6 Rules for Off-Road Upgrade Decision Making

Jul. 25, 2014 By Tom Severin
Do you want to go mild or wild with upgrading your vehicle? Many people will be happy with a few basics upgrades to increase ground clearance and trail traction, while others will only be happy with the best of the best, like the decked-out Mopar Wrangler Maximum Performance.

Help! Iím stuck in an endless circle of indecision. But I am enjoying it. I get to chew over every catalog, every Internet site and every vehicle I see. Maybe the analogy is a stretch, but it feels a bit like dating.

Four wheeling, as a rule, entails frequent changes or improvements to the vehicle and gear. You should understand that your vehicle will evolve as you develop more skills and a better understanding of the type of driving you will be doing.

Newer drivers tend to feel overwhelmed. There are just so many variables to consider. They fret: What modifications should I make? What do I need to get the vehicle ready for off-road driving? These are good questions, and they are best answered when you know more about the type of driving you will be doing, how you will use the vehicle, and then finally who will ride with you.

But first, I want to assure you that these concerns and feelings are natural. All, or nearly all, new drivers go through this stage. Heck, I did. It was many years ago, and it took many years of driving to really understand how best to deck out a new vehicle to fit my needs. If fact, even today, I continue to make minor modifications over the course of a vehicleís lifetime.

As with any hobby, money is an issue. And, yes, you can spend a boatload on your vehicle (both buying and modifying). Keep in mind that it is possible to enjoy this fascinating hobby with a modest budget. There is nothing wrong with keeping your vehicle stock. Most vehicles are pretty darn capable in their stock form. Most of us, however, canít leave it alone and decide to make some modification.

This one rockpile is the only thing in your way to get to the campsite in the picture above. With 35-inch tires and lockers, it would be easy work.

Rule 1
Make a decision and run with it. Too often new drivers get caught up in ďparalysis by analysis,Ē and they never take the first step. You need to assure yourself that youíre going to make a generally sound decision. The vehicle you purchase and the accessories you add to it will allow you to drive under most conditions.

Rule 2
Part of being a newbie four-wheeler is understanding that you donít know much about four-wheeling. On top of that, you donít know what you donít know. And you probably already know you asked 10 people what to do and you now have 11 alternatives. But you know enough ó especially about your current goals ó to at least get started.

Rule 3
Donít be shy about making mistakes. We all do. The best mistakes make good fodder around the camp fire. At some point you will realize that your vehicle is just the way you need it to be. Until then, you will still enjoy countless hours of off-road driving.

Rule 4
Understand that you canít optimize everything, if your budget only allows a gradual build up. In addition, your needs and decisions change with experience which may well cause you to redo an earlier build. The key is to get out on the trails. Remember you can sell that old stuff on eBay!

Rule 5
One of the fundamental rules of four-wheel drive decision making is the more analysis you do the more the solution will seem like a compromise. Donít settle for half-way steps even if it means you do less now. If you wanted 35Ē tires you will never be happy with 33-inch tires even if you can do everything you want with your vehicle on 33s including the Rubicon trail.

What you plan to do impacts your need for modifications if any.

Rule 6
How much will the other decision maker in my family let me spend?

Bottom line: Assume that your vehicle will evolve over time; youíre not capable of making all those decisions right from the start. Assume, too, that you will replace your vehicle at least one time. With the second vehicle youíll be in a much better position to know what you want and the most optimal way to get there within your budget.

How long will this process take? That varies with the person, and depends on how often the person drives and where. You might be driving for year or two before modifying. Or, you may find after just a couple off-road excursions that your vehicle needs further modification. Thatís normal.

This article is a pep talk, not a cookbook. If you have a sure-fire recipe for building up a vehicle and can convince me of that fact, I will publish it! Good luck!

Ok Ė so maybe you can think of some more rules. We ran out of tequila before we got past Rule 6 and things got hazy.

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Badlands Off-Road Adventure
Off-road trainer Tom Severin shares insight and tips on a variety of topics related to preparing you for that next off-road adventure. With over 40 years of off-road experience, Severin operates under his business Badlands Off-Road Adventures. He is a certified professional 4WD Trainer by the International 4-Wheel Drive Trainers Association and a Wilderness First Responder (WFR). He is a member of the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs (CA4WDC), United Four Wheel Drive Associations and the BlueRibbon Coalition. He also is a certified UFWDA and a CA4WDC 4WD instructor.

For more information about Badlands Off-Road Adventures, 4x4training.com.

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