How to Make a 4x4 Vehicle Ready for Off Road

Going off road in a 4WD vehicle is great fun. When you watch videos of people driving off road in their vehicles, it looks so easy. But it’s because of the experience of the drivers and the modifications to their vehicles that enables them to overcome the challenges without much effort.

This post will help you understand what modifications you need for your 4×4 and why. The experience you need will come from the time spent driving.

4x4 vehicle ready for offroad

What modifications to my 4WD should I do first?

Before you do any modifications, we would recommend that you drive your vehicle off road in a relatively easy tracks to get to know how it handles. This is especially important when you are new to driving a 4WD vehicle. It will help you understand what upgrades you need to have first to improve the handling of your vehicle.

The first upgrades we would recommend is to improve your tires and suspension system. The type of tires and suspension you need will depend on the type of off-road trails you want to tackle. The type of tires that usually come with a stock vehicle would be HT or Highway Terrain tires. These tires are meant to give you good road holding on the highways and other asphalt surfaces. However, they are not meant for dirt roads with loose sand or muddy tracks. Your vehicle will have better traction in these conditions if you change to AT or All-Terrain tires for light to medium off road driving, or MT or Mud Terrain tires if you prefer the more challenging technical tracks.

The threads of these off-road tires have wider gaps and are designed to throw off mud and sand and dig-in to the harder surface underneath to get traction and propel the vehicle forward or backward.

Tires have different sizes depending on the purpose you want to have them for. Terrains that have deep ruts will require bigger tires so that the differentials are lifted higher off the ground level. If these ruts are too deep, and your vehicle has small tires, the differentials will drag on the ground surface or get stuck on boulders and prevent your vehicle from moving forward. Having bigger tires will give you the extra height to get pass these trails.

There are advantages to bigger tires, but there are disadvantages too. With bigger tires, you will find that your vehicle will lose power and the fuel consumption will increase. This is because the bigger the tires, the heavier they are, and the more force and fuel is required to move them. The other side of bigger tires is broader tires. The broader the tire, the more rolling resistance they produce, and the more force and fuel is required.

Bigger tires will add more strain on the certain parts of your vehicle. Too much stress can cause axles, cv joints and other parts to break.

If you are just starting out, prefer light trails or use you 4×4 occasionally, stick to 31” or 33” tires. Anything more than that may require you to upgrade on other parts such as brake lines or even to change to reduction gears to get more torque. But the latter would usually apply to those who have hard-core driving in mind.

If you are changing to bigger tires, you may find that they may not fit in your vehicle. In this case you may need to do a suspension lift by changing the absorbers and springs and add lift blocks to the leaf springs for certain 4x4s.

Some off-road enthusiasts may opt for a body lift. This where the body is lifted off the chassis by means of lift blocks. But this requires that your bullbars and side-steps be adjusted too. Otherwise you will see a gap in-between which may not look good.

Here are a few things you need to consider when choosing the size of the tires and lift.

Bigger tires are more expensive, and some sizes are difficult to obtain easily.
A suspension lift that is higher than 2” may cause a body roll when taking corners.
Bigger tires affect power and fuel consumption.
Higher lifts require that the brake lines be changed.
If you do a suspension lift of more than 2 inches in an IFS vehicle, the new angle of your CVs will put stress on them and cause them to pop-out or break. You may have to do a drop-differential to re-align the angle of the CVs. What this means is that the differentials are lowered to straighten the CV joints.

Changing the tires to ones with a slightly broader width and doing a lift will make your ride more stable. You will feel this when taking corners on the roads. This will especially be felt by truck drivers whose vehicles lift on one side when taking a corner fast. Off road, your 4×4 will be more capable when handling the rougher trails. You will have more traction, pass tree stumps, rocks and other obstacles on the trails as well as  drive in ruts without your differentials getting stuck on the ground.

What other upgrades can I make to my 4WD vehicle?

Now that you have covered the most important upgrades, there are other modifications you can do to make your vehicle safer and more capable,

The next upgrades that we recommend is to fit a bullbar to the front and back of the vehicle and rock-sliders to the sides. A bullbar in the front will protect your front from a collision with animals dashing out in front of you. It will also minimize damages when you are unable to avoid crashing into trees and rocks on slippery tracks.

Most factory vehicles do not have a recovery point in the back. This makes a recovery difficult as there is nowhere you can attach a winch rope or tow strap to. The after-market metal bumpers are fitted with strong recovery points or a pintle hook meant for recoveries. Avoid fitting tow ball hitches as the metal ball can break off and act as a dangerous projectile causing injuries or even death, if you try to recover from them.

Rock-sliders provide protection to the side panels of your vehicle. As the name suggests, they allow your vehicle to slide off rocks and other obstacles without much, or any damage to the panels. The factory aluminum sidesteps do not offer protection and may bend upwards and prevent the doors from being opened.

Having a winch is good but not necessary if others in your group already have them fitted. But if you have the budget, do fit one. You may not use it often, but it is good to have when you need to get out of a sticky situation. Wire winch cables are dangerous as they can cause serious injury or even death when they break. The stored energy in these cables can break bones, sever body parts and even damage metal parts of vehicles. Go for the synthetic ropes instead. They are lighter, stronger and not as dangerous as wire cables when they snap. Unfortunately, they are more expensive and require regular maintenance.

When you are good at picking the right lines, can handle your 4WD well in most situations, and you want to go for the really hard-core tracks, you may want to fit lockers.

When you lose traction on the track, or have one wheel in the air, the 4WD system transfers power from the wheel with traction to the wheel with the least traction. This is not going to help you if the wheel with the least traction has nothing to grip to move your vehicle. A locker provides equal power to all wheels to help your vehicle get out of the situation it was in. Lockers make your 4×4 very capable and can overcome most difficult situations. Lockers are fitted to the differentials of the front, back or both the front and back. Being very expensive, many 4×4 vehicles are fitted with only one locker. Having twin lockers would be the ultimate setup in any 4×4 vehicle.

The next item we would recommend is having a snorkel fitted. A snorkel allows you to do deep river crossings without water entering your air intakes. It also gets cleaner air from higher above ground to enter the intakes.

If you want to do night driving, then having good spotlights or a lightbar will help you see where you are going. Unlike the headlights that illuminate the road a few meters ahead of you, spotlights can light up the whole area in front and at the sides of your vehicle. A spotlight in the rear helps when you need to reverse.

Having bigger tires, a stronger suspension, bar-work all around the vehicle, a winch and snorkel, makes your 4wd ready for almost any off-road situation. But even with all these, the vehicle will not perform to its capabilities if the driver is not ready. Learn the correct way to drive off-road and build up your confidence. Every off-road trip should be a learning experience that adds fun to your trips.