Bridgestone-Firestone USA have agreed to sponsor us by providing us with 18 of their newly-developed Firestone Destination Mud Terrain (285/75-16) tyres. Their service and commitment have been exemplary. After signing the sponsorship agreement they promptly delivered the first set of nine tyres to Rover Accessories in Torrance, CA, who had them mounted and balanced on the new rims. The second set of nine tyres will be supplied to us at a destination en route. Here the tyres are being fitted in Seattle (courtesy of Tim & Steve at ARB)...
Initially we had fitted our vehicle with BF Goodrich Mud
Terrain (255/85-16) tyres. As you can imagine, the terrain our 6x6
encounters tends to be hard on tyres. We have driven thousands of kilometres
through desert sand, outcrops of volcanic rock, thick mud in the jungles,
massive thorns in the bushveld, rutted tracks, and stony ground. Of course a lot
of the roads are paved, but even so, a badly maintained tarred road can be more
damaging than a dirt track...
In turn, our responsibility includes providing feedback on our experiences with the tyres.
Our impressions during the first 3,000km from Seattle, Washington to Northern Canada, have been very favourable. For such an aggressive tyre they are remarkably quiet on the road and the extra width makes the vehicle feel more stable. We look forward to trying them in off-road conditions...
15/08/2004: We have just been up the 800km Haul Road from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Prudhoe Bay. The long dirt road was wet and muddy, with lots of stones, and almost every account of the journey talks of the possibility of several punctures. We were really impressed with the Firestones' performance - Nyathi felt stable and sure-footed all the way. At one point we followed a very steep and slippery path to pull out a 4x4 which was bogged down in the muddy tundra. The chunky tread pattern gave us excellent grip, and the treads cleared themselves well even at low revs. We've not got ourselves stuck yet - we'll just have to try harder! No punctures either, after 8000km - something we're very pleased about!
15/09/2004: We have now covered more than 16,000km on the Firestones. Most of the mileage has been on asphalt in Canada - we have had limited opportunity to really challenge the tyres' off-road capabilities. On-road performance is the bread-and-butter of all tyres, and although we need and appreciate off-road capabilities, the long distances on asphalt make safe, predictable handling, even tread-wear, moderate noise, and long life our priorities. So far, we are very pleased with the Destinations in these respects. In fact, thus far, our "major" complaint is that they are prone to picking up small pebbles from gravel surfaces, and then keeping them trapped for a while, making an annoying tick-tick-tick noise on the asphalt!
Looking at the tread wear so far, we estimate we will get around 60,000km from the set of Firestones - in line with what we would expect. We've not yet had a single puncture, (compared to an average of one flat tyre every 2000km with our previous tyres!), so we can't comment on how hard it is to get the tyres off the rims, or their susceptibility to run-flat damage. We're happy with that state of affairs!
18/09/2004: We have at last had an opportunity to see how the Destinations work in really slick mud. Camping one evening in a forest clearing, we had to turn around on the narrow track, which turned out to be slippery clay. We took a couple of action-photos of the spinning wheels, but it never really looked like we'd get stuck. As you'd expect from a good mud terrain tyre, the tread cleared well, and gave us a sure grip as soon as we locked up the centre diff - pulling our 5-tonne vehicle up the bank with ease.
02/03/2005: Our first puncture! As we scouted off-road for a campsite next to the Mekong River in Laos, a small sharp stump pierced the sidewall of one of the rear tyres, deflating the tyre completely in just a few seconds. The tyre is a write-off.
We have done close to 40,000km on the set so far, and I'd guess they have about 30% of their life remaining - not bad, considering the varied terrain we have covered, and the extra wear and tear that the six-wheel configuration adds. Throwing away a tyre is always galling, but looking at the evidence afterwards, we can't put the blame on the construction of the tyre. Any tyre with a sidewall strong enough to have deflected or broken the stump would be too inflexible to perform well on or off the road.
We've not really had much to report with respect to the tyres - we have come to take them for granted, no matter what the road conditions. 285/75-16 is an odd size in South East Asia, but the tyres still get favourable comments from local people in every country we have travelled through.
The photo below shows slick clay along the coast of the Black Sea in Bulgaria managing to clog the treads of our now fairly well-worn tyres...
