Driving on the left hand side, unpredictable gravel roads and hellbent road users can be a particular challenge. Here are a few tips and guidelines to keep you and your passengers safe. We wish you a safe journey.
Advice for self-drivers on our roads
Caution in traffic
At stop streets the general rule is: whoever arrives first, drives first. If in doubt, right before left. But pay attention at stop streets and traffic lights that are turning green – always make sure that other approaching cars are actually slowing down or stopping. Unfortunately, many people simply drive through stop signs or red lights without braking.
Whether you are on a tarred road or a gravel track, always be mindful of oncoming vehicles – especially on hill crests and in blind bends. Severe (fatal) head-on collisions occur time and again. On tarred roads these accidents happen mainly due to dangerous overtaking maneuvers. On gravel roads, there are numerous risks: the lane is often not as wide on top of a hill and is further narrowed by stone banks or bumps, leading to cars driving in the center of the road; foreigners fall into old habits and drive on the right hand side instead of on the left; the oncoming vehicle has entered a bend at too high a speed and is now threatening to take the bend too far and is skidding into your lane etc. etc. Be aware of other road users, especially oncoming traffic!
On gravel roads and sandy tracks, special attention must also be paid to stones being hurtled your way by passing cars. Particularly trucks or cars with trailers swirl up a lot of stones. Keep to the left and REDUCE YOUR SPEED to minimise the risk of a damaged windshield or shattered side window. Be prepared for any stones that may be thrown your way by oncoming or overtaking cars. Don’t let a stone chip shock you into swerving – keep the steering wheel straight.
Cars can kick up a huge cloud of dust, especially so on sandy roads. Depending on the wind direction, this dust cloud can stay over the road for a while. Should you get into such a dust cloud due to oncoming or overtaking cars impairing the visibility, REDUCE YOUR SPEED to get out of the dust cloud, make sure your headlights are turned on and be wary of oncoming traffic or cars driving in front of you.
Conditions on gravel and sand roads
Travellers have accidents on Namibian roads time and again. Most of the time no other parties are involved. Most commonly drivers lose control of the vehicle and the car overturns.
Keep in mind: untarred roads are only roughly levelled by a road grader every couple of months or so. Weather and road usage seriously degrade the condition of the road. Also, some gravel roads are so heavily filled up that you drive as if on a kind of rampart/mound from which you threaten to slide down if you drive too far to the left. Furthermore, due to the strong sunlight and light-coloured sand and lack of shadows/contours, potholes, gullies, stones and other obstacles often come into your vision far too late.
Due to the loose debris a vehicle has less grip on a gravel road than on a solid tarred road. Similar to driving on ice or snow, the loose surface makes it easier for the vehicle to skid or slide, even at low speeds. For your safety, Kalahari Car Hire has a strict speed limit of 80km/h on gravel roads. Regardsless of the official speed limit. Apart from endangering your own safety and that of others, you have NO INSURANCE COVER in the event of an accident occurring above 80km/h.
The famous “corrugated iron” on a gravel track not only shakes up all passengers and luggage, but can sometimes be so severe that the car almost doesn’t touch the ground anymore and loses all form of grip. Reduce your speed.
Please stick to our recommended tyre pressure of 1.6 bar at the front and 1.8 bar at the rear! No matter what others say 😉 We’ve had the best experience with these pressures over the past decades. The recommended tyre pressure is particularly important on gravel roads, as it gives the tyre a bit of a “belly”, enlarging the contact surface between tyre and road, giving the tyre better grip.
If the tyre is inflated too hard, it has a smaller contact area with the road and does not cushion that well. If the tyres are too hard and the speed is too high for the track conditions, the rear end of the car may break away / the car may begin to skid and, in the worst case, overturn.
Many gravel roads develop spoors/tracks in them as driving cars carve into the road and move stones and rubble to the left and right of their tracks. Apart from stones, other foreign objects such as wire, glass and the like also accumulate on the sides of the tracks. Where possible, stay in these tracks. Do not drive too far to the left or right in the accumulated stones. The front tyres tend to throw up these stones onto the rear tyres and the risk of a puncture increases immensely.
Also be prepared for unwanted objects such as wire, car parts, glass bottles and other obstacles inside the lanes or on the road – avoid driving over foreign objects.
Animals on the road
Be prepared for wild life crossing unexpectedly and of free-roaming livestock such as cows, goats, donkeys and horses next to the road. This is one of the reasons why Kalahari Car Hire prohibits driving at dawn, dusk and during the night. For one, game is more active during the cool hours of the day. Furthermore, herds of cattle like to lie down on the warm tarred road or bush-free gravel road at night.
Try to avoid the animal as much as possible, but do not swerve/jerk around the steering wheel.
Driving in a convoy
When driving in a group of vehicles, the primary rule is: keep your distance. The dust from the car in front of you inhibits your visibility and also gets into the ventilation system and interior of the vehicle. You should be able to see oncoming traffic well and cars from behind should be able to overtake you easily.
Afraid of being left behind or missing a turn? Don’t panic. Talk to each other beforehand. Tip: the car in front always waits for the car behind. If vehicle 1 turns off, it waits for vehicle 2 at the turn. If vehicle 2 arrives, vehicle 1 continues and vehicle 2 waits until vehicle 3 arrives at the turn and so on. Unless you want to take a break for a drink and/or a pee, then of course a pit-stop for the whole group is in order 😉
Driving in 4x4
Most importantly: switch into 4×4/all-wheel drive (L4) early/in time! Do not get stuck first! Getting stuck or more specifically trying to get out again puts a lot of strain on the clutch and undercarriage. Trying to get yourself unstuck can burn out the clutch in particular faster than you think. Damage to the clutch and undercarriage is excluded from insurance coverage!
As soon as you approach thicker sand, shift directly into Low4/L4.
Important: never drive faster than 40km/h in 4×4/all-wheel drive!
How to switch 4-wheel drive on ?
Most of our vehicles have a simple dial slightly to the left of the driver’s left knee for engaging/disengaging the all-wheel drive.
A few models have a second small gear lever to the left of the main gear lever.
1. Stop / the car must stand still
2. Press clutch and shift the main gear lever into neutral gear
3. Press clutch and shift from H2 to L4 / turn dial towards L4
4. Engage the first gear again and drive on slowly
If the L4 is switched on correctly, the 4Low/4×4 indicator sign lights up on the display. The car has noticeably more power and drives much slower in the normal gears. If the 4-wheel drive is not engaged correctly, the light flashes or remains off. In that case, try again.
How to switch 4-wheel drive off?
1. Stop / the car must stand still
2. Press clutch and shift main gear lever into neutral gear
3. Press clutch and shift from L4 to H2 / move dial anti clockwise towards H2
4. Engage first gear again and drive on slowly
If the 4-wheel drive is switched off correctly, the 4Low/4×4 sign will switch off and no longer be visible. If the all-wheel drive is not properly disengaged, the light will still be on or flashing. Reverse a few steps and see if sign switches off. Otherwise try again.