How To Choose A 4×4 Vehicle?

In the past 15 to 20 years, the number of four-wheel drive trucks on the market has grown like never before. 

It can be hard to determine which truck is right for you — especially if you plan on doing a bit of off-road driving. Not all 4×4 trucks are capable of taking on the tough stuff, and the ones that are will still need to be outfitted for your specific terrain, climate and usage.

How you plan on using the truck will make a big difference right off the bat. Off-roading will require a different set-up than towing, ranching or merely commuting from home to work every day. Almost any 4×4 will be able to handle these situations, but if off-roading is what you’re after, there are a few extra considerations to make before choosing a truck.

If you’re going to use the truck as a dedicated weekend-warrior dirt-mobile, then creature comforts can probably take a back seat to, well, a back seat. But if you’re also going to use the truck to take the kids to school on your way to work, then having room in the cab and a few creature comforts will be much more important to you. Wanting to throw a dirt bike or two into the back means making sure the bed is big enough to hold the bikes and all of your other gear, too.

Thinking about the different kinds of activities you’ll use the truck for can get you to a starting place, whether that’s a Ford F-Series or a Chevy Silverado. 

Also, don’t forget to consider used trucks. New trucks can be ordered exactly to your liking, but they’re also more expensive. You may find a used truck with plenty of lift and big, knobby tires already installed, but there’s a good chance this truck has been out on some tough runs, too. Each option has its pros and cons.

Your car will become your traveling companion. It will take you to the most beautiful places in the world and get you out of the worst situations. Don’t be surprised if you give it a personality, feelings or a name. 

No matter how material it is, you get attached to it! You should therefore take the time to choose your 4×4 because it is the most important purchase of the trip. Above all, don’t rush! Here are a few tips to know which 4×4 to buy for your trip.

4×4 Trucks For Different Terrains

Starting with a solid 4×4 truck is the key point in buying a truck for off-roading, no matter what terrain you plan to take on. Ford, Chevy, Dodge, Toyota, and Nissan as well as several other manufacturers all have 4×4 trucks suitable for off-road driving. These trucks typically include a powerful engine with plenty of torque. 

The chassis and suspension are designed for bouncing over ruts and rocks, so they may feel a bit stiff on the way to the mall. And of course, off-road trucks feature true four-wheel drive capabilities, meaning all four wheels receive power from the engine for driving across ice, through sand, or out of mud and gravel.

With the basics in place, the options for off-roading come into play, depending on terrain. Tires are the first thing to consider, as different sizes and treads are used in snow, sand or dirt. 

The truck’s clearance might not be an issue for icy off-roading, but it will be important for rocky fields. If the truck of your dreams is a little low, it can almost always be lifted a little higher to clear more obstacles.

Skid plates come in handy, too. These are for protecting the underside of the truck from trees, rocks and other debris. Manufacturers often offer skid plates as part of an off-road package that can be purchased with a new truck, along with things like upgraded shock absorbers and knobbier off-road tires. 

The Ford Raptor is a good example. It’s offered with skid plates, special suspension, special tires and engine and transmission controls designed specifically for off-road use.

The Raptor also has a locking differential to help in sand and snow. This means the wheels spin at exactly the same rate, no matter what. 

Normally, when a truck drives around a turn, the outside wheels spin a little bit faster to keep up with the inside wheels. 

A locking differential keeps the wheels going around at the same rate, and prevents the wheels from slipping. Using this feature on dry pavement can wreak havoc on a 4×4, though, so it’s best used only when the going gets rough.

Climate can make a difference when choosing a 4×4 truck, too. Read on to find out what’s best for you.

4×4 Trucks For Different Climates

It was pointed out earlier that most 4×4 trucks can handle most types of off-road driving, and most climates, too.

But what if you’re off-roading in the Alaskan tundra? Or hauling a trailer full of ATVs in Death Valley? If either of those situations applies to you, there’s a kit to help you in your off-roading insanity — whether your adventures take you to very cold or very hot climes.

Some manufacturers offer a cold-climate package, which usually includes a more powerful battery for cold starts, a higher-output alternator and a heavy-duty starter, too. 

If you’re going to be in an area subjected to extreme or extended cold temperatures an engine block heater will keep the engine warm for an easier start. Once the truck is up and running, the heat from the engine will keep things toasty.

At the other end of the spectrum, you might want to add a transmission fluid cooler, especially if you’re towing anything or if the transmission is otherwise under extremely heavy load. 

Again, some manufacturers offer a package to deal with just such a situation, with a transmission cooler and a larger radiator to keep the engine from melting into the sand.

All these things keep the truck happily humming along, so let’s take a look at the systems in 4x4s that keep driver and passengers safe and sound.

Why Do You Want A 4wd?

