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Budget Upgrades - Five Ways To Improve A Trail Rig

Posted in How To on April 1, 2012
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Before getting started, a little disclaimer: There's an unwritten law that says welding caps are required to look goofy. Blue polka dots were the least of all the evils when I bought the one in the photo. Besides, the cap reminds me of the ones my grandfather wore while working as a railroad engineer on the Milwaukee Road. Yep, railroading caps are goofy, too.

Now that that's out of the way, what do you do when you've got more time than you've got cash? How can you make your rig better and still have enough funds to put fuel in the tank?

The answers might be closer, easier, and cheaper than you think. When you’re on a budget, big sweeping changes are left to the future. Immediate stuff usually falls under three categories: strengthening/reinforcing, maintenance, and equipment organization. In other words, focus on the details.

Presented here are five ways to improve a trail rig. None of these upgrades costs over a grand, and some are under $200. How do details make the difference? Details are often the difference between driving home and calling a towing service. Details are the difference between an equipment-cluttered interior and a space that's organized and keeps your sanity on long trips.

Check out these six suggestions and start brainstorming. Then get to work. Goofy hat not required.

Upgrade 1
Problem: too-short or too-weak OEM wheel studs. Factory wheel studs are often designed around factory wheels with little thought given to potential wheel upgrades down the proverbial road. Late-model Toyota’s are especially plagued by this (pun intended) shortcoming. Quite often, aftermarket wheels and OEM Toyota wheel studs are a combo that allows for dangerously little thread engagement.

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We've had the ARP studs up front for over two years with zero troubles. We’re also using the ARP studs on the Currie 9-inch out back with equal success. Currie pressed in the ARP studs for the rear axle.

Upgrade 2
A gallon of Durabak prevention now sidesteps an ocean of troubles later on. Durabak is a polyurethane coating that’s available in smooth or textured finishes and in a variety of colors. It’s ideal as a non-skid floor coating, especially in an open-top Jeep or a pickup bed.

Instead of using paint, smooth Durabak was brushed onto this Protofab XJ bumper. Patience was required, but none was around at the time. There were sags and runs in the Durabak, owing to a single heavy coat instead of multiple light coats. Even so, the Durabak dried well and provided exceptional metal protection.

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Upgrade 3
These days, it seems everyone is upgrading to MP3 players and satellite radio. That's great news if you need to replace a dead OEM audio head unit, as used ones are often in good shape and cheap to purchase. Dust and vibration had long rendered the factory CD and tape players inert. This new-to-me head unit was found on and purchased for a paltry $60. The dead dusty original is on top, and the fresh, functional replacement sits underneath.

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Upgrade 4
Spherical bearings (AKA "uni-balls") and rod ends (AKA "Heim joints") can get sloppy over time. This slop translates into an obnoxious clicking noise and at worst the joint can rattle itself apart. Don’t let this happen. As soon as the noise starts and you can feel the play with your fingers it’s time to replace the bearing or rod end. This uni-ball is part of a Total Chaos upper control arm, but many off-road suppliers, such as Poly Performance, offer uni-ball components a la carte as fabrication parts. Total Chaos keeps bearings in stock to service the suspension kits it sells. For fabrication parts Poly Performance says, "We got what you need."

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With the snap ring settled back into its groove, the process is finished and the A-arm can be reinstalled on the vehicle.

Upgrade 5
Cargo capacity and room for passengers doesn’t mix very well. You can either leave the passengers home or you can find new places for the cargo. Baja Rack makes roof-mounted cargo racks for a wide variety of vehicle applications including the Toyota 4Runner, FJ Cruiser, and Tacoma. The Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee are also covered as are the Ford Explorer and Explorer Sport Trac. Installation varies with the vehicle but is generally simple.

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On our trip through the Mojave National Preserve, the Baja Rack proved an ideal place to store firewood. As you can see, there’s still a lot of room left for other cargo.


Currie Enterprises
Corona, CA 92880
Summit Racing
Akron, OH
Poly Performance
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Aircraft Spruce
Corona, CA
Total Chaos Fabrication
Corona, CA 92880
Durabak Company
Aurora, CO 80014
Norco, CA 92860
Fermans Mini Truck Salvage
Baja Rack
San Diego, CA 92154

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