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Trail Rig Builder Basics

Nissan Pathfinder Wheeling
Ali Mansour
| Brand Manager, 4WD & Sport Utility
Posted June 19, 2012

How To Further Your 4x4

Building your own trail rig is a fun and exciting endeavor that for many evolves into a valuable learning experience and a family pastime. We understand how easy it is for those new to the world of off-roading to get caught up and overwhelmed with all of the aftermarket parts, endless build paths, and Internet chatter. We’ve always stood by the notion that learning to drive your rig and knowing its basic limits is much more valuable than any upgrade component you can bolt on. As you spend more time in the seat you learn what your rig needs, lacks, and can live without.

At 4-Wheel & Off-Road we believe in keeping things simple and creating a rig that always puts function above form. Though geographical regions, climates, and off-road goals all factor into your own list of needs and wants, many items cross over all aspects of truck building. So to help in your quest for creating your own personal version of the ultimate off-road vehicle, we’ve put together some of our most rudimentary builder’s parts and tips.

Matching your tires with your wheeling terrain is crucial. If you’re looking to crawl rocks and explore the barren desert, then an all-terrain can be an excellent choice. If there is any sort of wet dirt in your future, we suggest erring on the side of caution and investing in a set of mud-terrains. For most trail wheelers a mud-terrain radial provides a nice balance of street manners and off-road performance. Remember that when it comes to tires, bigger doesn’t always mean better. Your rig’s axles, powertrain, and wheeling environment are all important when picking out the right tires for your 4x4. A 33x12.50 is one of the most universal and safe tire sizes that you can put on a rig. While major mud riding will likely require something taller, we suggest starting small and working your way up.

Winch Way
A winch mounted to the front of your rig is one of the best tools you can have. Winch bumpers and basic mounting plates are pretty common aftermarket accessories and will pay for themselves in short time. Be sure to fit your rig with a winch that is rated for roughly 11⁄2 to 2 times the weight of your vehicle. We’ve had great luck with our Warn ( winches over the years, but many winch options are available from the aftermarket.

Keep It Low
Unless you are going for the King of the Mud Bog crown, we suggest keeping your rig as low as possible. A low center of gravity equates to a safer vehicle both on the road and off. We know not everyone is comfortable chopping up sheetmetal to clear room for larger tires, but there are still ways to keep your rig low with big cleats. Using bumpstops to abbreviate uptravel is common on all types of rigs. And when used correctly, bumpstops can help you balance squeezing on larger tires without destroying your fenders or sending your rig to the moon. However, when building your 4x4 with a low stance you have to consider skidplates for underbelly components as well as rocker panels. A low stance with low-placed bumpstops can also create a rougher ride and limit your rig’s suspension. A great goal is to set up your rig to sit mid-travel (e.g., if you have a 10-inch-travel shock it would be 5 up and 5 down). You often have to be creative with trimming, shock choice, and tire size to make this possible.

It’s easy to get caught up in the world of aftermarket bumpers, roof racks, and protective armor. Sure, giving your rig that bombproof Mad Max appearance may make it look like it can go anywhere, but the reality is that a heavy iron hide can weigh you down off-road. When looking at aftermarket bumpers and components, take weight into consideration. The more weight you add, the harder your rig will have to work to power you over obstacles and down the road. Also, don’t be afraid to modify and/or keep your factory bumpers. They might not look as cool, but less weight means more power and an easier load on your rig’s parts. Loading your rig with spare tires, parts, and every tool from the shed can add unwanted pounds as well. Sometimes a good plug kit, a few basic tools, and a sound understanding of what your vehicle actually needs to limp off the trail when disaster strikes are a great 4x4 diet.

Pan Protection
Keeping your 4x4’s center of gravity low means many of your rig’s vital components will be closer to the ground. Engine oil and transmission pans are some of the most vulnerable items. Underbelly skidplates, such as this Jeep Wrangler JK system from Evo Manufacturing (, are designed to prevent punctures and potentially expensive damage. They also add a little peace of mind next time you feel and hear scraping and banging under your feet. Rocker guards and rock sliders are also key players in the world of rig protection. Many bolt-on and weld-on kits are available from the aftermarket. Investing in a set of sliders can make the difference between opening your door or crawling through the window on Monday. For rigs with solid front axles, also keep in mind that your factory steering and differential cover(s) are likely to take abuse. Companies like Synergy Suspension (www.synergy make heavy-duty tie rods to beef up your low-lying steering bars.

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