For many off-road enthusiast building a trail-capable 4x4 can be just as rewarding as conquering a difficult obstacle. While not every wheeling enthusiast is destined to be a master fabricator, sometimes just knowing the basics of 4x4 crafting can lay a solid foundation for a wealth of wrenching knowledge to grow.
Over the years we've received countless emails and letters asking us how to build a [insert your favorite 4x4 here]. These questions often appear vehicle-specific on the surface, but when we look past the brand name and at the core of the query, we often find a common theme. This theme is not off-road racing or over-the-top build schemes, but rather a general desire to create a more competent trail rig without breaking the bank.
We understand that many of you enjoy wheeling what you already have and that buying another rig is often out of the question. So no matter if you're wheeling your mom's old SUV, you dad's worn-out pickup, a roadside bargain, or even a brand-new high-end machine, we have a few simple build tips to help your rig survive.
Bring Her Along
A good winch isn't always cheap, since for many it means crafting a custom bumper or buying one from the aftermarket, but having a winch onboard will save you time and money in the long run. Be sure to fit your rig with a winch that is rated for roughly double the weight of your vehicle.
Drop The Fat
The phrase "less is more" is a good one, and one that can easily be applied to 4x4s. While your rig's stock plastic bumpers might not look all that great, they are a lot lighter than many of the aftermarket replacements. It's important to remember that weight robs power and adds stress on your truck's components. It's just as easy to break parts with an obese rig as it is to snap parts with lots of horsepower and torque.
A front and rear locking differential is the best way to get traction off road, as it will ensure that all wheels are churning dirt. If you are using your 4x4 as a daily driver we strongly suggest investing in selectable lockers to help maintain good street manners and increase maneuverability. If the dirt is all your rig sees then a set of fulltime lockers will work just fine.
The light truck tire market is bigger than it has ever been. Though finding the right tire for your 4x4 can be region-specific, in our experience you usually can't go wrong with a quality mud-terrain. While trimming to fit big tires is great, be sure to match up the tire size to your vehicle's drivetrain or you'll be spending serious dough to upgrade gears and parts. You'll have way more fun being able to spin those little 32s versus lugging around a set of 37s on the trail that you truck can barley turn over.
A sturdy set of rock sliders will save your rig's body panels and help stave off serious body damage. Sliders need to be more than just a light-duty step bar; they need to be able to support the entire weight of the vehicle as you drag it over or pivot around obstacles. Be sure to look for high clearance and boatside-style sliders, as in addition to body protection they offer increased ground clearance and help your rig slide over obstacles more easily.
Lowering your tire's air pressure can increase the off-road ride and performance of your 4x4 tremendously. While most standard wheels can safely be aired down to 15 psi, any lower and you run the chance of popping a tire off the wheel. If you see yourself spending a lot of time off road and wheeling at low air pressures, a nice set of beadlocks might be worth the money. While they are a little more costly, many wheelers we meet on the trail wish they had opted for beadlocks in the beginning because they would have saved themselves dough in the long run.
Suspension lifts are great, but taller isn't always better. We suggest looking for ways to increase your suspension's performance and travel without raising the ride height drastically. Oftentimes quality aftermarket shocks paired with a set of sway bar disconnects can extended the capabilities of your rig substantially.