Here's the deal: I was planning to get my hands on either a new F-150 SuperCrew or the new Tundra CrewMax. Family priorities, however, mean that I need to spend a little more time with my current truck before I can seriously consider purchasing something else. I own an '00 Ford Ranger 4x4 with the 3.0 V6 and automatic transmission. It's my daily driver. I've had fun on some mild local trails, and I'd like to be able to drive my Ranger just a little bit farther down those same trails. I'm not doing hardcore rockcrawling or high-speed stuff - just general use in the dirt. I want better ground clearance, better traction, and a better ride. What suggestions do you have for my truck?
Matt Cawley, Tucson, Arizona
We think you should build a four-wheel-drive version of our Oct. '07 cover truck. "Short Cut to the Dirt" is an '05 Ford Ranger 3.0 V6, 2WD. Tim Coltey, the owner, chose a number of sensible bolt-on upgrades that made for a dirt-worthy ride without spending major time or major money on the build. First of all, we'd recommend going with a set of 33-inch tires with an all-terrain or mild mud-terrain tread. Although purchasing larger tires with more aggressive tread patterns can net extra off-road capability, the bigger meats also require more extensive vehicle modifications to work properly. We'd recommend keeping the stock wheel offset, even if you go for a set of aftermarket wheels. Retaining the stock wheel offset means easier steering effort, longer-lasting tie rods, and longer-lasting wheel bearings.
With your tires and wheels selected, the next thing to do is pick a new front suspension system. You can combine long-travel and four-wheel drive on your truck with a Dixon Bros. long-travel kit. This kit replaces your upper and lower control arms, and widens your track width 4 inches per side. Drop brackets are not used with the Dixon kit. Stock knuckles are retained, and the front differential remains in place. You'll get 14 inches of front suspension travel and be able to keep your 4x4 system fully functional. The Dixon kit deletes the factory torsion bars, replacing them with a pair of your favorite 8-inch-stroke, 2.5-inch-diameter coilovers, which you must supply. The Dixon kit may be more than you want to commit to at this point. If that's the case, check out RCD's 5-inch lift kit and Superlift's 4-inch kit. Both of these kits will replace your stock knuckles with extended knuckles, leaving your stock upper control arms in place. The lower arms and differential are dropped down via brackets. The RCD and Superlift kits will give you added clearance for larger tires. Suspension travel will be about the same as stock.
For the rear suspension, we'd go Tim's route with a Deaver leaf pack that bolts into the stock mounting points, flipped rear shackles, and Bilstein monotube dampers.
You can probably leave your differential gearing stock for a little while, but as soon as funds allow, have your gears changed to 4.56 to 1. We have 4.56 gears and 33s on our '01 Sport Trac, and that combo works great. When you have the gear ratio changed, you also have a perfect opportunity to have a traction-aiding differential (locker, limited-slip, selectable locker) installed with minimal additional labor charges.
You should invest in some rock sliders to protect your rocker panels and look into replacing your factory skidplates with something beefier. The rock sliders and skidplates may have to be custom-fabricated by a local fab shop.
Finally, consider installing a set of flared fiberglass prerunner front fenders in place of your stock sheetmetal fenders. The prerunner fenders have larger wheel openings and are wider than the stock fenders. This means you'll have less worry about tires rubbing on sheetmetal, and you'll get better tire coverage. Hannemann Fiberglass, Glassworks Unlimited, Trailer Products, FiberwerX, Perry's Fab 'n' Fiber, and McNeil Off-Road are all sources for Ranger fiberglass products. Have fun!
We at Off-Road were shocked and saddened to learn that a member of the So Cal Big Dawgs left this life way too soon in a tragic drowning accident in the high Sierras. Jason Payne (aka "Willyswanter") was easy to spot on the trails, as he drove a Crew Cab longbed Chevy pickup. Jason's oversize Bow Tie had been modified for the trails, including a solid-axle swap in front, a shortened wheelbase, an exocage, and a four-link rear suspension with coilovers. Jason did all his own fabrication and was willing and quick to help out a wheeler in need on the trail.
Godspeed, Jason. You are sorely missed by family, friends, and the off-road community.
Jason's family has set up a website in his honor: www.jasonpaynememorial.com.
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