Transform Your Daily Driver Into A Formidable Wheeler
Building a vehicle that works well both on- and off-road can be a challenging endeavor. For many it simply breaks down to basic math. If you spend 70 percent of your time driving on-road and only 30 percent off-road, it doesn’t stand to reason that you would concentrate all of your vehicle modifications on such a small fraction of your seat-time, right? Wouldn’t it be nice if it actually worked that way?
The reality is that having a daily-driver that doubles as your weekend trail rig is a delicate dance. You have to keep in time with your daily rhythm, while not dropping out of sync with the requirements you need to survive off-road. While it may seem impossible to satisfy both needs, we assure you that it is not. Modern 4x4s, aftermarket parts, and build theories have evolved substantially over the years. Sure, an early ’80s Chevy pickup on 40s isn’t an ideal candidate for a daily-driver, but mix in modern technology such as fuel injection and gear underdrives, and it doesn’t seem that farfetched.
The key is to build your vehicle in a way that focuses on realistic expectations and goals. We understand that not everyone can fork over the dough for the best-of-both-worlds parts. For this reason we’ve broken down our double-duty, must-have list into three categories: best all-around, middle ground, and budget-friendly. Don’t be afraid to mix and match to find the perfect combination for you.
One of the trickiest feats when building a double-duty rig is lifting it high enough to have underbelly clearance, but not so high that you look like an amateur gymnast every time you enter and exit the vehicle. We prefer a low center of gravity on our trail rigs, but understand that means keeping your rig’s vital drivetrain components closer to the ground. Skidplates and rocker guards are a big part of protecting your expensive components, and they keep your 4x4 looking sharp for the weekly commute. Keep in mind that every plate you bolt or weld onto your rig adds weight. Additional weight can pull down performance, fuel economy, and place more stress on drivetrain components. Add cautiously and don’t be afraid to venture to aluminum guards for weight savings.
Best all-around: Oil pans skids, heavy-duty diff guards, body panel-plating, and rock sliders are all great ways to preserve your 4x4. Aluminum options for some of the items will keep the weight down while offering similar protection. The price point will be higher for aluminum, but avoiding the pounds is the best way to keep up your rig’s performance and economy.
Middle ground: Skidplates and body protection can get pricey quickly, especially if you are outside of the aftermarket megalopolis of the Jeep world. If you’re running an automatic transmission, we suggest at least an oil skidplate for protection. Rock sliders would be next on the must-have, as they will keep your doors functional and your boss from thinking you are a terrible driver.
Budget-friendly: If you are handy with a drill and have a local junkyard nearby, your rig’s underbelly protection might be easier to come by than you think. Countless makes and models were fitted with factory skids (mostly gas tank and transfer case), and with a little imagination can be transferred to your ride.
Wheels are a huge part of what gives the vehicle its identity and can place you apart from an everyday mall-crawler. We are huge fans of aluminum beadlock wheels for their strength, light weight, and functionality. Being able to drop into single-digit air pressure is a tremendous advantage for your vehicle off-road. At lower psi the tire will absorb and conform to the terrain more effectively, which equates to increased traction and less stress on your rigs components. The lower pressure also acts as a secondary suspension of sorts, which translates to a smoother ride off-road. Compared to a standard steel wheel, beadlocks are very pricy. If you plan on regularly pushing the limits of your 4x4, then they are worth the investment. If light trail riding and backwoods exploring is more your thing, then don’t feel like beadlocks are a must-have. Be sure to investigate how much the wheel weighs. An extra 10 pounds at the wheel is the equivalent of 100 pounds of cargo inside of your rig.
Best all-around: A DOT-compliant aluminum double-beadlock offers the best of both worlds. There will be no gray area for driving with them on-road, and you’ll get all of the performance advantages off-road. They are not extremely light, but won’t be as cumbersome as steel versions.
Middle ground: A more traditional exterior-locking, ring-style aluminum beadlock is a great investment. If beadlocks are simply not in the budget, then look into an aluminum wheel set.
Budget-friendly: A simple set of steel wheels will provide you plenty of good years of wheeling. The steel construction actually edges out the aluminum a bit in terms of reliability off-road. If you bend the lip of a steel wheel, you can usually beat it back in place with a hammer. There will be a weight penalty with the steel wheel, which can affect your fuel economy and performance.