The number of 4x4 Accessories on the market today is simply astounding. Let’s face it; a factory standard car will not go very far, which is where the modifications come in. Modifying your car can be great fun, and highly rewarding, but it can also be expensive and a total nightmare if you go about it the wrong way. This is just an introduction to the subject, and I will try to go into specific 4x4 Accessories in future posts. The idea of modifying your car is simple; it is to make the car stronger, more reliable, better off-road, more comfortable, better looking, easier to use and most often a combination of several of these. There are hundreds of modifications which help to achieve these possibilities. If you didn't already know, you can usually get most of your 4x4 Accessories for cheaper if you look online. eBay is a great place to look for everything from Recovery Gear to spotlights, fridges, roof racks and more.
Make a Plan
The most common mistake that people make when modifying a four wheel drive is to go and do it quickly, without the proper research that is required. Everything fits together on a vehicle to make it function properly, and if you don’t consider the bigger picture before you buy the modifications, you will end up doing them again, and costing yourself a huge amount of extra money. For example, many people will go and get a few inch lift kit and throw it on. They will then go and get a bulbar, rear bar, sidesteps, roof rack, drawers and a rear bar with twin tyre carriers, only to find with all of the extra weight the bigger tyres that they wanted to fit don’t fit! The process then involves pulling out a few grand worth of suspension modifications, buying new ones (the correct ones this time hopefully) and then trying to sell the old ones to someone who doesn’t know how long they have been used for.
One thing you learn very early on in four wheel driving is that you never, ever recover your money when selling a car with modifications on, and the same applies to second hand modifications that you want to sell. This is an important point though, because purchasing second hand 4x4 accessories is a real bargain. More importantly than wasting money as above is the legalities involved. The number of people that throw huge lifts and big tyres on without considering whether they are legal or not is amazing. What usually happens is the police pull them over, and give them a yellow sticker. This means that the problems need to be fixed, and the most common way to do this is to pull them off and start again. This is costly, especially if you do it several times.
It is vital that you read up on the laws in your particular state, because that will give you a good idea of what you are allowed to do, and what you can’t do. If you want to do anything outside of that, then you can seek the help of an engineer, to get your car approved. Be aware that this can be a very costly option, but it’s cheaper than having to pull everything off and then see an engineer from scratch again. The laws in each state may not be very easy to understand, and often contradicting of each other. In that case, see an engineer for qualification that what you are doing is not illegal!
Types of 4x4 Accessories:
Bar work is a vital part of building up a capable and safe four wheel drive. This includes a bull bar, sidesteps, rear bar and roof racks. The roof racks are helpful for carrying lightweight bulky things on top of your car, but are not as important, depending on what you are doing. A bull bar provides protection to the front of your car in case of a collision and can also house 4x4 Winches if you are planning any serious or remote four wheel driving. One of the most common brands of bull bars sold in Australia is the ARB Bumpers. Sidesteps or Rock Sliders are helpful to get into a car, as well as protecting the sills of a vehicle. If these are dented in from a rock or stick then often the doors won’t shut, and it is expensive to repair. A rear bar provides protection for the rear of the car, and distributes the towing load across the chassis. They are also required for tyre carriers, which swing out for you to access the doors at the rear of the car. They are great because you can comfortably carry two spares, which is important in remote trips.
If you wanted to hold other things on the back, shovels, jerry cans, recovery equipment, Max Trax and various other bits and pieces are a good option. An actual tyre carrier moves the tyre out from under the car or off the back door, making them more accessible, better fitted and even better looking.
4x4 Suspension upgrades
The suspension that comes with a new car is generally fairly small and not overly high quality. What I mean by this is that its fine usually for on road use, but on heavy corrugations and for serious four wheel driving it just doesn’t cut it. The shocks especially will heat up and simply die. There are a few different types of suspension, which will determine what you can do with it, but you can lift any four wheel drive a few inches without much trouble at all. This can be done by putting body blocks in between the chassis and the body (called a body lift) and hence raising the body from the chassis. This means that you can run larger tyres without them scrubbing on your car body. The advantage of a body lift is that you are only lifting the body, and not the whole chassis (keeps your weight down), and in the case of really large lifts it’s better to have a shorter coil or spring (generally). Usually suspension modifications should be done once you have added all of the weight to your car, so you can get the right kit that suits your needs. This includes the entire bar work, drawers, roof top tents, water containers, rear tyre carriers etc.