First things first, this question is an absolute no-brainer — why do you want a 4WD? Maybe you’ve been peer pressured into keeping up with your mates at Mundaring Powerlines because your current rig can’t keep up.

Or, you’re keen to explore some of Perth’s most beach accessible tracks and cast a few rods out. Or perhaps it’s a bit of everything, from off-roading and family camping trips to cross-country touring, discover what inspired you to get a 4WD.

What sort of four-wheel driving do you want to do?

How you plan to use the 4WD will reduce the number of choices you need to research by 10 fold. Not only will you need to consider the level of 4WDing you are going to be doing, but also the simple things in life like going to the supermarket.

Here Are Three Modes To Consider:

Off-road Enthusiast

If you intend to hit the off-road tracks quite regularly and push your 4WD to its limit then you’ll need a vehicle with a solid front axle and solid rear axle suspension. This will be perfect for tackling muddy tracks, side angles, deep ruts and huge rocks.

Long Distance/Remote Areas

A 4WD that is used for long-distance drives and remote areas will be one that focuses on a more comfortable drive. 

You’ll want to go for a 4WD that has an independent suspension for a more comfortable drive, however, you aren’t limited.

They are more than capable in serious off-road conditions but are more suited for comfortable travel, this includes being fully equipped for camping and travelling long distances with minimal fuss.

Gravel, Towing And Beach Tracks

There are plenty of 4WD’s on the market that has been made for the sole purpose of towing a heavy caravan or trailer, the Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-Turbo is known for its torque and power when towing.

Beach tracks can be traversed by just about any 4WD, just make sure you have the right tyre pressure and the essential 4×4 accessories.

Other Questions You’ll Need To Ask Yourself Is:

  • Will your partner be driving it to drop the kids off at school or do the weekly shopping?
  • How many passengers will you be carrying?
  • Where are you going to drive it the most? Is it purely off-roading, city driving, or remote?
  • Are you planning to install any 4×4 accessories?
  • If you do take it to remote areas, how easy is it to source spare parts or fix mechanical issues?
  • How you plan to use your 4WD will give you a fair idea of what you’re going to need and narrow down your list of choices.

What Is Your Budget?

One of the most limiting factors when choosing a four-wheel drive is how much do you have to spend? You may find a vehicle that fulfils all your requirements mentioned previously, but if you can’t afford it you’re back to square one.

You’ll need to consider how much you can afford, this includes maintenance and repair costs, as well as any modifications you are planning to do. Tally up the costs of the mods and add them to the total cost of the vehicle and you’ll have a rough idea of how much your budget is.

Remember, you can always opt for a second-hand 4WD if it means you have money to spare, this way you can afford any extra 4×4 accessories you want.

Automatic Or Manual?

One of the largest debates in the world of 4×4, on par with Petrol Vs Diesel, is automatic or manual? It all boils down to how you prefer to drive, each having their own set of pros and cons.

Automatics:

  • Use slightly more fuel
  • Lack engine braking
  • Increased brake wear
  • Can’t stall the engine
  • Changes gears much quicker and tend to be considerably better for sand driving
  • Better for going uphill
  • Smoother drive

Manuals:

  • Requires clutch to be replaced more often
  • Uses less fuel
  • Better engine braking for steep descents or towing heavy loads
  • Transmission can’t get locked if left in park, can be push-started
  • Simpler to drive
  • More fun to drive

Fuel Type — Petrol Vs Diesel Vs Gas

Much like the automatic vs manual debate, there is no definitive answer to this. What we can pinpoint, however, is that most new diesel engines are more economical than petrol engines and have become much easier to drive. Nowadays, you can run your car on petrol, diesel or gas, or a combination of either 2. Here’s what you’ll need to consider:

Petrol

  • Petrol engines have higher revs than diesel, giving more power and responsiveness
  • Petrol engines may struggle with water crossings
  • Petrol models are cheaper than diesel models

Gas

  • Although it may produce less energy, gas is the cheapest fuel source
  • Gas engines may struggle with water crossings
  • You need a lot of gas to travel the same distance as a little bit of diesel
  • May be hard to source refueling locations in remote areas

Diesel

  • Diesel is the most economical fuel out of the 3
  • Diesel engines require regular servicing more than a petrol or gas engine
  • Diesel engines have more torque
  • Diesel engines tend to be more reliable
  • Diesel engines are less likely to stall in a river crossing
  • There’s always going to be diesel at service stations in remote areas
  • You’ll never misfuel with the SoloDiesel cap

4×4 Off-road Driving Techniques & Safety

As truck ownership has increased, so has the amount of off-highway recreation. There is no special license required to drive off-road, even though there are many different techniques and practices involved. 

There does exist an often unspoken etiquette that is practised by old-school four-wheelers, which developed not just so that everyone can get along on the trail, but, primarily, for safety considerations.

