It’s a crazy world out there, and in order to disintegrate the side-effects of our stressful lives, we all participate in our versions of self-care.
For some, this might mean a relaxing run after the workday, healthy dinner at night, or a special weekend getaway.
While this might sound like a wondrous idea for the tame of heart, for others, the promised land might mean taking to the trails in a 4×4 vehicle to test their resolve — challenging the will of nature and making it to the peak of their favourite mountainous retreat.
Hard work decidedly pays off, but in order to get there, you’ll have to invest in some burly off-road upgrades to ensure that your trek goes as smoothly as possible. But where do you start? That’s where we come in.
Aside from purely aesthetic reasoning, the majority of drivers tend to realise that outdoor-oriented additions to their vehicles are an absolute necessity — whether it be a better lighting setup for late-night returns, winch capability for those tough situations where you need a little help getting out of a rut, or an upgraded suspension that will give you the travel you need to push you over that next big obstacle.
The truth is, more and more brands are hopping into the industry for a shot at marketable exposure.
While an exceedingly high number of parts and modifications might seem like the best option, it takes time, effort, and research to build your first off-road vehicle exactly the way you want it.
To augment this daunting process, we’ve compiled some of the best choices in the industry regarding the first upgrades you should make to your trail-faring truck — from enhanced suspensions and knobby tires, intense lift kits, and modular roof racks, all the way to outdoor staples like winches and lighting solutions.
So step out of the realm of normality and take to the backroads with our guide to the top off-road truck upgrades for beginners — after you’re done, you’ll never fear a challenging ascent again.
The 4WD accessory and modifications industry has never been bigger than it is today. You can get everything from lithium batteries and microwaves to hot water on demand systems, portal axles, 6WD conversions, chassis extensions and everything in between.
Whilst this is great in many ways, it creates a huge opportunity for people to make costly mistakes when it comes to modifying their 4WD, and lots of people lose track of what the essential 4WD modifications are.
It’s not hard to throw thousands of dollars at a 4WD in accessories and modifications. The thing is though, are you getting good value for money, or are you just flushing it down the toilet?
There’s a heap of common mistakes that are made when adding accessories and modifying 4WD’s in Australia, and in this post, we check them out.
Custom Truck 4×4 Modifications
You’ve bought a truck, and as the initial giddiness wears off, you start thinking of ways to increase its off-road capabilities.
But where the heck do you start? With so many products, modifications and upgrades on the market, it’s easy to get confused.
That’s why you need a specialised off-road shop like Dixie 4 Wheel Drive to help transform your 4X4 vehicle. To give you a little inspiration, we’ve assembled some of the top custom truck modifications and upgrades we think truck owners should consider first.
Upgraded Truck Shocks
The stock shocks from car manufacturers are designed for street driving and maybe a tame dirt road.
Hitting rough trails at high-speeds makes the oil in these shocks heat up and foam which in turn causes the shocks to lose their dampening ability.
Save yourself from this fate by swapping them for sturdier aftermarket shocks with larger pistons and piston rods for better heat dissipation. You’ll also need to change your shocks should you decide to go with bigger wheels since most stock shocks are only meant to be used with factory tires.
An Improved Truck Air Intake System
If you’re looking to give your truck a resonant sound, more speed and better trail performance, then an upgraded intake system is what you need.
A modified intake and filter will supply more clean air to the combustion chambers, giving your engine more power and torque to conquer stubborn obstacles. Plus have we mentioned it makes your truck sound badass?
Custom Truck Exhaust Systems
An upgraded intake system will give your engine resonance, but a custom exhaust and muffler will get that sound to a deep, throaty roar that will have heads turning.
However, it’s not all for show. While factory exhaust systems are intended to be quieter, they certainly don’t factor in your truck’s performance.
A custom exhaust will increase airflow to your engine, boosting its torque and power while reducing turbulence and backpressure.
4×4 Truck Suspension Upgrades And Modifications
Low ground clearance spells trouble when you go off-roading. You’ll either end up damaging your undercarriage or flooding the engine if you get into the water.
Modifying your suspension will not only allow your truck to handle difficult terrain like a champ but also permit you to install larger tires if necessary. Your truck will look more intimidating too, towering over other cars.
Enhanced Digital Truck Performance
Unless you’re riding an older rig, your truck probably comes equipped with an engine control unit (ECU).
This is the computer that controls your rig’s engine, and it comes already programmed with factory settings that are suitable for daily driving.
Modifying the ECU enables you to tap into your vehicle’s full potential. By altering the rev limits and top speed settings, you can customise your truck’s performance to your liking, pushing it to true beast mode.
