15 common mistakes to avoid when modifying your 4WD
The 4WD accessory and modifications industry has never been bigger than it is today. You can get everything from lithium batteries and microwaves to hot water on demand systems, portal axles, 6WD conversions, chassis extensions and everything in between.
Whilst this is great in many ways, it creates a huge opportunity for people to make costly mistakes when it comes to modifying their 4WD, and lots of people lose track of what the essential 4WD modifications actually are. Before you modify anything, have a read of this – 15 things you may not know about your 4WD.
It’s not hard to throw thousands of dollars to build a modified 4WD. The thing is though, are you getting good value for money, or are you just flushing it down the toilet? There’s a heap of common mistakes that are made when adding accessories and modifying 4WD’s in Australia, and in this post we check them out.
Expecting to get your money back
Lets start with a blunt fact. You are not going to get your money back on even the best 4WD accessories and modifications. You may get a percentage of it back, but when it comes to sell your pride and joy you will always think it is worth more than it is. 4WD upgrades might be of use to you, but that value isn’t usually passed on in full to the next owner.
If you understand this, every dollar you spend on your 4WD is pretty much gone, and not coming back. Use this to pick your modifications wisely!
Take a 15k 4WD. If you spend 15k on modifications, do you think its now worth 30k? If you do, I have bad news for you; it’s not. Some modifications do add value, but in this scenario I doubt you’d get more than 18 – 22k for the same vehicle.
Not understanding what you want from your 4WD
There’s a lot of different types of 4WDing. Some people can’t get enough of the hard core mud and rock driving, with others who are happy just to cruise up and down the local beach, and then there’s those who just want to get out and tour this amazing country without finding the hardest lines and pushing their 4WD’s to the limit.
Modifying a 4WD is a compromise in many different ways. You will not get a 4WD that is perfectly reliable, economical, practical and extremely capable off road. It simply does not exist. You can have some of each, but a 4WD that is set up for a particular style of 4WDing will not exceed in others.
My ultimate advice is to really find out what you want from your 4WD, and modify it to meet that criteria. Why would you want to lift your 4WD, put big muddies under it and throw thousands of dollars at other accessories to climb over huge rocks if you just want a reliable 4WD explore Australia with?
Once you are firm in what you want, you can choose the essential 4WD modifications and leave the rest alone, saving you a huge chunk of cash, weight and headache.
Starting with the wrong vehicle
Unfortunately, its common occurrence for someone to purchase a 4WD, and spend a fortune trying to modify it into something it will never be. Even the best 4WD mods will not make your vehicle something that it isn’t.
If you want a vehicle that is set up for serious, hard core 4WD tracks and abuse, then get something that is designed to do this. Don’t buy an independent front suspension vehicle, lift it 4 inches, throw a set of 35’s on it and expect it to last bouncing up and down rocks!
I’m not saying Independent suspension vehicles are rubbish. Quite the contrary – they have the ability to be capable and are much more comfortable than a solid axle vehicle. However, they were never intended for hard core rock work, and nothing you do (asides from a solid axle swap) is going to change this.
Not having an end plan in mind
When you’ve owned your 4WD for a long time, its not hard to clock up the modifications list. You do a few changes here and there, and before you know it, your list of accessories and modifications is longer than you’d like to admit.
I’ll admit, I am guilty of this – I’ve had our 80 series for a number of years now, and as time has progressed the number of modifications has grown astronomically. At the back of my mind I knew we wanted a capable tourer, but I never fully considered what I had to do to make this work.
When you don’t sit down and work out what you want out of your 4WD, you pay for it in a few years time. I added accessories to our 80 series over a number of years, and sat down one day to work out what I’d actually spent, and nearly died.
If you want to know more about it, have a read of this – How much have you spent on your 4WD? A few grand spent each year on mods and accessories soon adds up when you’ve had the 4WD for a a good chunk of time.
We’ve done a fair bit of 4WDing throughout Western Australia. We’ve covered most of the coastline all the way around, and plenty of inland places. Some tracks are close to home, and some many thousands of kilometres away.
I can’t get enough of checking out other people’s 4WD’s as we travel. You know what the irony is? The majority of people who are out there using their 4WD the most do not have a massive list of accessories and modifications. You don’t need lift kits, lockers, power upgrades, huge tyres and every electrical accessory under the sun to get out there and enjoy your 4WD.
I’ve learned that you should have a good reason to modify your 4WD. Don’t add accessories just because everyone else has them; unless you are looking for a way to spend a bit of coin. Modify your 4WD to make it meet your requirements. If its not capable enough, by all means look at lockers and bigger tyres, but if you aren’t having any issues with your 4WD why change it?
