Treks in Saudi Arabia - Modifying our Land Rover Discovery for the desert
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Notes for Desert Treks in Saudi Arabia

including specific Land Rover Discovery Modifications


Camping a long way from the dealer

Although we had only done a few trips - a lot less then some, I was fairly certain that once we had gotten beyond the few dealers in Jeddah that dealt in our tyres and other essentials, it would be a situation where we would have to wait for a fellow vehicle to bring spares from Jeddah.

Toyota Pickup

In fact, if you don't own a Toyota pickup or Landcruiser, a GMC Suburban, or one of the common taxis - there will probably not be many parts available outside the larger towns. On our trip to Medain Saleh for instance, we would pass by Medina, but as Christians we would not be allowed in the city. Taif has a few things, but in our case, not a Land Rover dealer.


GMC Suburban tyres on a Discovery The biggest worry about heading to the desert were where the rubber meets the path - tyres. Apart from getting really hot and carrying a heavy load - we had planned to do the Hejaz Railway, about 150K of ex railway line, washouts, sleepers and sleeper ruts and hard brittle rocks.
I then read an article about a previous trip from Jeddah where a guy lost 4 of his 5 tyres and had sworn never to use these again. I went outside to my car and to my horror - I had the same! Three were Ok and two needed relpacing. I started researching what to get, but more importantly, which of these were in the Saudi marketplace and fairly priced. I found that the tyres that I had on the Discovery, supplied by the dealer were not recommended to go anywhere but highway and city! I could not believe that they would be sold like that on a 4x4.
Was I going to carry a bunch of tyres and argue with the family for their space over water or some comforts? I really needed a more practical way to conserve what little space we had. We did not have a trailer at this stage, in fact they're very rare.
My research took me to a series of Discovery and Range Rover owners who had fitted various forms of oversized tyres. I took note of the way I would need to modify the steering, mudguards and don't forget to make sure you can still carry the spare tyre where it fits best!.
The old tyres, look all right but lacked ply and durability
I started learning about how to read the tyre label and some of the more important features of profile and ply and understood how they affected for ride and durability. I then discovered that there weren't too many options with a 16in rim. I was also very aware of then trying to replace 4 of these 600k from Jeddah.

Ultimately, I settled on the GMC Suburban tyre that was used on every third bedouin's family vehicle, available everywhere and with a small adjustment to the Discovery - all was well. The steering just needs to be limited by a couple of turns on what is a steering limiting bolt and make sure that the mudguards have not been bent up through previous bumps (as mine had) and all is well. Your speed and odometer will be out, but then this is Saudi Arabia. The clearence went up about 1.5 ins and that always comes in handy. The tyres have harder walls - like a truck, but the ride was not any worse. For the driver, it was actually a firmer feel, better tracking and cornering.

Belts and Braces

To be safe therefore and not impact the trip, we had to take the essentials... Full set of belts for fan, alternator, steering and A/C pump. All were essential - you need the fan in 35-45 degree celcius, you need an A/C, the alternator cannot survive driving the rest if it is failing or slipping, and the steering is dangerous/near impossible with a heavy load. There are two philosopies: carry a replacement set, or fit new and keep the old. The latter is safer when you buy things in Saudi Arabia - you fit it while you have the right tools and you're sure you have the right belts and you don't have to rely on it being fitted by a guy you cannot communicate with and who was really a misplaced goat herder who's been given a wrench.
Learned the hard way - to carry the correct fluids at all times. One horror of a trip down the steepest stretch of the Abha-coast road which descends 6000 ft in one stretch. This boiled our brake fluid. I had been assured by some bozo that DOT 3 was appropriate, but on reading the manual - DOT 4 was required. This difference seems to be related to boiling temparature and that's what happened. Fortunately, the Discovery's hand-brake is linked by cable to a 5th brake - a drum-brake on the drive shaft, which stays dry and locks all wheels.


Combination of a Thule bar and a Toyota Landcuriser Roof Rack on a Discovery Discovery roof racks were too light for anything. Discover "Camel" roofracks were too expensive. My search for a generic rack was a combo job - Thule high bars with a Toyota LandCruiser aluminium rack.
   Thule bar
This worked, took good loads and was 'economical'. Downside was the wind resistence, but that's life.


A locally made, GMC Suburban trailer, custom painted to the same colour as our Discovery As our trips became more elaborate and we carried more people, we went for a trailer. This trip we had 6 seated in our 7 seater, so there would only be space for some gear in that 7th seat. We were camping, cooking, catering for near 0 degrees and 40 during the day etc. This trailer had it's own water tank built in, but not rust resistant. The roof-rack cover doubled as a trailer cover.
Trailer out of a river bed - Wadi


Although the desert is called so - because of the lack of water, you can make terrible mistakes to not cater for the possibility of water, rain and floods. I carried canvas to cross streams, water-proof covers for camping and avoided camping in a wadi where it may flood.
Would you have thought you would encounter a water crossing in the desert?
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