Tires are a tricky equation, as much of what people need out of a tire can be specific to their region or job occupation. If you haul heavy-loads with your double-duty rig, then a Load Range E tire makes sense for you. If the heaviest load your wheeler sees is a cooler and hunting gear, then a lighter Load Range C tire will work just fine. For those fortunate enough to live in an extremely dry climate, we suggest looking into an aggressive all-terrain tire.
The term aggressive all-terrain may sound like an oxymoron, but many of the newer all-terrain varieties have the bulky lugs similar to a mud-terrain with a more staggered tread spacing. All-terrain tires will help keep the noise and rolling resistance down, which equates to better fuel economy and quiet drive. If mud is anywhere near you, buy a radial mud-terrain. Many of the modern radial mud-terrains are extremely quiet and long lasting. Trust us- you don’t want to be the guy that is constantly being winched along the trail because your all-terrain tires can’t bite in the slop.
Best all-around: Radial mud-terrains for those looking to churn up loose dirt and a radial all-terrain for those avoiding the sticky stuff like the plague.
Middle ground: A radial mud-terrain is always a safe bet. There will be more compromise in regards to road noise and tread wear, but the off-road performance will be well worth it. Again, if you wheel in rocks and the desert, an aggressive all-terrain is worth a look.
Budget-friendly: We’ll stick with a radial mud-terrain again as our choice tire. You may not be able to score the high-dollar name-brand version, but even an off-brand mud-terrain will be a better fit for the occasional wheeler than a standard all-terrain.
The modern factory driveshaft as we know it is pretty pathetic. Most stock drivelines are oversized, thinly-walled, and aluminum. All of those features are great for fuel economy and vehicle harmonics, but don’t cut it in rough and rocky terrain. Upgrading to a more durable set aftermarket drivelines from companies like Tom Woods (www.4xshaft.com) and J.E. Reel (www.reeldriveline.com) will not be cheap, but the shafts’ will practically pay for themselves each time you churn them into some off-road obstacle. A driveline upgrade is especially important for longer wheelbase rigs were the drivelines are more susceptible to damage.
Best all-around: Front and rear driveshafts will be money well spent and a more piece of mind over the stock light-duty shafts.
Middle ground: If you don’t want to swing for the matching set of heavy-duty drivelines, at least upgrade the rear. This will keep you from missing work on Monday when your factory ’shaft gets peeled open on a rock over the weekend.
Budget-friendly: When aftermarket drivelines simply are not in the budget, it’s time to take a trip to your local junkyard. You don’t have to carry a crazy amount of spare parts on the trail, but keeping a rear driveline on hand will make those out-of-town wheeling outings a lot less stressful.
Steering is a spot where we often see people skimp out. Don’t do it! There are great steering upgrade options for all makes and models. If turning those 37-inch and up treads is becoming a challenge on- and off-road, then we suggest looking into hydraulic-assist steering. Adding a hydraulic-assist steering cylinder will even-out the steering component load. For vehicles equipped with a traditional steering gearbox this is especially important. We’ve seen plenty of broken gearboxes and sector-shafts on the trail and it is not an easy or cheap fix.
Best all-around: For applicable rigs, hydraulic-assist is a great way to go. This will ease the steering load on your components and reduce the challenge of day-to-day maneuverability. For rigs on the milder side, steering link upgrades or a high-steer system will suffice.
Middle ground: If your rig is equipped with a solid front axle then a high-steer knuckle and heavy-duty steering link setup is a great option. If your rig is IFS then look into heavy-duty link ends. Companies like CST Suspension (www.cstsuspension.com) have bolt-on link upgrade kits for vehicles like the ½- and ¾-ton IFS Chevy trucks and SUVs.
Budget-friendly: Steering upgrades are never dirt cheap, but companies like Rough Country Suspension (www.roughcountry.com) offer inexpensive tie-rod sleeves to create a little extra steering beef.
Gears are one area where you simply cannot afford to cheap out. When you outfit your 4x4 with larger tires, you need gears to compensate. Swapping in a numerically higher gearset, along with your taller tires will place the rpms closer to stock. This reduces the strain on your engine and transmission. Placing your rpm range back within the factory parameters will equate to improved performance and fuel economy. If you happen to have a rather anemic engine, don’t be afraid to go a little higher numerically with your differential gear choice. This will only improve the vehicle control in the dirt and on the street.
Best all-around: Differential gears with a highway-friendly ratio will likely serve you best. Consult your local gear technician and rpm chart to find what gear ratio is right for your rig.
Middle ground: A gearset that is a touch higher (for example, a 5.13 versus a 4.88) will give you more control off-road. The higher numerical gear set may cause the engine to rev more on the freeway, but around town the added torque multiplier will be a bonus.
Budget-friendly: If re-gearing simply isn’t in the cards then we suggest building your rig accordingly. This means limiting the tire size to help maintain the effectiveness of the stock ratios. You will have way more fun with 31s and power on tap, than bogging around on 35s with nothing left to give.