do reduce the impact. A snorkel will raise the intake height to help keep it above much of the dust kicked up by other cars, while the high performance filters will filter the outside air for longer periods before becoming clogged – and the best part is – most are able to be cleaning using water.

The sand, heat, and intense sun of the desert can quickly degrade a vehicles paint and clear coat. To add years of life to the finish, we swear by ceramic coating for our car pool and safari vehicles. Why? Ceramic coatings are able to resist UV degradation, bird droppings, bug splatter, and environmental fallout much better than traditional waxes or sealants. In addition, they often have a low sheen finish that minimizes the appearance of scratches and swirls – perfect for our needs.

While it is impossible to completely avoid getting a rock chip on your windshield while driving in the desert, there are a few steps you can take to minimize their appearance and impact. One is to install a clear film on your windshield – which can be done at any local car tinting shop. This thin film will help prevent further damage by keeping smaller rocks and sand from embedding into the glass and causing a chip or crack to spread. Another option is to install a windshield protector, which is a rigid plastic or metal grille that mounts in front of your windshield and helps deflect larger rocks and debris.

Last but not least, make sure you have a quality desert car cover. A good quality car cover will help protect your car from the sun, dust, and dirt while it is parked. It will also help to keep the cool air in during the night, and the warm air out during the day.

Desert Care For The Vehicle Air Conditioning

The very best way on the road to avoid the heat of the desert is to stay in an air conditioned car. Likewise: it is important to take proper care of your AC unit. Here’s what we do on a monthly basis.

As the hardest working component in your AC system, an AC compressor is responsible for compressing the refrigerant and pumping it through the system. If the compressor fails, the entire AC system will fail. Much more than merely a convenience in the heat of the day here, it is important that we keep the AC compressor working it’s best. At the beginning of every month make sure that our vehicle’s AC compressor system is properly charged with refrigerant. Low refrigerant levels can lead to compressor failure, and a lack of refrigerant can also cause the system to freeze up – both of which can be extremely costly to repair.

In addition, it is important to keep the AC condenser clean. This is the unit that sits in front of your radiator and helps cool the air as it enters the car. If it becomes clogged with dirt, leaves, or insects, it will not be able to do its job properly and the AC unit will struggle to keep the interior of your car cool.

Keeping Your Radiator Happy

If you plan on spending any time in the desert, it is important to keep your radiator and cooling system running it’s best. One of the best ways to do this is to install a radiator grill. This is a metal or plastic grille that mounts in front of your radiator and helps deflect larger rocks and debris. By doing so, you are helping to keep your radiator clean and free from damage, which in turn will help keep your engine cool.

Another way to keep your radiator happy is to install a radiator fan shroud. This shroud is a plastic or metal cover that surrounds the radiator and helps direct airflow through the radiator more efficiently. By doing so, you are helping to keep the air flowing over the radiator and helping to prevent the radiator from becoming clogged with debris.

Keep the coolant in your car at the correct level by using a coolant overflow tank. This tank is installed in your engine bay and helps keep track of the level of coolant in your system. If the coolant level gets too low, it can cause the system to overheat and damage your engine.

A Word About Dune Driving

You’ll find a variety of driving surfaces here in this part of the Middle East, from perfect gleaming highways, to ramshackle roads, to rock and gravel trails, but none moreso that sand. Representing the largest desert in Asia, the Arabian Desert has plenty of the stuff.

When driving on the sand, it is important to maintain the correct tire pressure. Too much air and your tires will become “blown out” and unable to grip the sand; too little air and they will sink into the sand and be difficult to get moving again. The best way to find the correct pressure for your tires is to drive on a flat surface and use a tire pressure gauge to measure the pressure.

Ideally, you will want to keep the pressure well below the maximum recommended pressure found on the sidewall of the tire. We keep ours at 15 psi driving on the roads in the area, and 10 psi when actually driving the dunes with our offroad-enabled vehicles. There are times when we need to change PSI based on the surfaces we are driving, so a sturdy electric compressor is required on most of our fleet.

Conclusion

Taking care of your car in the desert is not difficult, but it does require a bit of knowledge and strict regular maintenance. By following the tips we’ve outlined here, you can keep your car running smoothly and looking great – no matter what kind of terrain you’re driving on.

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