Everyone has to start somewhere, and four-wheeling is no different. You have to start with the first time you drive in the dirt, the first time you get stuck, the first time you break something, and the first upgrade you do to your 4x4. Some wheelers learn all this stuff from their parents or grandparents, others from a sibling or friends.
In addition to hitting the dirt, upgrading your 4x4 can be just as much fun. Even if you’ve never spun a wrench you shouldn’t be scared to start. Here are a few beginner tools and upgrades to get started.
Jeeps are easily the most popular 4x4s we see on the trail, but not everyone can afford a trail rig and a daily driver. So why not make a Jeep your daily wheels as well? Because of the general lack of storage and load capacity in a Jeep, especially a two-door open-topped model. Luckily there are many great storage options for Jeeps, such as a bolt-on light bar/roof rack from Olympic 4x4 Products. This easy-to-use product transforms your little trail tamer into a hauling machine ready to hit the hardware store.
A winch is a great tool. It’s like that big brother who is always looking out for you and who has your back when you do something dumb. But like your big brother, you better treat it right if you expect it to pull you out when you need it the most. One of the most overlooked steps to winch ownership is stretching or tensioning your new winch’s wire rope cable with a proper wrap on the drum.
Hook the other end of the rope to an approved anchor, tree, pole, or heavy parked vehicle. The anchor should be far enough away so that there is no slack in the cable or rope. Don’t forget your gloves and a tree saver.
The Hi-Lift jack is an iconic off-road accessory owned by millions, and often one of the first 4x4 items purchased by newbie wheelers. The Hi-Lift is great as a jack, obviously, but it can also work as a large clamp and hand winch if need be. If you’ve stuffed your 4x4 in a hole and haven’t invested in a winch or a buddy with a strap then hopefully you have a Hi-Lift jack as a backup rescue tool. Though not fast or easy, it can extract a stuck vehicle with its 4,600-pound pulling capacity.
One of the quickest and easiest upgrades for a 4x4 is a heavy-duty differential cover. It’s a good idea to add a heavier diff cover to protect the gears and differential from trail abuse. This installation can be performed in under an hour; the majority of the work involves cleaning the housing. Of course we are talking about axles that have a removable cover for inspection and gear work. An axle with a drop-out style third member like a Toyota or Ford 9-inch do not have bolt on covers, but there is weld-on armor for protecting the ring-and-pinion.
From the factory most axles have a thin sheetmetal diff cover. Though they’re great for street use, if you start trolling through rock gardens and boulder fields you may find a landmine in the form of some granite punching or peeling back the flimsy cover.