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Wheeler Deals - Budget Friendly 4x4 Upgrades

Posted in Product Reviews on May 1, 2013
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Building a trail rig doesn't have to be a budget-busting affair. In fact, a vehicle designated to be an off-road toy can be way less expensive to create than one you have to worry about getting you to work on Monday. Probably the biggest benefit of a trail-specific wheeler is that you don't have to compromise or overspend on parts. With that said, it's important to remember that there is a difference between inexpensive and cheaply made.

Seeing how tax season is upon us, we've put together a handful of worthwhile and budget-friendly upgrades to help improve your trail rigs off-road prowess. These parts can all be had for less than the $2,899 tax return average, and most can be installed in your driveway. Although some of the upgrades will require more time and tooling than others, none will break the bank. Even if you have to sub out a little help, the value remains supreme.

Recovery Gear
Price Range: $10 to $700
Company Info: Bubba Rope

If you are heading off-road, then you'll need some recovery gear. Sure, a winch may be the best recovery tool your rig can have, but sometimes you just need a little tug to get you on your way. The most basic recovery kit should consist of a tow strap and two shackles. Companies like Warn Industries and Bubba Rope offer an assortment of recovery gear and kits. Many of the kits even include additional rigging to aid in tough winching scenarios.

Rock Sliders Price Range: $179 to $279
Company Info: Trail-Gear

If you wheel something other than a Jeep Wrangler, then you may find that the aftermarket support for heavy-duty items like rock sliders and skidplates is bit more scarce. Thinking outside the box will get you farther with your pickup project. A great source for a seemingly universal slider kit is Trail-Gear. While Trail-Gear sliders are crafted specifically for Toyota pickups and 4Runners, we've seen them work great on a variety of fullsize and mini-truck applications.

Trail-Gear sliders are offered in 58-, 67-, and 78-inch lengths. Each slider set is comprised of 1¾-inch x 0.120-wall DOM tubing, and is offered welded or un-welded, along with bolt-on and weld-on attachment brackets. If you are using the sliders on a custom or a non-Trail-Gear-specific application, you may need to shorten or fabricate new bracer legs (slider to frame tubes).

Lunchbox Lockers
Price Range: $60 to $480
Company Info: Richmond Gear
Yukon Gear & Axle

The lunchbox locker gets its name from its small size. This style of locker is also commonly referred to as a drop-in-style locker due to fact that it drops inside of your open differential carrier to replace the stock spider gears. Two of the most common lunchbox lockers are the Lock-Right (left) and mini-spool (right). Since both of the shown traction aids reuse your existing open differential carrier, you don’t have to reset your differentials gear pattern. As long as you can follow instructions and have a decent tool set, you can install a drop-in-style locker in your driveway in a few hours.

If your trail rig doesn't already have a set of locking differentials, then it's time to upgrade. Getting each wheel to spin at the same speed off-road will transform its off-road performance tremendously and allow you and your rig to travel farther. While installing a set of lockers may seem like an extremely pricey and difficult procedure, it doesn't have to be. Traction aids such as the Yukon Gear mini-spool and Richmond Gear Lock-Right (commonly known as lunchbox lockers) are installer-friendly automatic lockers. They are also an inexpensive alternative when compared to full-carrier replacement lockers such as the Detroit Locker.

Hitch Gate
Price Range: $690 to $870
Company Info: Tire Gate/Wilco Automotive Products Inc.

Fitting a fullsize spare tire in or on your rig can be challenging for those running oversized cleats. The Hitch Gate from Tire Gate provides a unique solution to the fullsize spare problem. The Hitch Gate works by using your rigs 2-inch receiver to bolt in-place. Once attached the Hitch Gate works as a swing-out tire carrier and is designed to handle up-to a 40-inch tire. Since the tire-gate is easy to remove, it provides a great way for wheelers to bring along a spare tire, but have the option of leaving the assembly back at camp to save the pounds on the trail.

The Hitch Gate’s swing-out hinge system uses a quick-release latch so you can easily open and close the gate. The spare mount can accommodate a variety of wheel-bolt patterns and most aftermarket wheel offsets. Optional center and side offsets are available along with bolt-on accessory mounts.

Covered Diffs
Price Range: $169 to $180
Company Info: Dynatrac

It's easy to beat up your axles off-road. No matter what size tire you run, sooner or later the differential cover is going to make impact with the terra-firma. To prevent your ring gear from feeling the smash Dynatrac offers heavy-duty factory-replacement differential covers. The proprietary nodular-iron diff covers raise the fill-plug to increase fluid capacity for diffs set at high angles and are equipped with extra ribbing to help protect the differentials internals. From the light-duty Dana 30 to the massive Dana 80, Dynatrac covers a wide variety of axles.

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