Some vehicles are designed for off-roading from the moment they roll off the assembly line, but these can be few and far between. Many that look like they’d be at home on the trail are only designed for use on highways.
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This has created a massive market for aftermarket modifications that can turn your average truck or SUV into an off-roading machine. Can you take any vehicle and mod it for off-roading?
Specs to Consider
While you can technically take any car, truck or SUV off-road, not all of them are designed for it — and not all of them will survive. What goes into building the perfect off-roading vehicle? There are a few things that you should consider when choosing your off-roader, including:
- Size — Bigger isn’t always better, especially if you’re planning on navigating through narrow trails. A small SUV would be better suited to off-roading than a big pickup truck, plus it’s less likely to get stuck on the terrain or pinned between trees on the trail.
- Power and Torque — Off-roading is all about power and torque. If you don’t have enough of either, you’ll find yourself stuck in the mud or unable to make your way up the next boulder.
- Ground Clearance — This is why most coups and sedans aren’t suitable for off-roading, no matter how much you modify them. You need a vehicle with decent ground clearance to make your way over obstacles without allowing them to damage the undercarriage.
- Locking Differential — Most modern cars come with a limited-slip differential which provides the best traction for road conditions, but sometimes you need to be able to lock your wheels at the axle to prevent your off-roader from sliding down a steep hill. Opt for a locking differential instead.
- Low Range Transfer Case — Standard transmission gears are too high for use off-road or even in 4-wheel drive. You need a vehicle that has a lower gear set that you can use specifically for off-road travels.
- 4-Wheel or All-Wheel Drive — Don’t try to go off-roading in a front-wheel-drive vehicle. It will only end in tears. You can work with trucks and SUVS that give you the option to switch between 2-wheel and 4-wheel drive.
Ideally, the vehicle you want to mod will already have most or all of these features, which will make your job easier. There are still plenty of options for modification and tweaking to help you get the best off-road experience possible.
Systems to Upgrade
First, we’ll look at the upgrades and mods necessary for effective off-roading before exploring some other accessories that you should consider investing in.
Even if your chosen vehicle claims to be off-road ready, the stock suspension probably doesn’t have what it takes to survive the wear and tear of trails and bouldering. The only exception to this rule is the class of ATV-hybrid trucks and SUVs that include Jeep, Hummer, and Land Rover. Upgrade to a heavy-duty suspension to help your vehicle weather the rough terrain while still providing a comfortable ride when you get back on the highway.
2. Wheels and Tires
Aluminum rims and road tires might serve you well on the highway, but they won’t survive on the trail. Invest in a set of solid steel rims and off-road tires designed to provide superior traction no matter how rough the road gets. Be prepared to swap these out when you head back to civilization because these off-road tires wear out a lot faster on the pavement.
Ideally, your off-roading vehicle will have plenty of ground clearance to prevent obstacles from damaging your undercarriage. Adding your new suspension can give you a bit more lift and keep your vehicle running smoothly.
4. Skid Plate
Your truck or SUV may already have a skid plate in place. If it doesn’t, or the manufacturer’s idea of a ‘skid plate’ is a sheet of molded plastic, it will need an upgrade. Even if you’ve got plenty of ground clearance, a skid plate provides you with added security to keep a stray rock or root from shooting up and punching a hole in your oil pan.
5. Bull Bar
Call it a bull bar, a cattle guard or push bumper, this add-on helps protect your grille, radiator and front bumper while still allowing you to move some obstacles out of the way. Some trucks and SUVs may come with one already installed, but if yours doesn’t, you’ll need one before you start off-roading.
6. Necessary Accessories
While these next few supplies might seem optional, rest assured that they’re necessary for any successful trail ride or bouldering expedition.
You will get stuck. It’s a fact of life when you’re off-roading. Having a good winch and plenty of cable to haul you out can mean the difference between a successful trip and having to stay stuck while you wait for a good samaritan with a winch to drive by.
8. Light Bars
Headlights work fine on the highway, but on a densely wooded trail — or if they’re covered in mud — they won’t help you see where you’re going. A good light bar mounted on your roof or just above the windshield can help you see in the dark and navigate safely no matter how late it gets.
Snorkels aren’t strictly necessary for bouldering or navigating dry trails, but those off-roaders who enjoy mudding will need this upgrade. Snorkels protect your car’s air intake from water and mud, keeping it above the surface and allowing you to navigate deeper water and mud.
10. Roof Rack
You can never have enough storage. A roof rack is a great place to store extra fuel, repair kits, and anything else you might need during your trip. It also gives you a place to attach your light bar without having to drill extra holes in your roof.
Stay Safe Out There
Can you mod a vehicle for off-roading? Absolutely, but you need to make sure you’re choosing the best truck or SUV for the job. Don’t try to modify your sedan or family van, but if you’ve got your heart set on a truck or an SUV, mod until your heart’s content. Make sure you’re staying safe out there!
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Last Updated on June 11, 2021.