It is not always clear where one should begin with upgrades and what to look out for.
To help point you in the right direction, we’ve assembled 10 upgrades that we think should be considered first. Which items you put at the top of the list may depend on what region of the country you live in.
Narrowing this down to 10 items wasn’t easy, but these are the things we consider first when building up a stock rig.
Most truck and SUV manufacturers put street-biased tyres on the vehicles they produce. They know full well that these vehicles will spend 99 percent of their time on the paved road. They are typically fit with tyres that have soft sidewalls (for a good ride) and a mild tread pattern (for quietness). Problem is, off-highway travel puts a whole array of stresses on these tires. Those soft sidewalls can be more susceptible to cuts from rocks or intrusion by branches, and the mild tread doesn’t make enough traction and can easily load with mud to become useless.
Like tyres, in most applications the shocks under your rig are designed for street use. When we hit the trail, these shocks are asked to do things that they weren’t designed for in an environment they weren’t designed for. For instance, in sustained high-speed use over rough terrain, the oil in these shocks can heat to a temperature that is so hot, the oil foams and the shock loses its dampening ability. We’ve had this happen, and it’s not pretty. Additionally, most stock shocks are designed for use with the factory-sized tires. When shocks are designed for a vehicle at the factory, vehicle weight and tire and wheel weight (among other things) are factored. This determines the shock size and valving. If you plan on fitting your rig with larger tires and/or heavy accessories, you could be exceeding the design parameters of the shocks. This will not only cause them to heat up faster, but also adversely affect the vehicle’s handling.
3. Air In
The gas or diesel engine in your rig needs air to operate. Not only does it need air, but that air needs to be super clean. If an engine doesn’t get enough air, performance and fuel economy will suffer. If that air is dirty, the dirt particles need to be filtered out otherwise they can be sucked into the combustion chambers where damage can ensue. From the factory, vehicles are equipped with an intake and filter that will accomplish the basics, but like anything else, there’s room for improvement.
4. Air Out
Your rig’s stock exhaust may be choking your engine and hurting performance and fuel economy. Most factory exhaust systems are typically designed to quiet exhaust noise. They’re quite successful at that, but they aren’t designed with performance in mind.
Limited ground clearance spells trouble on the trail. Truck and SUV suspensions are typically designed with more ground clearance than cars, but due to handling, fuel economy, and other concerns, they’re kept as low as possible. This adversely affects overall ground clearance as well as approach and departure angles. It also causes a bit of a problem when trying to fit larger tires.
6. Digital Performance
Unless you’re rockin’ an older rig, your engine probably has an engine control unit (ECU). The ECU is the computer that controls your rig’s engine, and it was programmed at the factory. It was calibrated to allow your engine to perform well in daily driving, and it does just that. However, if you’re interested in wringing more performance out of your rig, the factory programming just stands in the way.
The lowdown: Your rig’s brakes were designed to stop your vehicle safely within certain parameters. Engineers factor the brake system design, including rotor and pad size, on criteria related to the specifications of the vehicle, but larger wheels and tires and the added weight of accessories can tax the stock brakes. This is a safety issue as well as an inconvenience.
Those factory headlights in your truck or SUV do an acceptable job at night in the city, but fail miserably off-highway at night. Besides, you need more than just forward-facing light. You need to know what’s lurking in the dark off to the side of your rig. And what about when you have to back up? You think those tiny, weak factory backup lights are going to help light the way?
One of the most frustrating thi
ngs on the planet is when you’re out wheeling and your rig is struggling because only one wheel per axle is putting power to the ground. Sad part is, many four wheel-drive vehicles come from the factory with open differentials, so this is just what happens.
Most stock rigs don’t have a lot of under-body protection. When you’re on the trail, rocks, stumps, and other hazards seem to reach up and grab the underneath of your rig. This can stop you cold. A larger problem is that the unprotected underbelly of your rig is susceptible to damage from said rocks, stumps, and other trail hazards. If a major part like an oil or transmission pan is damaged, you could be stranded. Another vulnerable area of your rig is the rocker panels. Rocks and other protruding obstacles can do horrible things to your rig’s sheet metal. While it probably won’t leave you stranded, it can strand your wallet at the body shop.