If you ever went camping as a child, a grown-up probably sat you down and told you the golden rule of walking into the wilderness: be prepared. That meant you were careful to bring enough food and water, pack enough clothes, and—most importantly—have a first aid kit in case someone got hurt.
The same is true of wilderness exploration as adults, only it’s not just us we need to worry about getting hurt. It’s our 4x4s. Otherwise, you can enjoy hiking back to civilization and leaving your painstakingly modified ride in the middle of the woods. That’s why knowing how to protect your vehicle on off-roading adventures is essential.
Know How Off-Road Vehicle Damage Happens
In order to prevent danger, you have to know where and how it’s going to happen. Obviously, you can’t know exactly what’s going to happen when you’re out there, but you can keep in mind a few common ways vehicles can get damaged. A few common ways include:
- Wheel misalignment
- Broken shocks or suspension springs
- Damage to undercarriage
- Flat tire(s)
- Broken headlight
- Waterlogged engine
- Body damage (scratches, dents, etc.)
Fortunately, enough drivers and rigs have gone before you, getting bruised and beaten down to teach us ways to protect our vehicles from off-roading damage.
Use the Right Tires
Between slick mud and sharp rocks, your typical all-season tires aren’t going to cut it when you’re off the open road. That’s why you need tires built for off-roading. Tires built for off-roading are bigger, giving you more surface area to grip the ground with different tread patterns depending on the type of tire. For instance:
- All-Terrain Tires: These have open tread with thicker walls and softer rubber for a wide range of uses.
- Snow Tires: These have groves and sipes designed to dig into snow without allowing it to accumulate on tires.
- Mud Tires: These have wide tread blocks with deep gaps between them that allow you better traction in slick conditions.
- Rock Tires: These have tread with reinforced walls to avoid puncturing (similar to mud tires.)
Having the right tires helps keep you from getting stranded and protects the rest of the vehicle from skidding out of control into a dangerous and damaging collision.
Installing a Lift Kit
There’s an unending list of reasons why we might install a suspension lift on a vehicle. It increases our field of vision, allows us to install bigger, better tires, helps us clear bigger obstacles, and makes our truck look like a force to be reckoned with. But suspension lifts also protect your rig’s undercarriage.
Imagine you’re about to roll over an obstacle. You’re positive you’ve got the approach angle to clear it. You go to cross it, only to realize you didn’t consider your breakover angle. Those few inches your lift kit gave you are the difference between making it over and your car’s inside’s getting torn up. Couple that with a suspension upgrade, and your rig will be able to take almost anything.
Don’t Forget Skid Plates
Even the most experienced off-roader isn’t going to make the right call on their breakover angle every time. Off-road skid plates are your insurance for these moments. They help protect your undercarriage from that rock that was just a little bigger than you thought as well as flying road debris you may roll over off-road and on.
Buff Up Your Bumpers
Now it’s time to review the front of off-roading vehicles. How can you prepare your off-roading truck for obstacles that come from the front, like deer running in front of your path? That’s where off-road bumper attachments come in. This can be as simple as a tubular bumper or as a heavy-duty grille guard. Either way, your 4x4 is less likely to get totaled.
But that’s not the only way bumpers protect your vehicle. For jeep owners interested in rock crawling, getting a stinger bumper is essential to keep your jeep from flipping upside down.
Add an Off-Road Snorkel
Much like us, our engines need air to function well. Usually, an engine takes air in through a tube located behind the grill that transports air through the system to the engine. But if you’ve seen the front of a 4x4 after off-roading, you can only imagine what might be sent into your engine.
To remedy this, at some point in history a clever off-roader took the idea of the scuba snorkel and applied it to a 4x4. An off-road snorkel hooks over the air intake tube and feeds air to it from a higher spot. This helps prevent dirt and debris from getting into your engine. And if you’re crossing large bodies of water in your rig, it will help you go deeper than you could otherwise.
Bring Recovery Equipment
Even with all our best efforts, sometimes we just end up in a ditch or stuck in some mud we can’t wheel our way out of. At that point, you can’t undo what happened, but you can get your vehicle out of the scenario to keep it from being damaged further. That’s where recovery equipment comes in.
While you’re buffing up your bumper, take the time to install a winch behind it if possible. Also, keep tow cables, drag chains, a pair of gloves, and a shovel in your vehicle every time you go out.
Don’t Wheel Alone
It would be nice if recovery kits came with an extra person who was always ready to help spot you as you worked to get your vehicle out. But since they don’t, the next best thing is to bring a buddy with you when you go off-roading. A second pair of eyes will help you avoid getting into as many collisions, and a second pair of hands can help you get out of them as quickly as possible.
Build Up Your Driving Skills
Ultimately, the only person who’s going to be able to protect your rig is you. Bad driving causes accidents and leads to people doing things that wear down their vehicle a lot more quickly. Be co-pilot to some more experienced drivers to pick up some skills, practice them yourself. But when you get out there, don’t try to pull off a stunt you don’t think you can pull off.
At Ironman 4x4, we want you to be prepared for whatever comes your way. That’s why we have 4x4 accessories to help protect your rig from any obstacle you might face—whether in the wilderness or on the highway.