OB04: Vehicle Modifications
Getting out and exploring with a stock vehicle is the best way to determine what sort of vehicle modifications you need. If you jump on to any website, forum, social media, or YouTube and do a search of the first things you need you’ll end up with 10 or 20 different suggestions. The real answer is to do what you think you need, however, there are some things you can do first to make adventuring easier. Once the time comes to start modifying your vehicle you will want to keep the following in mind:
- How complex are modifications going to be
- How much weight will be added with modifications, gear,
- Suspension changes should not change performance on and off-road
- It’s best to keep the engine in a stock form
- Minimize electrical modifications
- Tire selection is important
- Select quality over quantity
Most modifications are going to cost some money. Don’t be afraid to spend on higher quality items. If you’re not comfortable doing the work for installation yourself, then find someone who is willing to do the work for you. As you get more and more into overlanding, you can learn to perform maintenance and fix things as you go.
Wheels and tires consistently come up as the first thing to do. There’s a good reason for that. OEM wheels and tires are generally meant for regular road driving. While they might do okay on trails, they aren’t meant for it.
A good number of the principals listed in the last chapter are important here. Changes to mechanical and electrical systems on your vehicle can void not only the warranty but also cause way more problems than necessary. Especially if something happens on the trail that requires extensive repair time versus just getting going again.
Adding lift might be where you gravitate towards as a first modification. However, clearance isn’t always a good thing to have as it puts more strain on the existing suspension components. Wear and tear become more frequent because of the driveline angles being changed, so if you’re going to add lift make sure the kit is not changing the angles and retains as much of the stock angles as possible.
Dual battery setups are a good thing to consider if you are going to be running extra electrical items. This allows the extras to draw from a secondary battery rather than the primary vehicle battery. This reduces the possibility of a dead battery.
Adding in solar power and tying it into your vehicles electrical system allows for an additional charging ability for the battery as well as any devices you may have.
Exterior modifications are where most of your weight gains are going to happen. These should be thought out and worked in conjunction with a suspension upgrade to ensure you are not exceeding rated vehicle payload. Some of these things are nice to have and are not needed in order to get out exploring.
One of the first exterior modifications to consider making is front and rear bumpers. Replacing the stock bumpers with steel bumpers offers several benefits. Front bumpers offer winch mounting, recovery points, and additional lighting spots. Rear bumpers can be as simple as just the bumper but also allow for swing away options that can hold a full-size spare tire, additional fuel cans, and a hi-lift jack.
Despite what you might think, obstacles on the trail can cause a lot of damage to the underbody of your vehicle. Several companies offer protective panels that mount up under the vehicle and prevent damage to the undercarriage.
A roof rack and crossbars added to your vehicle allow you to carry some load on the roof instead of in the vehicle. These options also allow for mounting of a rooftop tent if that’s your preferred sleeping option. If a roof rack is what you’re after, make sure to get something that has a good range of accessory mounting options. Crossbar manufacturers generally offer good support in terms of additional mounting options. This makes carrying your bike, kayak, or camp gear much easier.
A vehicle-mounted awning allows for protection from the sun or rain once at camp. Awnings mount directly up to a roof rack and can be either straight out or batwing design. A straight awning simply pulls out from the side of the vehicle and stands on two poles. Batwing means the awning extends out the side and around the rear of the vehicle providing extra coverage.
Interior modifications may not have the cost of some of the exterior, mechanical, or electrical changes but they shouldn’t be overlooked. Most of these will come as a result of traveling frequently and figuring out what can make the journey easier.
You might already have a mount for your cell phone in your car. However, if you decide to make the jump to something larger like a tablet, then an alternative mount will be necessary. Mounts for tablets can be attached to seat mounting bolts or attached to the dash. Make sure the mount you get does not bounce around too much while on the trails, so your tablet doesn’t come loose and is easy to read.
Communication gear is going to play a part in your overlanding journey at some point. Being on the trail and not having a way to communicate with your group can be frustrating. Most communication radios can be easily mounted in empty spaces with no problem. Running power and antenna wires can be a pain. Make sure you are mounting in a place that does not require a lot of teardowns.
There are several companies that sell MOLLE compatible seatback covers you can attach pouches and small bags too. These can be convenient ways to store small gear that you may need to get to frequently.
There are other gear mounting options available as well but be careful of where you mount things and how they are mounted. In the event of an accident, some of those items may come off their mounts and become projectiles.
Drawers and slide outs are a good way to incorporate storage and functionality into the rear cargo space of a vehicle. A slide out can be as simple as a base that holds tied down gear in place. These are the simplest of storage solutions and are great for pick-up truck beds. However, some companies do make them for SUVs, and Toyota has gone so far as to include a slide out in the newer 4Runner models.
Drawers are also a great way to store gear. You can also incorporate other elements into drawer systems. A prime example of this is having a stove or cooking surface built in. This allows you to still carry a good sized camping stove without having to worry about it taking up space elsewhere. The downside to having a drawer system is that it takes up all or most of the cargo space in the rear of your vehicle.
Slide outs and drawers can be purchased pre-made, cut, and fit for your vehicle from different manufacturers. The drawback here is the cost. Both can be very expensive to purchase. In order to maintain a budget and not break the bank, you might consider making your own. This gives you some freedom in setting up a system that works for exactly what you need.
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