With your new vehicle purchase you may not be flush with cash, so you want to make sure that every modification is a wise one and that your money is well spent. So where do you start?
First and foremost, you want to make sure that before you even leave the pavement, your vehicle is equipped with a proper recovery kit. At the most basic level, your vehicle needs front and rear recovery points, a Hi-Lift jack, a tow strap with closed eye loops, a pair of leather-palmed work gloves and a few load rated shackles or d-rings.
To keep the gear from getting thrown around in the back of your truck, we recommend getting a recovery bag such as those made by ARB. These bags are available in a variety of sizes, but you should get a larger one, as you will add to the kit as your skills and accessories develop.
With a basic recovery kit and a companion vehicle for trail runs, you will find that you can extricate your vehicle from most recovery situations.
Upgrade Your Skills
Suprisingly enough, the first, most significant upgrade is also the least expensive…your driving skills. While many drivers feel that to get the most out of their vehicle they must pour thousands of dollars into outfitting it, the truth of the matter is that in the majority of situations a stock vehicle is much more capable than a stock driver. You should get some seat time in your new vehicle in its stock form. Learn to make the most of its capabilities and you will find that your driving skills will change.
If you’re really serious about upgrading your skills, there are a number of high quality teaching companies available world wide with whom you can further learn the nuances of off-road driving techniques. Within the United States, some of the better institutes are Overland Experts, Overland Training and the “granddaddy” of them all, Bill Burke’s Four Wheeling America.
Protection is Key
Once you can get the most performance out of your vehicle in stock form, then it’s time to begin thinking about modifications. While these recommendations apply specifically to the Land Rover product line, however the same concepts and theories apply regardless of vehicle manufacturer.
For Land Rovers, the first and most important modification that we recommend is vehicle protection. Primary amongst these are diff guards. While relatively strong, the Land Rover differential is incased in a housing that has a very thin metal housing on the front end. Off road, it is easy for a large rock or boulder to hit and bend or puncture this housing. Repairing this type of damage on the trail is not only difficult, but time-consuming as well. We recommend fitting a heavy duty differential guard such as those made by Safari Gard or Rover Tracks.
The other vulnerable part on Land Rovers is the door sills. The long wheel base of vehicles such as the Discovery, Range Rover and Defender 110 make the door sills and the lower door vulnerable to damage from large boulders. The best modification is to install a heavy duty rock slider, such as those made by Slick Rock Fabrication. This modification will easily pay for itself the first time your vehicle gets high centered and the sliders save your vehicle’s doors.
Wheels, Tires and springs
With only a handful of exceptions, most vehicles come from the factory with tires that are biased towards on-road performance and longevity than off-road traction. Many of these tires have soft sidewalls or tread patterns that underperform in challenging off-road conditions.Which tires you change to is largely a matter of preference, as well as what features you are willing to compromise on.
For example, an excellent, moderate off-road tire such as the BFGoodrich All-Terrain makes for a good compromise tire. It provides improved off-road performance with good street manners and excellent tire longevity. For additional off-road performance, you can upgrade to BFG Mud Terrains, Goodyear MT-Rs or even Super Swamper tires. However, in almost all cases, you’ll increase on-highway ride handling, noise and tire longevity.
At the same time, fitting the taller-than-stock OME coils allows for additional down-travel in the suspension IF matching shocks are installed at the same time. Matched OME shocks allow for 2″ of additional down-travel. This means that while suspension droop is increased by 2″, up-travel is also limited by 2″, meaning there is no net gain in suspension travel overall.
Adding this heavy duty suspension will benefit your trucks off-road performance by improving a number of critical angles on the truck.
Protection part 2
To match your vehicle’s newfound capablities, we recommend considering an upgrade to your vehicle’s front bumper. A heavy-duty bull bar will help provide valuable front end protection, increase approach angle, plus provide the option for adding additional off-road accessories like a winch or auxilliary lights down the road.
There is a myriad of options available, but we’re partial to the ARB bumpers (they not only protect but also compliment the lines of most vehicles), and the Safari Gard bumpers. Each has its pros and cons (the ARB is more widely available while the Safari Gard offers a better approach angle) but either choice is a significant upgrade from the stock front bumper.
The next modification that we recommend won’t improve your vehicles handling or performance, but it will make a significant contribution to enjoyability– organization. There are a multitude of ways to organize your vehicle, some of which we’ll get into in future articles, but whatever direction you take, establish a consistent, reliable packing system. This will ensure that you not only remember every item that you need for the trail, but you’ll also be able to find it with ease when you get to your campsite at the end of a long day.
With this handful of simple modifications, your vehicle should now be a much more capable machine, able to handle the harsh trails of the remote back-country. Unfortunately, upgrade choices and direction from here are much less clear and more subjective: Those who prefer to travel alone might consider a winch, while a driver drawn to hard-core four-wheeling may find their money more well spent on lockers and gear.
For whatever you decide to do with your vehicle, following these simple steps will ensure a pleasant, relatively pain free introduction to the world of four-wheeling and overland travel. The end result is a vehicle that can get out there and help you discover the world.