The first set of Firestones has given us great confidence in this new design. In the worst conditions, they gripped well, resisted damage from sharp rocks (despite aggressive lugs), and showed no sign of overheating or fatiguing when run at low pressures (we could deflate to around 1 bar for really soft sand, even with our heavy vehicle). While we did damage one of the tyres beyond repair due to a sharp wooden stump piercing the sidewall, there was no indication that this was due to weak construction. On the contrary, the sidewalls on the rest of the tyres are almost unblemished, despite the hard work. Recently we have experienced some mechanical problems which restricted us to front-axle drive only, which makes traction a challenge for a 5-tonne truck! Despite some squealing of rubber, we relied on the Firestones for almost a thousand kilometres of one-axle drive without getting stuck once.
On the road, the Destinations have been quiet and surefooted (though they continued to pick up stones in the tread right up until the end!). We have done around 60,000km, which would be a respectable mileage for any set of tyres, given the six-wheel configuration and the variety of driving conditions we encountered. However, as things panned out, there is actually still plenty of tread on the old set - enough for several thousand more miles. We have in fact decided to keep a few of the old ones just to see what kind of final mileage we do get from them.
Most remarkably, we have not had a single puncture, compared with almost 40 before we switched to the Destinations! For us, they have been the perfect fit-them-and-forget-them tyres.
Merlin Land Rover
Nowadays you neednít be a 4 x 4 enthusiast to own a Land Rover. They have advanced both from an engineering and technical perspective as well as providing more luxury and comfort Ė so you donít need to love off-roading to own one.
However, our local dealer in Nottingham, Merlin, is still very supportive of off-road enthusiasts and as a result provided us with sponsorship. They gave us £350 worth of initial spares and committed to send a supply of spares out to us if required en-route. They also covered the cost of our vehicle signage and provided us with two warm sweatshirts for the chilly nights!
They have subsequently provided us with two additional inventories of parts in October 2003 and May 2004, which Sandy collected during her visits to the UK .
Since then, we have had further cause to be grateful to Merlin. While we were in the USA, not far from the Grand Canyon, the timing belt broke, which caused a few bent pushrods and valves, and a broken rocker - the first real engine trouble we have experienced.
The 300Tdi engine was never offered on Land Rovers in the USA, so parts are not readily available. We contacted Merlin Land Rover in Nottingham, and they immediately dispatched all the spare parts we needed for the repair by courier. A big thank you for your kind help, swift response and excellent service! We think Nyathi is looking forward to some professional TLC from Merlin's Service Department when we get home!
Rover Accessories - USA
Rover Accessories in Torrance, California is owned by Charles D'Andrade who is an off-road enthusiast and expert. Rover Accessories specialises in the design, manufacture and supply of 4x4 after-market products. What we believe sets them apart from their competitors is that they are not only concerned about making vehicles look the part. They clearly understand the real issues facing people who work, or play, hard with their vehicles, such as safety, performance, durability, economy and aesthetics. They provide a professional service offering the best products available at very competitive prices.
Charles was very enthusiastic about both our journey and our vehicle. He was keen to secure sponsorship on our behalf and through his strong contacts with Firestone, ARB and Procomp Wheels he was able negotiate a number of deals for us:
Firestone - Charles negotiated a full sponsorship contract with Firestone for 2 x sets of Firestone Destination M/T tyres, which he recommended based on his own experience as well as feedback from many of his customers .
ARB - as ARB's biggest sub-distributor in the North America, Charles introduced us to the team at ARB and arranged the supply of lots of their products at terrific prices.
Procomp Wheels - our new Firestone Destination tyres required a larger rim size than our OEM Land Rover rims. Charles arranged for a special set of rims to be manufactured by Procomp Wheels at cost price.
We had the opportunity to do some serious off-roading with Charles and some friends up the Miller Jeep Trail in Lockwood Valley California.
Thanks to the great service and the effort made on our behalf by, Charles and Rob, we have not only managed to make our budget go further, but have made good friends in the process ...
Any 4x4 enthusiast will know that in extreme off-road conditions locking differentials give each wheel maximum possible traction. While the market is full of various types of limited-slip and locking diffs, we chose ARB Air Lockers for a number of reasons:
We also put in a set of Old Man Emu shock-absorbers and springs (which raise the vehicle by about a 4cm to accommodate our new wider tyres). A set of OME polyurethane bushes has been added to our inventory of spares.
Finally, we purchased a 40-litre ARB freezer to replace our built-in freezer. It operates off 12V or AC power, and the luxury of an ice-cold beer after a long day on the road is really appreciated. (The thermostat allows it to operate as a fridge rather than a freezer, which is useful).
Marconi Marine gave us a discount on our Iridium satellite phone and provided useful information and advice.