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Q:My husband and I are moving to Sierra Leone, West Africa in the next year or so and need some advice on the best vehicle choices with the following criteria:

-will operate well in a hot, humid climate

-can handle extreme variability in road conditions (from nicely paved highway to paths that are sandy and rocky (sharp rocks)

-is very reliable with reasonable gas mileage and a decent ride

-will have available parts (may be more difficult to get parts for U.S. domestic models)

-has space available to transport some goods (probably looking at an SUV-type vehicle)

Many thanks for your suggestions. - Kathy and Ambrose

A:I have not been to Sierra Leone, but have done some rugged travel in Australia. My mental starting point for vehicles that must handle anything from a freshly paved road to a path so winding, rocky, muddy, dusty or irregular that it may as well be - or may in fact be - a creek bed are the old Toyota Land Cruiser and the Land Rover. They were built to and did go anywhere that could be navigated with a vehicle.

My experiences in Australia are now 20 years old, and since that time, a lot of 4x4s have entered the marketplace. Most of them, however, are not built for serious terrain. They've replaced the station wagon as the family people-hauler and are designed more with luxury and amenities in mind than competence over rough ground.

A good friend in England uses a diesel Land Rover Discovery for the English countryside and it's rugged and dependable. I've driven it over there and it's as competent as a Rocky Mountain trail horse. He has a Range Rover, too, which is also capable, but a lot nicer and more expensive, and not available in stick shift. Shifting is more work, and a lot of Americans don't want to be bothered with it, but in remote areas, the ability to start a vehicle with a weak battery by pushing and popping the clutch can be quite handy.

Unfortunately, diesel Land Rovers are not readily available in the U.S., if you were planning to buy here, and a late-model Range Rover is probably more vehicle than you need.

This brings us to Toyota 4x4s. Toyota has an excellent dependability reputation and mechanics in many parts of the world have seen and worked on them. While the Land Cruiser was a trail standard, it is now much more luxury-oriented than the old ones. They're as expensive as luxury sedans and probably, like the Range Rover, more vehicle than you need or want.

My wife and I almost bought an '89 Toyota 4Runner, used, in 1996. That older style was smaller, lighter, nimbler in a tight spot than the bigger, heavier, wider ones that appeared during the SUV craze. There are some clips on YouTube of people driving in Sierra Leone, and I see 4Runners passing by. I'd start there. Test drive a range of years, to see how the feel and appointments change, and what you like. A low-mileage, rust-free example that has been well-maintained would be a good starting point.

An older one that is in excellent shape may serve you well. Older vehicles are simpler, which means they're easier to understand and troubleshoot. Lots of old vehicles appear to be on the roads in Sierra Leone, so a mechanic is as likely to have seen an old one as a new one - probably more likely.

There are a few more things to consider. If you're going over there for employment, what are your Sierra Leone colleagues driving? They may have good tips on what's most useful, available, fixable in the specific area you're going to. Is anyone from there, with a good vehicle, coming back here as you head over? Maybe you could buy that person's vehicle and not have to ship one, if you were considering that.

I found this discussion of your question on the Visit Sierra Leone website. It has a number of useful thoughts from people who have lived or driven there

If readers write me with other helpful thoughts, I'll pass them along. n