Unique Truck Wheels
Why own a truck if you can’t have fun with it? Leave onlookers impressed by adding a set of hot wheels to your rig.
Get a set of chrome, black or colour rims in design and finish that matches your personality and adds just the right touch of style to your ride.
Bigger, Beefier Truck Tires
Don’t forget to upgrade your rubbers as you sort out your wheels. While we think bigger tires will make your truck look awesome, there’s more to it than that.
They also increase your truck’s off-road prowess by providing more traction and they last a whole lot longer than stock tires.
Keep in mind that different tires are designed to handle different off-road scenarios, so understand your regular off-road environment first then get your truck the best tires for the job.
Better Heavy Truck Braking Systems
High-performance brakes are a must-have upgrade especially if you’re going to do a lot of rock crawling or blazing through rough terrain at high speeds.
Factory issue brakes are safe and efficient, but they aren’t meant to handle modifications to your truck.
Any modification to your 4X4 is likely to increase the vehicle’s weight, calling for larger tires, so you need better brakes to counter these effects.
Modifying your brake discs, callipers and rotors can add more brake force to your system, so your brakes won’t let you down when you need them most.
Superior Truck Lights
Nighttime off-roading can be challenging for the best of us. Exchange your head and tail lights for powerful LEDs to light up the trail and maximise your visibility at night.
We can help you select from a wide array of LEDs that throw sharp, bright light in any direction you want while drawing fewer amps than standard lights.
More Traction Action
There’s nothing quite as frustrating as getting stuck then having your wheels spinning endlessly with zero movements.
You can avoid this by installing a locking or limited-slip differential that locks wheels together, forcing them to spin at the same speed. This greatly increases your truck’s movability by giving you the increased grip and traction you need to handle challenging trails.
Best 4×4 Modifications For Outback Travel
If you could change one thing on a standard 4×4 before heading to the outback, it would have to be tyred.
Standard tyres on just about all new 4x4s aren’t intended for serious remote-area travel and will most likely be the first thing to fail on an arduous outback trip.
Most people concentrate on tread pattern when selecting new tyres, but there are more important attributes.
Ideally, you want a tyre that is more robust and less susceptible to damage. You can achieve this by selecting a tyre with ‘Light Truck’ construction, instead of the usual ‘Passenger’ construction.
Light Truck tyres are designed to carry more weight and operate at higher pressures. They have a stronger carcass than passenger tyres and have thicker and straighter sidewalls that are less prone to damage.
In comparison, passenger tyres have lighter, more rounded sidewalls that are easily damaged off-road.
There is a downside to Light Truck tyres; the ride is harsher than passenger tyres, they can be easily upset by road irregularities, they generally don’t steer as well, and they can be noisy. Still, these shortcomings are nothing in the big scheme of things if it means fewer punctures and tyre failures.
While it might seem odd, tyres with a higher speed rating are built more lightly than tyres with a lower speed rating.
This is to avoid heat build-up at higher speeds. By fitting a tyre with a lower speed rating (down to 140km/h or ‘N’ rating is legal in most states for 4x4s), you have a stronger, more robust tyre.
The amount of sidewall is also important — the more sidewall, the better. With higher sidewalls, there’s less chance of the sidewall being ‘pinched’, and it will respond more favourably to ‘airing’ down for sand or mud driving.
Given that increasing the overall diameter of the tyre and wheel combination brings both technical (fouling of other components) and legal problems (a 15mm increase in overall diameter is the current legal limit), to maintain the same overall diameter but still gain sidewall, you need to use a smaller diameter wheel.
This is often possible by using an OEM wheel as many manufacturers fit smaller diameter wheels to low-spec models.
While it’s important to maintain close to the overall diameter of the original wheel/tyre package, it doesn’t mean you have to fit the exact original size.
A 265/60R17, for example, while a little wider than a 245/65R17, is very close to the same overall diameter. The same goes for any number of different combinations where a slight increase in tyre width is offset by a lower aspect ratio and therefore produces the same overall diameter.
Just be aware that if you deviate from a standard tyre size, you may have a problem fitting the spare to its original location.
Most new 4x4s come with ‘Highway Terrain’ (HT) tyres, which should be replaced with ‘All-Terrain’ (AT) tyres for outback travel. While you may be tempted to fit a more aggressive ‘Mud Terrain’ (MT) tyre, they don’t always cope all that well with long-distance travel on sealed roads.