Suspension upgrades include running heavier duty equipment, which can put up with the torture of rough roads and make your ride comfortable at the same time. You can get all types of suspension; soft and flexible, harder for load carrying or a compromise between both. You are even able to buy airbags, which you can pump up when you load up a vehicle. This is especially useful when you are towing, because the rear of the vehicle wants to sag down. Airbags will even the sagging. What you need to realize when you lift a vehicle though is that the centre of gravity increases, meaning it is more prone to rolling. To counter this, you can get wider tyres and more offset rims, but you need to bear gravity in mind when you go off-road!
4x4 Interior modifications
There is nothing worse than driving in a capable car if it’s uncomfortable inside. Many serious tourers and four wheel drivers opt to get rid of the stock seats and get something more comfortable. After all, if you are going to be spending several hours in it each day then you may as well be comfortable. Other modifications include GPS systems to track where you have been and where you are going, CB radios, overhead consoles, temperature gauges and other gauges, fridges, drawers and cargo barriers. A UHF Radio is important to get in contact with others, in case anything goes wrong and when you are travelling in a convoy. You may need two different antennas (one for hilly country and one for flat country) if you are serious about your four wheel driving. In today’s modern age, a satellite phone should also be carried, for the extra safety. Overhead Consoles provide space to fit the CB radio, as well as extra lights and storage space.
A well equipped four wheel drive will have a number of extra gauges inside to keep an eye on everything that the car is doing. These range from turbo boost gauges through to engine temperature, exhaust gas monitors, tachometers and anything else that your car might need. These might seem unnecessary, but when you have a nice car you want to look after it, and knowing when something isn’t quite right early on can save you a heap of money. Many people get drawers fitted to the rear of their vehicle. This allows for a separate storage area, where you can safely keep recovery gear, camping gear or anything else that you need. Instead of throwing everything on top of each other, you have some sort of organization through separation.
Today, one of the luxuries of a four wheel drive can be a decent sized fridge or Ice Chest. You can purchase a fridge for under a thousand dollars, and they run off the car’s batteries. This allows you to take milk, meat and even drinks for a long period of time when you go to a remote location. A cargo barrier stops anything from falling on the passengers of the vehicle when you are four wheel driving, which is common on rough terrain. Interior modifications on a 4x4 are just as important as the exterior ones, both from a safety and comfort point of view.
4x4 Tyre Modifications
Most 4x4 Tyres that come when you purchase it new are designed primarily for use on the road. As a result, when you take them off-road, they perform miserably and get damaged quickly (with the exception of sand). This explains why most four wheel drive modification lists include new tyres and even rims if you need them. The most popular tyre for 4x4 is an all terrain, because it is a compromise between a really aggressive tyre and a road tyre. They are good in every situation, but a choice that is right between a muddy and a slick. They are not as noisy as a full born mud terrain either.
Alternatively, if you want to do a lot of rock and mud work, you can purchase a very aggressive tyre. Most of the really aggressive tyres are not road legal, but there are many that are relatively aggressive, including the Maxxis Bighorn. They are a great tyre; cheap, long lasting, strong and good looking. Some of the top brands for 4x4 tyres include BFG Goodrich, Maxxis, Cooper, Mickey Thompson, Simex and Goodyear.
The next important step is the type of rim that you are running with your 4x4 tyre. You have a choice between Aluminium and Steel, and then the size of the rim as well as the offset. Aluminium rims tend to look nicer, but they cost a lot and are not generally as strong. Also, in the bush they are almost impossible to repair. Steel rims are extremely cheap, strong and durable, and even if they get dented you can just hit them back into place. On the other hand, they don’t look as good and they are much heavier than aluminium. The offset refers to how far the rims stick out from the diffs. This is altered by moving the centre of the rim one way or the other. A negative offset means that they stick out further, whilst a positive offset means that they are further inwards. If you are lifting your vehicle, it’s a good idea to look for highly negative offset rims, as this will counter act the higher centre of gravity. Something I highly recommend that all four wheel drives carry is Tire Deflators and a Car Air Compressor.
