The Top 5 Underrated Off-Road Mods and Why You Need Them
We’ve all seen the mall-crawler trucks and SUV’s roaming the streets. Built with a credit card and a catalog, they look impressive to the average person, but to an enthusiast, they are quickly scoffed at. Huge tires on stock axles, and enough LED’s to light up a runway. They are bedazzled with spare gas cans, or a shiny new shovel that’s never been used. To be honest, many are nice looking, but most would fail miserably when put to the task. The ironic thing is that their owners have spent thousands of dollars on the look, without gaining performance.
You want rubber on the rocks and mud, not your fancy rims.
In the dirt where it counts, most factory stock vehicles are fairly capable, but they are designed as a compromise. Occupant comfort and fuel economy are major factors to designers. Since most vehicles spend a majority of time on the pavement, hard core off-road parts don’t take precedence. Thankfully, there are modifications you can make that will enhance your off-road capabilities without going overboard. We’ll share our top 5 off-road mod picks.
Number one has to be tires. Think about it. Your tires are the only contact you have with the terrain; they need to provide traction for acceleration, braking, and steering. The huge wheels with low-profile tires might look cool, but they don’t provide the benefits of a taller side wall. You want rubber on the rocks and mud, not your fancy rims. The number one factor determining the diameter of your wheels will be clearance around your brake components. On most trucks, a 16 or 17 inch wheel is plenty. Bigger, and wider tires will affect several factors. You will gain traction, stability, and ground clearance, but they will compromise your fuel mileage, turning radius, and your gearing. If you go too big, your truck will be a dog, and no fun to drive. You also need to have the clearance to fit that big rubber. That brings us to number two.
Whether you lift your truck or not is a major decision. If you are driving through swamps in Florida, or rock crawling out west, you might need some lift. In the mountains it may be the last thing you need to do. The swampers need as much lift as possible, while rock crawlers will want articulation as opposed to just height. If you regularly wheel in the mountains on tight, off-camber trails, a leveling kit or 2 inch lift is probably the most you want. Keep in mind, the taller you go, the more sacrifices you will be making. You will be punching a much bigger hole through the air, and you must be willing to forgo car washes, parking structures, drive thru’s or even your own garage.
This is where many people go off the rails. Your lighting has to be functional.
Number one, and number two will get you to more places off-road. Number three will get you back. 99 percent of the time factory trucks will not have any decent anchor points on the vehicle. The farther off the beaten path you travel, the greater the chance you have of getting stuck. Even if you have a winch, you will need anchor points on your truck. You do have a snatch strap, don’t you? Having a trailer hitch on the back is a great mod because it does double duty. You can tow, you can carry stuff with it, and it’s a solid anchor point. Up front you need to add something to pull on. A lot of trucks have hooks on the front, but many times they are for lashing the truck down during shipping, not for pulling out a stuck rig. They are known to fail. Anything you add will need to tie directly into the frame.
Number 4 is lighting. This is where many people go off the rails. Your lighting has to be functional. Many people emulate their Trophy Truck racing heroes and install incredibly bright (and expensive), off-road lighting. The technology available today is nothing short of amazing, but some of it is way overkill. Trophy Truck drivers need to illuminate the trail ahead at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. Will you be traveling that fast? You need to realize huge lights that send a beam out for 2 miles will limit when and where you can use them. No way can they be used on the street. Even off-road you will be shutting them off for the safety of others. Sometimes all you need are better bulbs in your factory head lights. Most of you will add wide angle lights, strategically placed on your vehicle. It’s good to have some bright lights shining ahead, but you also need light to the sides, and behind you. Backing up when your windows, and mirrors are covered in mud is not fun, especially when it’s completely dark behind you. You’ll want at least one flood light out back that lights up the ground, and the surroundings. The rear light can also be used when loading gear, or hitching up a trailer. Don’t forget the sides of your truck either.
When traveling down a trail at night, your headlights and/or driving lights are shining ahead. They don’t shed much light to the side of the truck. If you are searching for a side road to take, you will never see it. Known by many as “ditch lights” they can be mounted to the front bumper, on a light bar, or the windshield pillar. Ditch lights can also be used to light up your campsite, or when offering assistance on the trail. A set of rock lights will illuminate the undercarriage, and something portable is always useful. Whatever you decide to run as far as lighting goes, make sure you do a proper wiring job so they remain reliable. There are several products on the market that supply a separate dedicated power source for additional electronic components. They work well when adding lights.
There are countless off-road mods that will enhance your vehicle like extending your axle breather tubes to keep water out of your differentials, a more powerful alternator, additional fluid coolers, skid plates, or running an extra battery as a back-up, but the number 5 most underrated mod would have to be organization. You will need to carry spare parts, tools, food, drinks, clothing, bedding, the list is long. Having an organized truck with good storage makes every task easier. It also makes your truck safer. Loose gear in your truck can shift the weight enough to cause a tip over. It can break a window, or injure an occupant. Make sure you have heavy things tied down, and loose parts contained at all times.
These 5 off-road mods might not make you a hero at the mall, but will help you to have a safe enjoyable trip off-road.