In many ways, bull bars are a necessary evil of outback travel. They place a lot of weight (especially with a steel bar) forward of the centre of mass of the vehicle and the front axle line. They also have a negative effect on your vehicle’s aerodynamics.
But, next to more robust tyres, they are the most important modification you’ll need to make. Not only will they protect the front of your vehicle, especially the cooling system, from animal strikes and the like, but they also serve as a handy place to mount lights, aerials and, of course, a winch.
While aluminium-alloy bars are lighter than steel bars, steel will be more robust and stronger when you need it most.
Long-range Fuel Tanks
Fuel is essential for outback travel. Unfortunately, extra fuel can be difficult to carry safely and effectively. The last thing you want to do is carry fuel inside your rig, or on a roof rack, given its weight.
Long-range tanks place the fuel where you want it (under the vehicle) and can normally provide the volume of several jerry cans.
Travelling in remote areas, a heavily laden 4×4 working hard on soft sand or mud will use a whole lot more fuel. So, when estimating fuel requirements for a long trip always factor in an extra 20 per cent.
It’s a good idea to have a few spare tyres when trekking away from civilisation. And while simple tread penetrations can be relatively easy to repair, sidewall damage is usually terminal. Rear-mounted spare-wheel carriers, usually incorporated into a rear bar can carry one or two spares.
Cargo barriers may not seem like an essential part of an outback touring kit, but they make your 4×4 wagon safer and more functional. In the event of an accident, the last thing you want is recovery gear and tools flying around like missiles inside the cabin.
A cargo barrier will stop that, but it’ll also allow you to load the luggage area of your wagon far higher than you otherwise would.
In an ideal world, you should never drive in remote areas after dark, but sometimes that’s unavoidable.
If caught out after sunset, you’ll need extra lights, with a combination of wide and pencil beams. It’s best to avoid the cheap option and spend some cash on a light that’s vibration resistant, and dust and waterproof.
Perhaps more important than the light is the mounting system. Even the best lights are useless unless they are aimed correctly, so make sure you buy lights with a robust, easily adjustable and vibration-resistant mounting system.
You may not plan on attempting any deep water crossings, but you never know what affect local rain may have on a particular crossing. Getting water into an internal combustion engine is catastrophic, so it’s not worth taking the chance.
Even if you never use the snorkel for crossing water, they help provide the engine with cleaner, dust-free air. Just be aware that snorkels generally produce wind noise and have some negative aerodynamic effects.
Roof Racks And Trailers
Towing a trailer isn’t ideal but having a whole lot of stuff piled up on a roof rack has its problems too. Unfortunately, using either measure is often unavoidable — sometimes you even need both.
What’s important to remember is that for constant speed touring a trailer will be more fuel-efficient than having gear piled up on a roof rack, due to aerodynamics. Conversely, when you are constantly slowing down and accelerating again, on a typical 4×4 track, the extra weight of the trailer will make it less fuel-efficient.
Most 4WDers would class suspension as a pretty essential mod, so we put a Raw 4×4 2in lift in Jock’s little Luxxy to see just how much difference it would make. When you think of a 2in lift in a bigger live axle truck, you think about the room to run bigger tyres and get more flex. In any older independent front end 4WD, a 2in lift can have the reverse effect as you lose your downward travel as you have wound the torsion bars up to match the new rear springs.
We found with the Luxxy that we got a lot more flex from the new rear springs, but the front was that hard it didn’t like flexing up and had bugger all drop.
The advantage, though, is that you raise the diff above the ground nearly two inches more in some vehicles; this gives you more clearance when going through rutted tracks even before you fit bigger tyres.
Fitting poor quality modifications to your 4WD will make it wear out faster. For example, a cheap steel roof rack basket might make your travel more comfortable, but when it rusts all over your shiny roof paintwork, you’ve got a problem.
There’s a lot of emphasis on changing the air filtration system on 4WD’s to allow more air to flow through.
That’s fine, providing you don’t reduce the filtering capacity! If you removed the air filter, you’d get better airflow too, but your engine would be dead very quickly as a result of it. Don’t play with air filters unless you keep the same air flow rate (or better) and micron rating.
A lot of time, money and research goes into developing vehicles, and sometimes they can be very quickly let down by aftermarket parts that are not engineered with the same level of diligence.
Long-range fuel tanks that are held in place by a few M8 bolts, Bull Bars that rub on OEM components and suspension systems that don’t align the geometry are just a few examples of this!
A lot of people make the mistake of adding airbags to their vehicles with leaf springs before changing the spring rate. Airbags can be incredibly dangerous if you use them as a way to add more weight, especially on leaf sprung vehicles.