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Retrofitting Your Everyday 4x4 With Off-Road Race Tech

Posted in Product Reviews on May 6, 2014
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We like to crawl in and around every kind of vehicle you can imagine, looking for cool, useful, and innovative tech that can be applied to a 4x4. We’ve ogled helicopters, planes, motorhomes, heavy equipment, random machinery, and race vehicles. There are many different kinds of off-road racers, most are way out of our budget, and while some of the tech in and under them might be unobtainable, many of these vehicles often feature home-spun solutions to simple problems. We recently found ourselves at the 2014 King of the Hammers race in Johnson Valley, California, where we took a closer look at some of the hidden treasures inside these high-dollar dirt demons. Here are a few features that might be right at home on your trail hero.

High-speed off-road race vehicles typically feature an expensive coilover and bypass shock at each corner. If you’re planning a custom link-style suspension or simply replacing your factory stand-alone coil and shock setup, an air shock can sometimes do the job of a reservoired coilover shock for about half the cost. However, air shocks are not ideal for long-term, high-speed off-road use where heat can build up in the shocks, causing them to stiffen and increase in spring rate. Lower-cost air shocks are perfectly suitable for street use and low-speed trail rides.

Off-road pit crews need a fast and easy way to make sure all the important hardware on the vehicle remains tight, but they don’t exactly have time to check every nut and bolt with a wrench. A paint pen is used during assembly to mark the bolts after they have been torqued to spec. If the lines become misaligned, you know something is loose and needs to be tightened. The paint-marked bolts can also speed up the post-trail ride inspection of your 4x4, which you should perform before you hit the highway. Keeping your 4x4’s parts in place keeps you alive.

People install snow tires for better traction during winter, so why not install high-performance tires when going off-road? With so many off-road racers sponsored by tire companies, it was only a matter of time before slightly used sticky competition tires (non-D.O.T. compliant) from companies like BFG and Maxxis made their way into the general consumer market. You can find these grippy comp tires (often referred to as red-label tires) on Craigslist and in racing classified ads like ( Yes, they make a huge difference, but they will wear out faster than a standard street-legal D.O.T.-compliant tire.

There are many larger tools, such as hammers, prybars, jack handles and breaker bars, that won’t fit in a small trail toolbox. Storage space is extremely limited on race vehicles, which means builders must be creative when locating a place for larger, frequently used tools like this breaker bar (used as a lug wrench). The socket and extension are captured inside the capped tube, and a quick-release pin keeps the tool in place via a hole drilled in the handle.

Can you identify the engine accessory in this image? This racer carries a spare power steering pump. We have seen spare belts, hoses, axles, driveshafts, steering boxes, and even spare transfer cases bolted to vehicles in various places. Know your vehicle’s weak spots and always carry the appropriate parts to make repairs, especially when traveling off-road alone.

Big and clunky factory plastic rearview mirrors can easily be damaged on the trail. If you have removed your doors for greater visibility and an outdoorsy feel, you have no mirrors at all. Kartek offers clamp-on rearview mirror mounts that can be attached to your rollcage A-pillar with a pair of hose clamps. When -- not if -- you hit the mirrors on something, they simply spin out of the way instead of exploding into a million pieces.

Most successful desert racers use a Lowrance GPS like this one to stay on the racecourse. This type of handy unit has been used by ocean travellers for decades to identify shallow reefs, mark good fishing spots, and relocate found sunken booty. You can use a similar unit to map out your favorite off-road trails, treasures, and camp spots, as well as mark trail hazards.

If you’ve ever torn off a shock mount or bound up a driveshaft from too much suspension travel, then you know how useful suspension limiting straps can be. Companies like MasterCraft, Pro Comp USA, and Skyjacker offer limiting straps in many different lengths. Straps can typically be found in single stitched (one layer for very light use), double stitched (two layers for moderate use), and triple stitched (three layers for heavy use). The weight of your axle assemblies and the speed you plan to drive dictate which design to choose. In extremely abusive situations, you’ll want to double up on straps or look into the Trail-Gear six-layer Rock Assault straps. Limiting straps can also be center-mounted to a differential to keep the driveshaft from binding at full droop, while still allowing plenty of axle articulation. If you are running high-end bypass, coilover, or air shocks, install some properly located limiting straps to prevent shocks from topping out and being damaged. Use a limiting strap clevis from Kar

The latest trend in trail rigs is keeping them low. The lowrider street-truck market has offered C-notch frame kits for decades. The extra clearance afforded by the C-notch above the axle allows the vehicle to be lowered farther while still retaining some upward suspension travel. Desert race and prerunner guys stole a page from the lowrider playbook and did the same. This allowed a few more inches of uptravel on their long-travel suspensions. Notching the frame for axle clearance can be done on almost any 4x4, but check for other clearance issues and make sure your fabrication skills are up to par before chopping up your frame.

Fuel cells are required for most types of racing. They can be useful on a trail rig where the factory fuel tank just won’t work anymore due to suspension, chassis, or axle changes. Fuel cells come in capacities ranging from 1 quart to over 100 gallons. Summit Racing offers affordable plastic-, aluminum-, and steel-cased fuel cells in common sizes and capacities. Custom shapes and sizes are available from companies like Fuel Safe.

A buddy of ours once tried using the rafters in his garage as a mounting point for an engine hoist. He nearly pulled the roof in on himself when yanking a 454 from his Blazer. We saw several racers using this ingenious lightweight portable aluminum chain hoist frame on the dry lakebed. It can be easily disassembled and moved anywhere for moderate lifting jobs.


Summit Racing
Akron, OH
Skyjacker Suspensions
West Monroe, LA 71294
Kartek Off-Road
Corona, CA 92879
Fresno, CA 93727
Tulsa, OK
Fuel Safe
Redmond, OR 97756
Suwanee, GA 30024
MasterCraft Safety
Santee, CA 92071
Pro Comp USA
Compton, CA 90220
BF Goodrich Tire Company
Greenville, SC 29602
(877) BFG-TIRE

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