If you are hiring a car make sure that it is from a reputable firm who will be able to supply you with backup in the areas you intend to visit, in case of vehicle breakdown.
Make sure that your vehicle hire allows you take the vehicle to all the places you plan to visit.
Always read and be fully aware of what the vehicle insurance covers you for. I did hear a story of some unfortunately person, who had their hire car damaged by an elephant in a game reserve and they were not covered on the vehicle insurance provided.
General Driving Tips
Some countries may require you to have an International Driving Licence - check the requirements with the embassy in your country or your car hire firm.
Try to avoid driving at night it can be very dangerous in Africa. Roads are often poorly lit, not in good condition and some other drivers have a tendency to drive without their lights on.
In many countries, and particularly in rural areas, roads are often poorly maintained and it's not unusual to come across large domestic animals such as sheep and cattle.
Africa is immense, there can be few police in remote areas - drunk drivers are not uncommon and be very watchful for drunk pedestrians.
Ensure you know all the legal requirements for driving a vehicle in the country you are travelling to. Laws vary from country to country, some countries require you to always carry hazard triangles, have reflectors (a white sticker on your bumper), wear seat belts etc... whilst others do not.
When travelling through Africa it almost a certainty that you will come across a road block, if you do not abide by the laws then surely enough you will be fined - this can be costly! Ignorance is not an excuse.
If stopped at a roadblock, be courteous and responsive to questions asked by persons in authority. At night, turn on the interior light of the car. Make sure that the person you are dealing with is actually an official and ask them for their identity card. If they cannot provide it - do not pay any fines - ask to be taken to the local police station.
In areas of instability and unrest avoid travelling at night.
If you are going for a drive with 4WD, it is wise to take with you: two spare tires, spark plugs, jump leads, tow rope and cable, a few litres of oil, insulated wire, electrician's tape, lamp, fire extinguisher, wheel spanner and a complete tool-kit.
Ensure that your passport is stamped when crossing borders, if not, then you will have a huge problem when you come to leave the country.
Desert Survival Tips
Maneuvering gravel roads and sand tracks certainly requires some practice. Awareness of the common pitfalls - and what to do about them - can be of great help.
Driving on Gravel
Many people tend to over-estimate the speed they can travel on gravel roads. Do not exceed 80kph (50mph). You may be deceived by a good section of road, only to come up against a huge crater-like pothole, a rock, a boulder, a patch of heavy sand, or an animal. Wherever you are, always be on the lookout for domestic or wild animals suddenly darting across the road.
The dust raised by an on-coming vehicle, an over-taking vehicle, or cars or lorries moving slowly in front of you creates another potentially dangerous situation, as your vision is radically reduced. Put on your headlights, reduce your speed until you can see the road, or if necessary, pull over to the side of the road until the dust settles.
Driving on Sand
Before setting off, familiarize yourself with engaging four-wheel drive, experiment with various gears, and if possible, try out some sand patches to see how the vehicle handles them. Your type of vehicle will also affect how you drive. Land-Rovers and Land Cruisers are heavy, solid vehicles and less likely to turn over than lighter 4x4 vehicles. Always keep both hands on the wheel.
Driving on sand requires continual concentration, as conditions are constantly changing. When you see a rough patch ahead, slow down and change down a gear before you meet it but do not stop.
Many sand tracks are corrugated and driving along them is rather uncomfortable. Reduce your speed considerably, or you will find your head hitting the roof, your supplies bouncing up and down, the suspension on your vehicle damaged and your back aching.
Driving in deep sand can be made easier by lowering the air pressure in the tires to increase the gripping area.
Also if you get stuck in the sand and you can't get out using your driving expertise, a wrench would help. If there are no trees around, then take your spare wheel, dig a hole in the ground, put the spare wheel in the hole and hook the wrench to the wheel. Seal back the hole and you will have enough power to get out. (This is an interesting tip from an experienced bush-driver).
Driving in Mud
Do not over-estimate the power of four-wheel drive in mud - it is more difficult to extricate yourself from mud than sand.
Some areas have the infamous 'black cotton soil' which, when wet, is notorious for bogging vehicles down axle-deep in mud. Be especially mindful during the rainy season. If the soil appears wet and black, try to go around it over a dry patch. You might even pre-test it by walking over a small stretch - the top may appear caked and dry while underneath the soil is wet and slippery.
Driving on Pans
Pans can be particularly deceiving. The surface may appear white, hard and dry, while underneath the soil is wet and muddy. It is best to drive only on existing tracks, or if this is not possible, stay close to the shore-lines.
If you do become stuck in sand or mud, first dig out from under the wheels with a shovel, then place sticks and logs under the wheels to give them traction. If necessary, jack the vehicle up to place sticks and logs further underneath the wheels. A hydraulic jack can be used to jack up the wheel itself by placing it in the rim of the wheel, but take care as the jack slips easily and the handle can suddenly fly up.
