Perhaps you purchased the best 4WD vehicle you could afford, and the plan is to modify it as finances permit. Or perhaps you didn’t anticipate how fiercely the off-road bug would catch and the vehicle you thought would suffice suddenly doesn’t live up to your ambitions. Whatever the motivation, there are plenty of ways to beef up your rig for hardcore off-road missions.
Venturing into the world of off-road mods is best done with a clear idea of what you’re modifying your vehicle to do. Jacking up clearance and slapping on aggressive mud-terrain tyres will make for a lousy outback overlander, just as a dual battery system and long-distance fuel tank might be overkill for a day-tripping rock crawler. While it may be tempting to splash out on a heavy steel bull-dozing-bar to frighten hatchback drivers in peak-hour traffic, all that weight on the front may throw out the responsiveness of steering so that the ride becomes less enjoyable than before. Remember that each modification can affect other components of your vehicle and there are strict limitations on what is and isn’t legal. To avoid doing any damage it’s often best to have them fitted by a pro.
Ultimately, the purpose of making any modification to a vehicle is to improve some useful aspect. If the off-road advantages are outweighed by a decrease in on-road safety, day-to-day practicality or just plain old common sense, then it’s time to question whether it’s worth the effort.
Snorkels are one of the most common 4WD upgrades and are useful on just about any kind of rig. A snorkel moves a vehicle’s air intake from below the bonnet up to the roofline. The obvious benefit to this being that it allows the vehicle to tackle deep water crossings by preventing low-lying water from being sucked in and destroying the engine.
However, raising the air intake doesn’t just help in wet conditions, it also lets the engine take in cleaner air on dusty roads, where lower intakes can end up sucking in a lot more particulate matter kicked up from the surface. Additionally, forward-facing snorkels can improve performance for older naturally aspirated engines by helping to force air through as you drive.
Four-wheel drive owners might fit a lift kit to increase the amount of clearance beneath their vehicle. This is primarily done by raising suspension height, which in turn allows for the fitting of larger tyres.
If you’re considering a lift, be sure that the system is correctly engineered for your vehicle and we recommend having it professionally installed. Lifting a vehicle not only effects its centre of gravity and handling, it can also have adverse effects on drivelines and lead to a domino effect of component failures.
There are also a lot of legal issues surrounding lifts, and the police won’t hesitate to defect any vehicle which poses a safety risk as a result of excessive lift – not to mention that illegal mods will void any insurance claims. The rules vary from state to state, but in QLD, Vic and NSW vehicles fitted with ESC cannot be lifted more than a total of 75 millimetres (this accounts for a 50-millimetre suspension lift accompanied a 50-millimetre tyre radius increase). More lift is possible but will need to be undertaken with an engineering certificate. Older vehicles that aren’t equipped with ESC may be subject to different standards.
Dual Battery Systems
A dual battery system is a great addition for anyone who plans on camping with their vehicle, as they allow you to run fridges, lighting and other electronics without draining your started battery. There are a few different setups, but generally the system will include a second battery, usually deep cycle, that’s used to power accessories. A battery isolator will make sure accessories only draw from the second battery, so there’s always a bit of juice left in the starter battery, then it’ll connect them back up again when the alternator kicks in so that both receive charge.