With the availability of trail-ready 4×4’s, both in the traditional truck mould and outside of it, the slow and steady progression of four-wheeling initiation through involvement and camaraderie has been bypassed. The honour-by-association process misses the chance to be taught by the enthusiastic guy who just bought his first real 4×4.

Responsible 4-wheeling is about finesse. Other features and driving techniques assist in the overall safety of your off-road outing, but finesse is the first and most important portion of your driving repertoire to acquire.

Here Are Some Hints To Help You Out In This Area.

It’s important always to drive within your ability. There are times when in soft sand, like beaches and washes, speed needs to be moderate and flotation through mud and snow needs to be kept up, hence “within your ability.” 

Usually taking your time on the trail will allow you to pick a smooth path and allow you time to react to the varieties of terrain you can encounter like moving rocks and logs under the tyres. 

If you have a ground clearance deficiency, going slow helps here, in that, if you do hit a rock with the differential or another rock grabber, it will usually stop the vehicle on impact or you will lightly scrape over it. 

If you were going too fast and hit a rock or other obstacle, it could knock a hole in the oil pan, differential, or even knock off the oil filter.

Avoid surprises by surveying the road ahead before you encounter it. Make sure the trail goes beyond the obstacle, doesn’t become a bottomless quagmire, has no backside to the hill (cliff?) or just plain ends. 

You can get a good idea where to place your tyres and the differentials to have a plan of approach. Follow through to beyond the obstacle.

Driving diagonally = Rollover. Always drive straight down hills or steep terrain. Know your approach and departure angles, the bumper to tyre distance. 

Some trails will require off-camber driving. In situations like this, it’s best to go slow, keeping the tyres on the tracks. 

Make every attempt to avoid losing attention and ascending up a rock or stump on the upside of the hill. Trucks will tend to slide sideways before rolling over – the tyres will slip sideways a little. 

Stop if the slide puts you off the edge of the track. If it is clear downhill and a rollover is imminent, immediately turn the vehicle into the slide and drive it down. If that is not an option, and you are going over, turn the vehicle off and hold on to your seat-bottom while hoping that the seat belt works properly.

Reducing tire pressure will increase traction on gravel and sand. For most 4-wheeling purposes, a tire pressure of 18 to 20psi will be adequate. Highway pressure is another consideration altogether. 

The tyre is marked on the side, i.e., 50psi at 3300 pounds. In essence, that one tyre could hold my Defender up. 

Depending on the weight of the loaded vehicle and the size of tyre, a tyre pressure of between 28 and 35psi works in most on-highway applications. 

Never overlook the importance of reading the manufacturer’s label. The air pressure difference between the front and rear is due to the tyre and auto manufacturers’ experimentation for over/understeer and load variances.

Cross ditches or logs at an angle so that one wheel at a time goes over the obstacle; the other three help the one wheel to climb over. 

Dropping the tyre into a ditch or crack in a rock can put you and your truck in a vulnerable position. Sometimes the vehicle pitches and one or more tyres will catch air. Be very deliberate and careful when approaching this challenging section of any trail. 

Logs can bounce up and catch the undercarriage, so come off these obstacles slowly and carefully. Turn the vehicle at an angle to facilitate the one tyre at a time approach. Be careful not to allow one of the front tyres and one of the rear tyres to get in the ditch at the same time.

One of the most crucial aspects to off-roading is understanding the absolute importance of tyre pressure. Among the most pertinent tyre pressure considerations in regards to summer, off-roading is utilizing optimum sand tyre pressure. 

Optimum sand tyre pressure is a combination of many things, of which truck-owners myths are least productive. 

However, your tyres, their construction methods and materials, what your car weighs, how it is loaded, and wheel width, all play into the sand-pressure tyre formula with predictable results. Why low pressure works, and how to determine your best sand pressure, follows:

It’s a simple fact, which some die-hard truckers still deny, the bigger the footprint, the softer the stuff you can travel in. 

Boiled down, it’s nothing more than a fact of nature. For those who say skinny, hard tyres are better for snow, mud or whatever, please tell me why they don’t use ten-speed bicycle-type tyres on snowmobiles? Sand rail people and mud boggers know big feet work better as well. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at tyre pressure and footprints.

The choice of tread pattern, otherwise known as your tyre’s footprint, is extremely important to consider during your new tyre decision-making process, and especially so if you are fitting your truck for an off-road adventure. 

Tread pattern should be chosen based on the intended use of your truck. The most popular tread pattern for all-around off-road use is a mud terrain pattern.

You’ve chosen the vehicle of your dreams, bravo. But before you buy it, you need to make sure you can equip it to transform this city 4×4 into a real 4×4 for overlanding. 

It’s very easy. Go to the ARB or Euro4x4Parts website, and check if your 4×4 model has a complete list of equipment in the catalogue.

You will thus be able to see if this vehicle is “equipable” for the “overlanding” trip.

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