LONG WHEELBASE AND SHORT, THE PROS, AND CONS.

LONG WHEELBASE AND SHORT, THE PROS, AND CONS.

I’ll cut to the chase right now, there is no “winner” when it comes to the debate over short wheelbase or long; they are two separate things like apples and oranges. Instead we can talk about their strengths and weaknesses. Your local trail might have rocks, or mud, or sand on the same trail. Unless your area offers only one single type of terrain, you will have to make a choice which is better for your particular likes, and dislikes. We can look at data, but in the end, it will come down to your own opinion which works best for you. 

Jeep JT long wheelbase
Vehicle: Jeep JT
Tires: Patagonia MT

The FORD’s wheelbase is, wait for it, 168.4 inches. That’s over twice as long as the Jeep.”

CJ7 Jeep short wheel base
Photo Credit: Mike Ingalsbee

Since we are in the realm of opinion, I will offer mine. I come by my opinion after owning both long and short wheelbase 4x4’s, and wheeling them in varied terrain. The first 4 wheel drive I ever owned was a 1984 Jeep CJ7 which I bought new off the lot. It had the 258 inline 6, and a manual 4 speed transmission. I was living, and wheeling in the mountains, so for self-preservation I kept it low to the ground. I had an add a leaf in each spring, and extended shackles. The minimum lift was to clear the 36 inch tall Goodyear Wrangler R/T tires. Out of my group, I was the only truck not to end up on its lid, so I was doing something right. The Jeeps wheelbase was 83.5 inches.

Jeep YJ short wheelbase
Vehicle: Jeep YJ
Tires: Patagonia MT

My long wheelbase truck is the one I currently own. It’s a 1992 FORD F350 4x4 crew cab. Yes, it’s a beast. I’ve installed a shackle reversal kit in the front to improve the ride quality which lifts the truck about 5 inches. The front kit also uses longer superduty length leaf springs, and custom Atlas springs in the rear level the truck and further improve the handling. It rides on 37 inch tall tires. With the longer wheelbase, additional height is not as much as a concern. I have a classic Warn winch bumper on front with an original Warn M10000 winch that has only been used to winch a fallen tree on my neighbor’s property, and other trucks that have gotten stuck. I have never been stuck in this truck so far, (I’ve owned it for 6 years). The FORD’s wheelbase is, wait for it, 168.4 inches. That’s over twice as long as the Jeep.

There are places where the long wheelbase just will not fit. In more open terrain, the long wheelbase can hold its own.”

Ford truck long wheel base
Photo Credit: Mike Ingalsbee

Now that I have quantified my bonafides, let’s get into the meat of the subject. One thing I really liked about the Jeep had nothing to do with performance, but it rates mentioning. Between the 36 inch tires, and 3” diameter side bars, those jerks that open their door into yours in the parking lot were entirely inconsequential. They hit either rubber, or steel. Door dings or paint chipping was not even possible. The big FORD has a mile of sheet metal that gets dinged all the time. The truck is big, and parking stalls get smaller all the time.

Ford F250 overland
Vehicle: Ford F250
Tires: Patagonia MT

When I owned the Jeep I was either hitting local trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains, or spending time out at the Hollister Hills OHV Park. Hollister had an obstacle course that included a tire pit. The tire pit was instant doom for the short wheelbase. The front tires would kick those loose tires right up into the back axle; wedging them between the tires, and the frame. Most of you won’t find a tire pit out on the trail, but the same goes for branches, or any other unsecure flotsam you might find. The short wheelbase means both front and rear axles will be in the same situation.

Jeep overlanding short wheelbase
Vehicle: Jeep Wrangler
Tires: Patagonia MT

If it’s rocky, both will be in the rocks. The same is true for mud or loose sand. With the longer wheelbase, the front and rear axles can be in different time zones. While the front tires are clawing through a mud hole, the rear tires can be getting excellent traction in drier or less slippery conditions. For pure traction, I give the advantage to the longer wheelbase. One thing that beats the long wheelbase is that the shorter wheelbase is so much more maneuverable. You can fit it in tighter spots which might allow you to avoid the hazard all together. When it comes to hill climbing, the same maneuverability of the short wheelbase can cause problems. Backing down a hill is much more challenging because slight inputs to the steering wheel will cause the rear end to change direction abruptly. On the other hand, during a failed attempt you might be able to whip the Jeep around, and drive straight down the hill. That would just not be possible in the big FORD. Some say that the long wheelbase has an advantage during side-hilling, but I will give put that in the toss up category. The long wheelbase has the greater risk of getting high centered. I have found that the traction advantage, and the fact that you can usually rock the truck back and forth until you get traction makes it easier to get back on your wheels with the long wheelbase. If you do get high centered with a short wheelbase, you are generally screwed. It’s a good chance that both axles will be off the ground. 

Ford Bronco crawling
Vehicle: Ford Bronco
Tires: Patagonia MT

When it comes to tight trails, the short wheelbase wins hands down. There are places where the long wheelbase just will not fit. In more open terrain, the long wheelbase can hold its own. Based on pure performance it’s a matter of preference, but you also have to consider utility. One of the biggest drawbacks of the short wheelbase rig is limited cargo room. It’s easy to take some of the capabilities away if you add a roof top rack, or tons of weight hanging off the back because there is no room inside the vehicle. You have much more room to place your gear down low, and between the axles in the bigger truck.

Ram Power Wagon long wheelbase
Vehicle: Ram Power Wagon
Tires: Patagonia MT

If you are towing, it’s no contest. My FORD will tow anything, and you won’t be able to tell it’s back there. The same goes for ride quality. The short wheelbase and short body means that the leaf springs or suspension links will also be short. The result is less wheel travel, and a choppy ride. The big truck rides surprisingly well after the leaf spring upgrades. The limiting factor is the weight capacity. A certain amount of spring rate is necessary if you want to tow, or carry a slide in camper. You see, the two are really not the same. There is a solution available that will give you the best of both. Tow your Jeep behind your big truck on a trailer. 

Ford truck long wheel base
Photo Credit: Mike Ingalsbee

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