Engine Modifications for your 4wd
This part of 4x4 Accessories includes turbo's, superchargers, intercoolers, gas conversions, electronic chips, exhaust modifications, fuel injection and carburettor modifications and a heap more. Today, the average four wheel drive that comes out off the shelf has more than enough power, but as it says ‘bigger is better!’ Surprisingly, there are only a few times when you actually need the power when four wheel driving; in sand dunes and deep mud puddles. I have a 2.4 litre Hilux which is not very powerful, yet it goes almost anywhere; you just need a bit more patience! In saying that, if you are towing anything at all, having a powerful vehicle is something that is needed, otherwise you use a heap of fuel and end up holding traffic up.
Turbo's and supercharges work in a similar fashion to each other, and are practically bolt on power. Most four wheel drives tend to go with a turbo, because it is simpler. These allow for more power in the higher revs, whilst a supercharger will have power right from idling. Fitting a gas conversion to a diesel will often increase the power available, as will different electronic chips in all types of electronic injected motors. These simply adjust the electronics, and allow fuel to be injected at different times and different amounts; hence increasing the power and usually the economy too!
Standard Exhausts from the factory are small, to ensure that the four wheel drives are cheap to make and quiet. What most people don’t realize however is that they restrict air flow, and hence reduce the potential power that you can have. By fitting extractors and a larger diameter exhaust (right from the engine to exit) you can gain an incredible amount of power.
Other 4x4 Accessories:
Spotlights are a great modification for those who do a lot of night driving. When it comes to a really dark night, even the newer car’s high beams simply don’t cut it. With the great spotlights that are available today, you would be silly to risk driving many hours at night without a decent set of spotlights. They help to show where the road is going, and any wildlife which strays onto the road. Dual Battery systems are required to run fridges and other electronics in your car, and they provide a backup if your main battery dies. Snorkels are another great modification. They simply allow for air from higher up to flow into the engine, rather than air that is lower to the ground and possibly dirty. They are also very handy when you cross through water, because it can’t get sucked into the engine as easily. A Long Range Fuel Tank is worth fitting as they will save you a lot of money when traveling long distances.
Difflocks are especially important for serious four wheel driving, as they help to provide good quality traction. A standard four wheel drive will equally spread the power to all four wheels, but more power will go to the wheels that have less traction. What this means is that if a wheel comes off the ground, that will spin a lot and the one on the same axle won’t even turn. If you have two wheels off on a diagonal across the car, then you are basically stuck. When you accelerate, both wheels off the ground will spin and you won’t go anywhere. A difflock simply locks the diff, meaning that both wheels on the same diff get the same amount of power, and have to turn at the same rate. You can get all different kinds of difflocks, and limited slip differentials do the same thing, just usually less effectively.
Roof top tents are a great way to sleep at low cost. They are easy to set up, warm, completely waterproof and more than roomy enough. There are a huge range of these on the market, and they have potential to be a great investment if you get a good one. The only downside however, is that they weigh a good 60kg, and they sit on your roof. If you imagine carrying a 10kg bag on top of your head, you would know how much stability you lose. In saying that, you just need to know your vehicles limits and never put it on too much of a side angle!
Would you believe it if I said that you can actually have a hot shower, miles from anywhere with a decently modified 4x4? You simply run a heat exchanger through the motor of your car, and when the engine is running it will warm up water, which you shower with. This is just one of many small things that you can do with your car which will keep you and your family clean and happy! Electric blankets are also possible, along with a huge range of other luxuries! If you have a Ute, a great modification is to put a canopy on it. This can be set up so you can open it from both sides, drawers, a tent on top or just a safe place to store your gear. Many people like to set up tables that fold out from their cars to cook on quickly and easily. Awnings are also popular; basically a small tarp that folds out off your car, to keep you protected from the weather.
There are literally thousands and thousands of dollars that can be spent on 4x4 Accessories. What is most important is that you consider what you are doing before you do it, and take things carefully and slowly. With a little bit of work done by yourself, along with some carefully purchased items you can have a comfortable, capable, good looking and legal 4x4 to enjoy exploring with.