You can spend a fortune over modifying, when that money could be put towards an amazing trip, like the 5 weeks we spent in the Kimberley!
Look for improvements in comfort, capability, reliability and functionality.
Not considering the legalities
You have a responsibility to drive a 4WD on the road that complies with the local regulations. It’s not just an ethical requirement, but the law states your vehicle needs to be roadworthy. Would you believe me if I told you a large percentage of 4WD’s on the road are not legal?
You probably wouldn’t, and that’s because there’s not enough information passed around. If your vehicle has bigger than 50mm tyres, or the roof has gone up by more than 50mm (by way of tyres, suspension or body lifts), it is not legal without an engineering certificate in Western Australia.
If you are towing a heavy caravan, there’s a good change your combination will be overloaded, purely because of Dodgy 4WD tow rating marketing tactics and again, a lack of information.
I wrote a simple towing guide some time ago (Towing Capacity) that covers the 7 components that you need to be under in terms of weight, which confuses everyone. The guide can be easily followed and understood, and you’ll be surprised at the results
So, what does it really mean? Put simply, there’s a whole range of really nasty risks that you are taking by driving a 4WD that is not legal on the road. Want to know more? Find out if your 4WD is legal.
There’s 32 ways to make your 4WD illegal, and the consequences can be life altering should something go wrong.
Modifying for looks over practicality
Whilst a 4WD with a massive lift and huge tyres looks really cool, its often not practical. You’ll use more fuel, have a much higher centre of gravity and more than likely have worse handling. There’s nothing wrong with adding a bit of bling to your 4WD to make it look good, but I would suggest accessories and modifications should be added for practical improvements.
At the end of the day, you need to use your 4WD, and to me, that’s way more important than how it looks.
Not researching enough
There’s more information online today than ever before. Unless you are going for a very unique modification or accessory, you will find model specific advice about just about anything on the internet. Sometimes it takes a bit more searching, but I guarantee it will pay off.
Before you fit the bigger tyres, have you made sure that you are buying the right offset rims to ensure the tyres stick within the guards, and aren’t going to scrub? Before you add the lift kit, have you thought about your brake lines, and the adjustments required to differential angles and brake bias proportioning valves?
If you don’t take the time to research before adding accessories to your 4WD, there’s a good change it will bite you in the rear. Consider everything; do a brand comparison, look for owners who have the modification you want and see what they think, shop around for prices and in general just take your time. Do it once, and do it right.
Not considering the weight
Another part of 4WD modifications and accessories that people don’t know enough about is weights. Your 4WD cannot carry every 4WD accessory under the sun along with your camping and recovery gear without being overloaded and totally illegal.
Find out your payload, and then add up everything on your 4WD that has weight to it. Lets look at a typical example:
Bull bar, second battery, winch, sidesteps, roof rack, cargo barrier, rear drawer system, fridge with food, 40L of water, clothes, spare parts and tools, UHF radio and lighting, recovery gear, portable electronics, cooking equipment, tent, camping chairs and table, 3 adult passengers and 40L of extra fuel. Total weight of around 750kg, and you can guarantee most people carry more than this. Pay loads vary from about 550kg to 1100kg in 4WD’s, and if you are towing something you need to take off the tow ball weight too.
It’s extremely easy to go over your pay load, which in turn puts your 4WD at more risk of breaking, and deems your 4WD illegal.
Want to know more? Have a look at this blog post – Is your 4WD overweight?
Letting the bug bite too hard
The 4WDing bug will bite you, and hard. You’ll want to do all sorts to your vehicle, but remember to take the time to stop and really think about why you are doing it. Don’t get caught up adding every accessory under the sun without quality, justifiable reasons for doing so. You will regret it if you let the 4WD bug bite you too hard!
Buying in the wrong order
There is a certain order that you should modify your 4WD. Some things don’t matter, but there are a number of items that should be added before others.
The most obvious one is your suspension. Please, don’t get a nice new suspension package before you consider the weight of your vehicle now, and in the future. So many people do this, and after they install a bull bar, winch, rear bar, drawer system, long range fuel tank, second spare tyre etc etc find their springs have sagged.
Suspension should be added only when you know how much weight your 4WD is going to carry, as it needs to be matched to this. Get it wrong, and your springs will sag, or you will have a terrible ride. Nothing is more off putting than a 4WD with a poor ride.
Likewise, spending money on engine modifications before you’ve upgraded your exhaust is a bad idea.
Take the time to add your accessories and modifications in the correct order and you will save a bucket load of money, time and hassle.
