Whether you call it a tourer, expedition or overland vehicle, the main reason you are building your 4×4 tough is to get to places a car simply cannot. There are millions of things you can do to modify your 4wd to make it more capable, but where do you start?
While I’m sure every red blooded male thinks he needs a 5 inch lift, 35 inch mud tyres and enough bar work to rival a comp truck to be capable but is bigger really better? Of course not! Well that’s what she tells me anyway. The reality is you need to draw the line somewhere when you build a tough 4×4. This is where the logical world of being a dad comes into play; as much as I want to build a comp truck style rig, it’s just not going to be practical for our family adventures.
Build a tough 4×4 tourer
The first thing you need to do is work out what you actually intend on doing with your tourer. We all have big plans to run our own expedition, taking on all of the tough tracks to the tip of Cape York and even overlanding through the mighty Simpson Desert. However most people aren’t going to be able to build their rig to do this level straight away. So be realistic, if you are going to explore one of your local National Parks or just wanting to get on the beach to find an exclusive camping spot – build your rig for that.
Make your decisions with your ideal dream trip in mind while being realistic with your weekend trips. I absolutely need a long range fuel tank for my Simmo trip, but I definitely don’t need it for my weekend camping getaways. Be logical and spend the money on something that will be useful to you straight away; like a decent set of tyres or whatever it might be for your weekend adventures.
The first changes – essential accessories
Stage one will have all the support gear that you need, but the look of your 4wd doesn’t really change.
Get yourself a good set of seat covers (canvas or neoprene) and full fitting floor mats to catch all the sand, mud and other crap. Spending big dollars on this sucks and while you are never going to be standing around the camp fire bragging about how good your seat covers are, it’s better than trying to scrub mud out of seats or vacuum sand out of the carpet.
Are you going to need draws? Are you going to carry all of your gear on a roof rack? Whatever you are going to do will depend on where you are going and how long you will be gone for. Get all your gear together and work out where it is going to go.
Tip: Ensure you think about making the stuff you need all the time easily accessible, like the beer fridge.
What we’ve done: We have a heap of kids which means we carry a lot of gear, so for us it’s towing a camper trailer.
12 Volt gear
Communication: get a good UHF radio (at this point you probably don’t need that satellite phone).
Auxiliary lights: you might not need 6 spotlights or a huge LED light bar across the roof but some form of extra light will come in handy for night driving. Start thinking about lighting and what other 12 volt gear you are going to want to run at camp.
What we’ve done: We have opted for a couple of different sized STEDI LED lights as they are value for money and are good quality lights.
Don’t go bush without it. Get some recovery boards, straps, a jack, anything – just don’t go unprepared with nothing. The most important thing you will need is rated recovery points.
You will never be finished building your recovery kit as there is always new and better gear being made. Just make sure you have some 4×4 recovery gear and know how to use it safely.
What we carry: We always have a set of TRED’s, tree trunk protector, winch dampener, snatch block and rated shackles as a minimum.
This is the first thing you need when you start to take on the tough stuff; all the flashest shiny parts in the world won’t help you if you drop onto a rock and crack your engine sump. Look for good quality plates with a minimum thickness of 3mm with folds and extra support for strength.
Don’t skimp on protection, get a full set of plates that cover from your radiator to the transfer case, the more protection the better.
We use: Brown Davis UG2 plates.
Make it mean – big, tough & capable
Stage 2 is where the look of your off road 4×4 will start to take shape and go from being a soccer mum SUV to a big tough tourer.
While the man in me says get 35″ muddies, be realistic! If you are going to be doing a lot more highway kilometres than taking on extreme tracks, maybe a set of 32″ all terrains might be the better option. A good set of tyres with the right line selection on the tracks will take you a lot further than you think.
To put it into perspective 35’s over 32’s will increase your rigs clearance by 35mm and will normally be about 50mm wider. Sometimes this is all you need for the obstacle but the trade off is that you will use more fuel to keep those big tyres turning. Think function and practicality when choosing tyres.
What we’ve done: We are currently running a 33″ mud tyre however it’s time to put my tail between my legs and go back down a size to 32″ all terrains.
You will need something to be able to handle all the extra weight that you have added (or are going to add) to your 4wd. Think about what you are going to do bar work wise as well, it’s important to get the right load ratings for your springs to get a good comfortable ride (any suspension shop will be able to tell you what rating you need).
As you are getting new suspension you may as well go higher! 2″ lift = little work, no major changes, no dramas.
3″+ lift = you need to start looking at diff drops, upper control arms / radius arms depending on the vehicle, extended brake lines, etc. This means more work and more money but if you do it properly from the start you will have no dramas.
Just work out what you want to do with your rig and go from there.
What we use: Dobinson’s Pro Series suspension with heavy duty springs.
Protect your sills, invest in a good set of solid side steps or rock sliders. Don’t waste your time on an Alloy bullbar, get yourself a steel bullbar as it offers better protection and more strength however it is heavier. A bullbar will also create a better approach angle and a solid place to mount a winch. Decide if you want rear protection; most rear bars offer the ability to tow and carry fuel cans, spare wheels, etc.
What we’ve done: We use an Ironman 4×4 steel bullbar.
Consider all the places you may potentially go; for those deep river crossings a snorkel is a must have. It also gives you the benefit of cleaner air as it’s up higher and offers an increased air flow. A catch can will minimise the amount of oil going back through the intake and will reduce the amount of carbon build up in your turbo diesel.
We use: TJM Airtec snorkel because it is great quality and I got a deal too good to refuse.
Long range gear
Think about all the gear that will keep you in the bush longer; a long range fuel tank, dual batteries set up, etc.
We use: We are not currently at this stage but we will update the list as we add and you can see a full list of our Toyota Fortuner modifications.
The end is near
Whatever it was that you thought you absolutely needed at the start of the build, whether it is that awesome 50″ LED light bar or a HF radio; now is the time to go and get it!
In order to still get out and enjoy your 4×4 while it’s being built, this order (or similar) is the most practical. It’s not until you get to the end of your build list that you will realise that the list never ends. You will be happy with your 4wd but there is always something else that you will find to do to it.
The best advice I can give you is to do everything the right way the first time. Be realistic about what it will actually be used for and build it to that. Get off-road, go explore something, find your slice of paradise and go make some memories.
What tips would you add to build a tough 4×4?
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