What Would it Cost to Upgrade a 4WD for Off Road Use

Many of you who have a standard 4WD vehicle would like to try driving off road but feel that your vehicle is not capable enough for off road use. You may have tried the easy trails and are now ready to tackle the more difficult ones. The question in your minds is probably how much money the modifications would cost you. The first thing you should bear in mind is that off road equipment is specially designed for a specific make and model. Not all upgrades cost the same for every vehicle. Also, some makes have leaf springs in the rear, some have them in the front and rear, and some use coil springs in both the front and rear.

Before doing any mods to your vehicle, drive it on off-road trails to see how it handles. This will give you and idea of how your vehicle handles in difficult trails and what you will need for the trails you want to tackle. But ensure you have another buddy with a 4WD vehicle accompanying you in case you get into any difficulties.

The first mods I do with any vehicle I own are on the suspension, tires and brakes. Here’s why:

Suspension

Suspension lift kits

The tough tracks are not going to be flat with a smooth drive. You will encounter deep ruts, big rocks, mud pools and water crossings. You will need the lower parts of your vehicle to be raised higher off the ground while still giving you a reasonably comfortable ride. A suspension lift will lift the whole body and chassis except for the axles, and allow you to fit larger diameter tires that will lift the axles. I would recommend a suspension lift of 2”. Anything higher than this will give your vehicle body roll. The higher the lift, the worse the roll.

In an Independent Front Suspension (IFS) vehicle, you will need to change to longer absorbers for the front and back and longer springs for the front. You will also need to replace the ball joint on the upper control arms to extended ball joints for better suspension travel. Replacing the upper control arms is a better solution but will cost you so much more.

In the case of live-axles models. You can make do with extended front and rear shocks and coil springs.

For lifts of 3” or more, you will need to fit a drop differential kit to level out the Constant-Velocity (CV) axles for IFS vehicles.  The brake lines will also need to be replaced as well as mods need to be done on the steering as well, such as replacing the steering drop Pitman arm. Lifts of 3” or more are going to be costly, as well as reduce the quality of your ride. But if you are into rock-crawling, then you would be looking into higher lifts. As far as the off-road tracks are concerned, a 2” lift will serve you well.

Other than a more comfortable ride and better handling, especially on corners, the main reason for a suspension upgrade is to lift the vehicle so that bigger tires can be fitted.

How much will a 2” suspension lift cost? Depending on the brand and model of suspension kits, the cost could start at RM2,500 to above RM10,000.

Tires

Types of Tires

There are 4 main types of tires being fitted to 4WD vehicles these days. The factory fitted vehicle will come with Highway Terrain (HT) tires. For drivers who want a good mix of off road and highway driving, All Terrain (AT) tires would be a good choice. And for those who want to drive the more challenging tracks, you have a choice of fitting Mud Terrain (MT) tires or extreme Mud Terrain tires. For off road purposes, you will have to choose between the AT or MT tires.

On the highway, ATs will give you better traction and handling. From my experience, ATs give you better traction than HTs and MTs around corners, especially for trucks with an empty cargo bed. They are also quieter than MT tires on the highways. AT tires are good for most tracks that do not have very slippery mud.

If you are thinking of going to the tougher tracks with lots of mud, MTs will give you better traction as they are designed to better throw off the mud between the threads than ATs. On the roads, MT tires do not handle as well on corners and tend to be quite noisy. If your vehicle is also a daily-driver, it will not be worth it to fit MT tires as they are expensive and wear out faster. On the highways, Extreme Mud Terrain tires handle very poorly. You need to drive slowly to be able to get a good handling of your vehicle. These tires were specially designed for use on a 4WD for off road use only. The sound from these tires is very loud. They also cost a lot more than the regular MTs or ATs.

With a suspension lift, most 4x4s will be able to fit up to 33” tires. Personally, the 31” tires have taken me to almost all the places the vehicles with 33” tires can go. However, tracks with very deep ruts and large obstacles require larger diameter tires. If you are fitting tires larger than 33s, you will need to reduce your gearing. What this means is that your vehicle’s ring and pinion gears will need to be replaced with a set wilt lower gear ratios to better handle the bigger tires.

You need to be aware that bigger tires cost more, consumes more fuel, and causes a reduction in power. You may also need to replace your steering box with a larger unit to handle the stresses of turning the bigger tires. The recommended increase in tire size, without having to do other mods discussed in this section, is 2 inches above the factory fitted size. That means that if your vehicle came fitted with 31” tires from the factory, you can safely increase your tire size to 33”.

A suspension lift will lift your vehicle’s body and chassis by as much as the lift you fitted. The axles will still have the same ground clearance as before your suspension lift. A tire will increase your ground clearance by as half as much as the increase in the tire size.

Tire sizes and estimated prices

AT          Tires                     15”         rims       –             starts                    from                     RM275
MT         Tires                     15”         rims       –             starts                    from                     RM380
AT          Tires                     16”         rims       –             starts                    from                     RM350
MT         Tires                     16”        rims       –             starts                    from                     RM500

The prices quoted above are prices take from online sites. There are many unknown brands making their appearance in the market. Some may have lower prices than that quoted above.

Brakes

With a lift and bigger tires for off road use, you will find that stopping takes a little longer than before the mods. One way you can overcome this is to change the brake pads to those of higher quality with better stopping power.

Price starts at RM120

Snorkle

A snorkle will stop water from entering your vehicle’s air intake when doing river crossings.

Price starts from RM400

Other Accessories

4x4 Upgrades

Bullbar – Good to have but optional. If your vehicle’s chassis does not have a winch mounting plate, then you need a bulbar with a winch plate if you feel you need a winch. The bulbar is also great for mounting a high-lift jack and lightbars or spotlights.

Prices from RM2,500

Rear Bumper – If you are intending to fix a metal rear bumper, ensure that it has strong recovery points. Most modern 4x4s only have recovery points in the front of the vehicle.

Price starts at RM1,300

Sidesteps – The factory fitted sidesteps will do very little to protect the side panels of your vehicle. A 4WD for off road purposes needs a set of rock sliders that will take the punishment.

Price starts at RM700

Winch – This is another ‘Good to Have’ item if you can afford it. I had been off roading for 7 years before I bought my first winch. If others in your group have a winch, then you probably don’t need one. But if you feel you need one, get a winch with a synthetic rope rather than one with a wire cable. Wire cables can cause damage to vehicles, as well as injuries and even death to those unfortunate enough to be in its path when it breaks. Although you can get winches fitted cheap, I would recommend you get one that is of a better quality. You don’t want it to fail at a crucial moment of recovery.

Winch price starts RM1,200

Air Lockers – Although air lockers will vastly improve your vehicle’s performance, I wouldn’t recommend you fit them if you are new. Driving without lockers will train you to choose the right lines and make you a better off road driver.

Price per unit starts at RM3,500

Recovery Kit – Although this is not fitted to your vehicle, you will need a basic recover kit consisting of 2 D-shackles, a tow strap, a tree-trunk protector and gloves. This is good enough to get you out of most situations.

Price starts at RM350

As you can see, the cost of setting up a 4WD for off road use can vary greatly depending on what you want. If you start with the basics of a simple 2” suspension lift, AT tires and better brake pads, your cost would fall below the RM5,000 mark.

If you are serious about going off road and are in it for the long haul, then spend on a better suspension system that may cost you RM5,000 or more. It’s going to give you better performance over a longer time.