Building Basics & Preparedness
So Maybe You're Not A die-hard 4-Wheel & Off-Road fan-yet. You've just picked up this magazine for the first time because you're searching for information on the off-road machine you've just purchased. You're excited about modifying the vehicle, and you can't wait to hit the trail but are too proud to ask about the basics of modifying a 4x4 for four-wheeling. Don't worry, we've been where you are now and know it's tough asking. It's like asking a stranger for directions while your spouse or S.O. is around. It doesn't happen! So to get you started we'll get you rolling with some basics.
Most 4x4 builds start small, get bigger, and as experience grows, sometimes take a turn for the extreme. That is, of course, if your better half lets you. This leads us to rule number one: Get your better half excited about the project since they control half or more of the vehicle's budget. Statistics show that the great majority of 4x4 and SUV owners don't modify their vehicles, nor do they use them off-highway. Tell your mate that with their newly modified vehicle they have the ability to see and experience amazing parts of this country more than half of the general public never visits. A day in the great outdoors beats a visit to an overcrowded and overpriced theme park anytime!
If you install oversized tires on your 4x4, we highly recommend you change your differential's gear ratio. Just a change in tire size by 1 or 2 inches will decrease the vehicle's power and torque by as much as 10 percent. Regearing will help restore the vehicle's factory performance levels. For more information on gearing, check the FAQ section of Randy's Ring & Pinion Web site (www.ringpinion.com).
Suspension lifts are designed to raise the vehicle's ground clearance, enhance its ride, and allow the vehicle to run larger wheels and tires. The larger the tires, the more clearance there will be between the ground and the lowest point of the vehicle. A suspension lift and oversized tires also increase a vehicle's approach and departure angles. Approach and departure angles are the degree of angle it takes the front or rear bumpers before they hit the ground or rocks upon the approach or departure of an obstacle. The higher the angles on your vehicle, the better off you are.
The availability of tires for your 4x4 is mind-boggling. We could write for days on this subject. In a nutshell, there are two main factors to consider when choosing tires-namely your budget and the terrain you will be using them on. The price of a good tire dramatically increases with size. If money is a factor, you need to consider how often you will be four-wheeling. Mud-terrain tires with aggressive tread patterns usually don't have the treadlife all-terrain tires do. This especially holds true if most of your driving is on the highway. A good 33-inch all-terrain tire will cost around $150. A quality 35-inch mud-terrain will run you about $300. There are all-terrain tires that offer exceptional traction, but in most situations a properly aired-down mud-terrain tire will give your vehicle the best traction off-highway.
The Very Basics Of Lockers
The car salesman just told you that you bought a four-wheel-drive. Think again! Your vehicle most likely only has power to one wheel in the front and one wheel in the rear. At this time, the only vehicles sold with front and rear lockers (locking differentials) are the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and the exclusive Mercedes G-class. Some vehicles have a locker in the rear but no traction-control device up front. Others have limited-slip differentials. Lockers are a major help when it comes to traction on tough terrain. When a vehicle has lockers and they are actuated, power is transferred to all four wheels of the vehicle. The most common limited-slip differential is a clutch type. These limited slips sense the torque difference, generate a pressure that clinches the plates to the disc and inherently forces both axles to work together. This pressure is only generated when one wheel spins faster than the other. This type of limited slip is nonlocking.
Since you are just getting started, there are three main areas of vehicle protection you should consider: the front and rear of the vehicle and the rocker panels. Most so-called off-road vehicles come with plastic bumper fasciae, which is barely capable of meeting the federal crash standards for bumpers at 15 mph. They aren't designed for tough trail conditions. There are literally hundreds of all-steel off-road bumpers available for just about every 4x4 manufactured. They offer greatly increased protection and improve the vehicle's approach and departure angles. Rocker guards help protect the sides of your vehicle below the door and can also be used as a step. The key to a good rocker guard is that it is securely attached to the body and the frame of the vehicle. This bumper from ARB USA (www.arbusa.com) offers far better front-end protection over the factory plastic bumper fascia. The rocker guards are from T &J Performance Center (www.tandjperformance.com).
There is a science behind extreme 4x4 building. Vehicles can be built to climb straight up rock walls and endure extreme trail beating. If you think you may want to get involved in this, the best way to see what works and what doesn't is to attend a trail event or visit a local off-road park. Extreme suspension modifications include things like coilover shocks, custom long-arm suspension links, and plenty of skidplates in all the right places.
Saving Our Trails
As a four-wheel enthusiast, you must use our public lands responsibly. The OHV community has been under attack for a number of years by illogical anti-access groups claiming off-highway vehicles destroy entire ecosystems. When you are four-wheeling on public lands, you must adhere to all rules and regulations. Most of all stay on the trail-there are no exceptions. Every year trails are closed and legislation is passed to regulate even more public land. On the East Coast there is virtually no public land to four-wheel, and anti-access thugs are pushing hard to shut the rest of the country down too. When you're packing your rig, bring a few extra trash bags and pick up litter as you go. Respect nature and recreationists using other modes of transportation.
If you can find the time, please get involved in one of the numerous organizations that fight unreasonable land closures, or that work with government agencies to clean and repair trail systems. The bottom line is that you must be on your best behavior when four-wheeling to preserve the right of future generations to enjoy our public lands. If you would like to help, here are a few associations that can point you in the right direction: United Four Wheel Drive Association (www.ufwda.org), Tread Lightly! (www.treadlightly.org), and Blue Ribbon Coalition (www.sharetrails.org).
If you are going to take your 4x4 off-highway, sooner or later you may wind up stuck or in need of recovering a buddy. The most common recovery tool available is a winch. Because we are gearheads, we like winches for recovery. They are powerful, make cool noises, and serve their purpose. There are three types of winches: hydraulic, power-take-off (PTO), and electric. The drawback to a hydraulic or PTO winch is that your vehicle needs to be running to operate it. An electric winch will work when the vehicle isn't running, but make sure you have a good battery able to handle the draw amperage of the winch. Winching safety should always be a priority. When you are operating the winch, never stand next to the steel cable in case it snaps. Stay inside the vehicle or stand to the side of it.
Keeping the occupants in the vehicle safe at all times is imperative. Every year, enthusiasts are seriously injured because they don't follow some very basic safety precautions. Buckle up. That's the easiest safety step you can take inside a 4x4. Grab handles are also a great way for passengers to brace themselves in their seats and keeps their hands and arms inside the vehicle. A well-built rollcage is the best protection and money well spent. Bolt-in or weld-in cages are available.