I am building a 2004 Ford Ranger 4x4 primarily to run around in the mud and river bottoms. Any suggestions on what I should do? I am on a budget, and I’d like to keep it simple but still want it to be cool.
There are several ways you could go with a budget Ranger build, and much of it depends on what kind of shape the Ranger is in and how much you value sheetmetal. If you are not averse to taking a saw to the fenders and the truck is a little rough anyway, you could pick up a set of 33s and trim sheetmetal until they clear. Total cost would be the tires and a few reciprocating saw blades.
If you are after something slightly less butch, Fabtech (fabtechmotorsports.com) offers a full 3-inch suspension lift, while Superlift (superlift.com) offers a 4-inch kit. We actually covered the installation of a 4-inch Superlift kit several month ago, which you can check out here: goo.gl/75hNov. With 4 inches of lift, you should be able to clear 33s without trimming. Unfortunately, both of these lift kits are expensive and the taller lift will eventually require a replacement front driveshaft.
If you want something in between these two options, you could easily add 1-2 inches of suspension lift with a set of torsion bar keys and an add-a-leaf or longer shackles in the rear. There are multiple online sources for torsion bar keys, among them Rough Country (roughcountry.com) and MaxTrac Suspension (maxtracsuspension.com). A pair of keys and shackles will run under $200 shipped to your door. You can combine the suspension lift, a short 1-inch body lift, and minor trimming to clear 33s without much trouble. Anything above 33s and you are getting into more serious modifications, and really, anything larger would overstress the already marginal front and rear differentials. Even with 33s, any sort of traction devices like limited-slips or lockers is asking for trouble with the stock axles. Mud isn’t as hard on drivetrain components as rockcrawling, but we would still plan on carrying spare CV axles for the front as well as shafts for the rear. We would focus on keeping the truck lightweight and start saving up for bigger axles if bigger tires are a part of your plans.