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How to Build Multipurpose Vehicle

Front Side Low Offroad
Craig Perronne
| Brand Manager, Dirt Sports & Off Road
Posted October 1, 1999
Photographers: 4WOR Staff

We'll Tell You What You Need--and Don't--From Tires to the Best Rigs

The goal: One vehicle that can do everything from commuting to work to tackling a tough trail.


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  • Selecting the right vehicle for your needs is one of the most important steps in building a multipurpose vehicle. If you do not need passenger-carrying ability, then you really can’t go wrong with the utility of a fullsize truck. With a few modifications, it can work great on the trail, be reliable, and still haul plenty of cargo.

  • Lockers, lockers, lockers. We keep pounding into your brain that you must have one if out on the trails. Have you ever commuted to work with a locker clunking and clanging under your rig? A locker that can be turned off, such as this ARB Air Locker, will make a much better choice for a vehicle that puts a lot of pavement under its tires. If moderate trails are more your flavor, then a limited-slip will work fine.

  • Selecting the right gear ratio is also important for a multipurpose trail rig. The challenge is to find a gear ratio that has enough grunt and gear reduction off road without creating excessive revs on the highway.

  • Keep your engine close to stock if it is not in need of a rebuild. This will make it more reliable and eliminate the need for beefing up other drivetrain components. Look for power gains through the use of a less restrictive exhaust, air intake, and other modifications that won’t affect reliability. Remember, this engine has to take you to work!

  • Tire choice is also critical for a multipurpose trail rig. Stay away from very aggressive mud tires such as Boggers and Swampers. While these tires work great off road, they ride rough and wear out quickly on the pavement. A good all-terrain is a much saner choice and will still perform OK.

  • If you absolutely believe that you must run a mud tire, then use a more mild radial design from a major tire manufacturer, such as this Goodyear Wrangler mud-terrain. These tires perform well off road but still offer good highway manners. Also remember to keep tire size moderate.

  • While heavy-duty manual transmissions such as the NV4500 work great on the trail, their long throws and heavy clutches can make them less than ideal on the street, especially in stop-and-go driving. A good automatic transmission would be a better choice for general off-road use and street driving.

  • Downsized sport-utility vehicles make great multipurpose rigs: They can haul cargo and passengers and still get decent gas mileage. This Jeep Cherokee, with its 3-1/2-inch lift, 31-inch tires, and 3.73 gears, is a great example of a vehicle that can be driven daily and still offer fun on the trails.

  • Suspension lifts should be kept on the mild side. Avoiding custom suspension work and large amounts of lift will keep your means of transportation more streetworthy and reliable. Long-travel suspensions should also be avoided--they are known for body roll and mushy on-road ride.

  • Jeeps can be made into great all-around trail vehicles. Their small size, while a plus off-road, make them somewhat of a drawback for use as a multipurpose vehicle, since not a lot of cargo or passengers will fit in them.

Let's face it: Not all of us have enough funds to have a vehicle lying around strictly devoted to trail use. Once you go through the expense of building a trail rig, you still have to buy a trailer for it and then a tow rig to haul everything. The expenses can quickly add up. Besides, even if a small budget is not the problem, some of us just want a vehicle that can tackle a variety of tasks and trails.

Now that we have you thinking about the one-vehicle option, we must inform you that building a functional multipurpose rig is a lot harder than you might think. While other people have the luxury of building a vehicle for a specific task, the multipurpose builder has to design a vehicle that can perform well over a variety of terrain and still be reliable and roadworthy enough to get to work the next day.

What is the key to success in building a multi-purpose vehicle? Probably one of the most important steps is to determine what you are really going to use the vehicle for. Do you have a long or a short commute to work? Are you going to haul more cargo than passengers? What kind of trails do you go on? Questions like these must be answered in an honest manner if you are to wind up with a truly useful vehicle. The following pages are filled with plenty of other tips and ideas that you can use in your quest to build a do-all vehicle.