Driving in the Parks and Reserves
Perhaps the best frame of mind to cultivate in parks and reserves is that you are now in the animals' territory and not your own. Respect for the animals is essential.
Allow a good distance between the animals and your vehicle. Do not get out of your vehicle when on game drives, unless it is absolutely necessary and do not go very far.
Always have a good map with you and stop often to ask the locals your exact position, even if you have a GPS and know how to use it. The locals knows the area and will offer you tips and info on road conditions free of charge. Take some cheap ballpoint pens or writing books with you to hand out.
Always have extra fuel and water with you. You can use empty 2-litre soda bottles. They are lying around all over and are strong, easy to handle and easy to store away. You must have at least 2 litres of water per person and 20 litres of extra fuel. Put it away in your vehicle and forget about it. If your vehicle has a large fuel tank and is capable of doing 700 km plus a tank, it would not be necessary. Fill the tank at every available station.
If your vehicle gets stuck in the sand, before digging it in too deep, try letting a little air out of your tires which will give them a wide traction spread - you do not need high tire pressure when travelling in sand.
Plan a proper itinerary and give it to friends and family - stick to this itinerary. If you must change it, immediately notified them via SMS, satellite phone or Internet when and how you plan to change the itinerary. Make specific appointments to contact them. If not - they must notify the authorities.
Certain areas are off-limits for 1 vehicle. Do not take a chance on this. If you are unsure about a specific route, rather ask advise ahead of your tour. Speak to others that have travelled that particular route. If you must enter that particular area - go to the last point of "civilization" and ask the locals for more info. Wait till you can join up with another vehicle or group going into the area.
Do not leave the vehicle - it is easier to spot a vehicle than to spot a person. If you must leave it, write a proper report of your situation and your plan - give as much detail as possible. Leave it on the seat or dashboard where anybody can read it. If possible - leave somebody at the vehicle whilst others goes on a scout - always decide beforehand exactly where the scout would go and stick to the agreement.
Always make a fire and keep it burning - have lots of leaves or wet branches to put on the fire. Smoke will always draw attention in remote areas. People will see it from miles away and will sent somebody to investigate - they all fear uncontrolled veld fires. Burn the spare-wheel after you have deflated it to make a lot of thick, dark smoke.
Your vehicle has at least 20 litres. of water under the hood and in the engine. With proper planning, you can utilize that to survive.
Remember that more people die of cold than of heat - take proper care at night. Do not discard your warm jacket or sweater during a hot day as even in the midst of summer, it can be very cold during the early morning hours. Do not sit in the vehicle when it is hot; move into the shade of a rock or tree close by. Keep something on your head - an opened magazine during the day, if you do not have a hat. Wrap a towel or any piece of cloth around your head at night - the head is where the brain-box is situated and needs special care.
Look at the animals and insects. Most of them need water every day and you can determine where it is by observing them - especially at sunset and during the first 3 hours after sunrise. If you do not know how to distil water from liquid, wet a cloth and wipe your cheeks with it. Wait 15 minutes and if your see no rash or experience any discomfort, wipe your whole body. Your skin will absorb a lot of moist. You can even roll in the liquid or wet all your clothing with it.
Do not drink liquids with alcohol in it. This will cause your body to lose a lot of fluids. Rather heat the alcoholic liquids to allow the alcohol to evaporate - then drink it. You can even open the can or bottle and let it stand open for a few hours. Keep your bladder as full as possible at all times - restrict yourself to urinate. This will prevent your body from dehydration so quickly.
Keep a small, hard stone in your mouth. This will cause the glands to secrete spittle and your mouth will not feel so dry. In this way, you can fool your thirst a bit.
In the desert, many of the plants are succulents with thick, watery leaves. Watch animals to determine what they eat and follow suit. What ever you decide to chew on, first smear a bit of the plant on your cheeks and wait 15 minutes - see for a rash or any feeling of discomfort. If none - chew some of it. Do not swallow it but spew it out and wait another 15 minutes. Wait for any discomfort in your mouth. If none - chew the plant properly and swallow it - wait another 15 minutes before the rest of the group is allowed to also chew the plant.
Urine is a very good anti-septic fluid, use it to clean bruises, bites or scratches
Blow the horn of your vehicle early in the morning and late at night. Sound carries very far and the dogs will hear it from miles away. The locals will come to investigate. Blow the horn for about 10 seconds and wait a minute of so. Repeat about 20 times.
Tune the radio to any station you can find and listen to it. The radio uses little current but the contact with the outside world will keep your spirits up. Stay calm and think. Talk a lot to your companions and plan together. If all else fails, pray.