Not considering the downsides of 4WD modifications
Every accessory and modification you add to your 4WD comes with a number of downsides too. Everyone gets caught up with all the benefits, and totally forgets to think about what it may do to your vehicle that you won’t like. Ever wondered why when something breaks on your 4WD, more often than not it has to do with something you’ve changed? There’s a reason for this!
Just a brief example; everyone wants to fit bigger tyres to their 4WD. You get more flotation, better traction and more clearance. What’s the catch though? You lose power, use more fuel, have speedo and odometer errors, cannot idle as slowly anymore, put more stress on your driveline, increase the center of gravity and the list goes on.
I won’t go into much more than that here, but this post does – The downsides of 4WD accessories and modifications.
Buying poor quality gear
We’ve become quite the disposable society. When something breaks, you chuck it and buy another one, accepting that it probably won’t last very long before you have to replace it again. Don’t fall into this category; buy quality gear that lasts, and your pocket will thank you.
There’s been a huge flood of cheap and poor quality gear to the 4WD market. In almost every case, if it seems cheap, there’s a reason for it. Compare it to the reputable brands, and then look for quality differences. Sometimes the cheaper price comes from a lack of quality assurance, meaning some people get reasonable quality gear whilst others get absolute lemons.
When you are out in the middle of no where, you want gear that you can depend on. Do your research, and you will find very quickly that sometimes that cheap winch or recovery kit you’ve been eyeing off is not a good decision (from both a financial and safety perspective!). Things like solar panels have the ability to get you badly ripped off especially on eBay. Have a read of this – eBay solar panels; how to avoid getting ripped off.
Not setting a budget
Again, I fell for this one, big time. A few grand spent here, and a few grand spent there, and you end up with a build over a couple of years that has cost an absolute fortune. 4WD’s are not cheap. They are not cheap to own, to insure, to rego, to repair and most definitely to modify.
Sit down and think about how much you want to spend on your 4WD, or you may find in a few years time that you’ve spent way more than you intended to.
I recommend you think about how much of Australia you could explore with the money you spend on every accessory. Is it better to have a decked out 4WD, or a heap of memories of amazing places you’ve been to with friends and family?
Not considering the snowball effect
I’ve discovered many times that when you add a 4WD accessory, it results in needing to add something else. Sometimes this is predictable, and other times its less simple to foresee.
If you are adding more weight, there’s a good chance you will need to adjust the suspension setup. Once you fit bigger tyres, and add more weight, you lose power and then want to do engine modifications to get the power and fuel economy back.
There’s no point having a dual battery system if you can’t charge the batteries other than driving your vehicle; out comes a solar system, dual battery isolator or BCDC charger. What ever you want to modify, have a think about how this is going to change what you need in the future.
Every modification has the potential for wanting to do something else, and if you don’t think about it, you can waste a lot of money.
Take your time when it comes to modifying a 4WD. Think, research and compare as much as you can. Ultimately, the 4WD is built to serve you; set it up in a way where it does this perfectly. Don’t worry about what others do to their 4WD’s, or what they think of yours. If it suits your needs, its the perfect 4WD.
I know I’ve made a number of these mistakes in the past, and I am sure plenty of you have too. Let me know below what you’ve done and regretted, along with anything that I may have missed!
See you out there
Cheers for the comment, and the insights. Some things have to be done to be learnt from!
I like the sound of the Pajero; our family grew up with Pajero’s and we would have had one that was the same shape for most of my early childhood. Lots of good memories!
All the best
Yep, I know about the 4wd bug. I bought an NC Pajero in 1989, and first thing I did was go out and get the traditional extractors and bigger exhaust fitted. This did nothing worthwhile that suited my needs, but I went on to fit an ARB air locker which was a far more useful thing. But lesson learned, I resisted the urge to add further excrescences and so the bug was cured.
Since then very little accessorising has been done. I still have the ‘85 Pajero but it is now a pampered classic vehicle on club rego that I just ponce around in to show it off. So glad I kept it almost stock and tidy as I watch it escalate in value.
Btw, this is a good site with lots of useful and wise information.
I’ve not dabbled too much into the chip/remapping side of things especially on petrol vehicles (not sure if you can remap that motors ECU?), but Unichip has a solid reputation and I would have no problems recommending them.
All the best
Great article. Agreed easy to go overboard and end up spending on things you don’t necessarily need.
Have you looked into/done any engine mods like adding performance chips such as the Unichip to add power/improve economy, etc? Am considering doing to my 100 series V8 petrol landcruiser and interested in any opinions/thoughts you may have.