Spending time in the backcountry requires a vehicle equipped to handle rugged, off-road terrain, but not all vehicles are ready-made for adventure.
Instead of shelling out the money for a second ride, adventurers can turn most trucks, SUVs, crossovers or vans into suitable, entry-level off-roaders with some aftermarket modifications. Everything from all-terrain tires and skid plates to an upgraded suspension or lift kit are wise investments for anyone looking to get into the lifestyle.
But knowing where and how to get started isn’t as simple as referencing a vehicle’s owner’s manual. To help, we’ve compiled a list of eight modifications capable of giving any vehicle some off-road oomph.
Editor’s note: Keep in mind that aftermarket modifications that significantly alter a vehicle may void its warranty. Refer to a vehicle’s specific warranty guidelines, or any information via a dealer or manufacturer, before making major changes.
INVEST IN ALL-TERRAIN TIRES
Swap out road tires for all-terrain tires to gain a better grip on loose surfaces and for improved puncture resistance. Double check the correct size of tire needed, including a set compatible with a vehicle’s wheels, brake calipers and suspension system.
Big-brand tire manufacturers are a good place to start but don’t be deterred from test-fitting tires at junkyards or looking into independent retailers.
Price point: Expect to spend anywhere from $500 to upward of $1,000 for a good set of all-terrain tires from trusted brands like BFGoodrich or Cooper.
INSTALL A BOLT-ON RECOVERY POINT
Installing a bolt-on recovery point to a vehicle’s frame gives it the ability to recover other vehicles or be recovered by another vehicle. Not all bolted-on recovery points function the same, however, as some are intended only for securing vehicle during transport.
Price point: Bolted-on tow points vary in price depending on the size and shape of the attachment. Smaller recovery points cost roughly $30 to $40, while more robust options run for $100 or more.
INSTALL A SKID PLATE
Skid plates protect a vehicle’s underbelly as well as its radiator, engine oil pan and drivetrain. They’re especially recommended for vehicles with low ground clearance.
Price point: Skid plates require a fit specific to a vehicle type, and prices for those plates varies. For example, a skid plate from Westin for a Ford F-150 costs $210 while a Toyota T-Force skid plate for a 4Runner runs for $171.
LIFT THE VEHICLE
Along with a proper set of tires, a vehicle’s ground clearance is one of the main limiting factors to off-road travel. Increasing ground clearance by adding a lift kit allows any vehicle to tackle bigger obstacles without bottoming out.
It’s important to note there are two aftermarket options: Body lift kits and suspension lift kits. Body lift kits allow for the installation of taller tires but don’t actually increase a car’s ground clearance. Suspension lift kits actually raise a vehicle’s suspension by replacing the front and rear shocks and the springs.
Price point: A lift or suspension kit costs anywhere from $300 to more than $1,500 depending on the type of kit, as well as fees associated with installation.
INSTALL A HITCH
Adding a hitch to a vehicle allows owners to outfit it with a wide range of accessories, such as a bike rack or camper trailer. Also, it provides for a solid rear tow point in the event of getting stuck.
Price point: Standard trailer hitches are priced at $150 at the lower end, on up to roughly $800 for higher-end models.
ATTACH A ROOF RACK SYSTEM
A base roof rack system allows for added gear storage options and saves valuable interior space. Everything from bike and kayak racks to cargo carriers and other outdoor accessories can be fitted onto a base system.
Price point: Prices of roof racks varies by brand, rack type and size, but expect to pay anywhere from $300 on up to $700 or more for a complete setup including towers, crossbars and the rack system itself.
CONSIDER ACTIVITY-SPECIFIC ACCESSORIES
Outfitting a vehicle with activity-specific accessories has the ability to enhance any outdoor excursion. These include rooftop tents, awnings, tow-behind camper trailers, or any of the sport-specific racks mentioned above.
Price point: Depending on the activity, prices for these can vary greatly. Rooftop tents run anywhere from around $900 on up to $3,000 or more, while tow-behind camper trailers can cost as low as $1,000 for a used option on up to $10,000 or much more for a new trailer.
CARRY EMERGENCY EQUIPMENT
It’s vital to always be prepared for an emergency situation while off-roading. Helpful things to carry include a dynamic tow strap, D-shackles, a type of base for jacking a vehicle in sand or soft soil, a puncture-plug kit, an air compressor, a shovel and a bag of kitty litter or other traction aid.
Price point: Expect to pay anywhere from $50 on up to $200 or more for a fully-packed emergency kit. Contents, and their prices, vary depending on specific needs.