When the time comes for you to invest in that new truck to use for part-time off-roading, do you know what to look for?
Based on the claims that the salesmen and advertisements make, [insert brand and model here] truck can do it all and is better than all the other trucks out there.
In truth, most of that is a sales pitch that’s not going to help you when you put your truck through its paces out on the off-road trails.
Sure, any truck with 4WD can do more than its 2WD brother, but is it going to do exactly what you want?
Learn about the things that make any truck good for off-roading so you can judge for yourself!
1. Tires and Wheels
A nice set of all-terrain tires that can handle dry roads, mud, snow, and rocks is a given if you want to spend some time off-road with your new truck or Jeep.
Today’s 4WD trucks typically come with a decent set of A/T tires, but you can always upgrade those easily if you want keeping in mind that the bigger the tire and the more rugged the tread, usually the better the traction.
When you start tackling more challenging obstacles, it will eventually become time to invest in a set of specific off-road tires designed to handle whatever you like to do most, whether that’s rock crawling, mudding, sand dune driving, or something else.
2. Transmissions and Differentials
What’s more important than just the tires is the type of 4WD the truck has since not all 4WD transmissions are created equal.
You may find trucks with all-wheel drive/AWL and various types of 4WD, with and without locking differentials and that’s what you have to consider.
While AWD is designed to supposedly give you smart 4WD capabilities by sending more power to whichever wheel isn’t getting traction, that’s frequently because it’s slipping.
More power to that wheel just makes it slip more unless the AWD is supplemented with an automatic locking differential which isn't on all AWDs.
On the other hand, true 4WD might not be so comfortable for street driving which is why AWD was developed, yet it’s better for off-roading, especially with locking differentials.
For the greatest traction overall, look for a truck with 4WD that also has both front and rear locking differentials.
Gearing can be a pretty complex topic when you go beyond the realm of stock vehicle; however, for the purpose of buying a new truck it’s pretty simple - the lower the gearing, the more torque, low-end power, and thus traction the truck will have.
You need very low gearing to climb and descend steep hills and crawl rocks.
Look for a truck that lets you switch between low and normal gearing through a low-range transfer case.
To avoid getting stuck traveling rocky trails or going up and down hills, you must understand the various angles involved including approach angles, breakover angles, and departure angles.
Respectively, these tell you what you can go up, get over, and come down without getting stuck or scraping your truck bumpers on the ground.
These angles are determined by the vehicle’s wheelbase length and how high the axles are off the ground and generally speaking, the higher the ground clearance the better the angles will be.
Don’t get caught in the ground clearance trap that car sellers push about clearance because it alone means nothing because a shorter wheelbase is more effective for improving angles.
The last thing to consider when comparing trucks is articulation, although it’s unlikely you’ll do much with a stock vehicle where articulation will matter so much.
Articulation is the amount of travel the suspension has to move the wheel up and down under the truck and within the wheel well to travel over uneven trails and bigger rocks.
The higher the suspension and the further away the body is from the tires, the more articulation there will be.
A common reason why people do suspension lifts on their dedicated off-road trucks is to increase articulation for more aggressive rock crawling.
Pay Attention to the Basics
While there are many other details to look into like off-road lighting, stronger bumpers, and racks for securing your gear, the critical factors that dictate good off-road performance are pretty simple.
Good traction, the right transmission and differential, low-range gearing, workable angles, and adequate articulation are key.
Don’t go by just the sales pitch to tell you what you need - research these things and figure out what’s going to work best for how your truck will be used.
Regardless of which truck you choose, all of these things can also be improved with the right modifications like better front and rear bumpers.
If you start out with a truck that has as many of these things as possible, you won’t need to change anything for some time!