THE $2500 BUILD

4 x 4 Australia - - Gear -

LET’S as­sume you’ve just bought a stan­dard four-wheel drive, and on your first foray into the scrub it didn’t per­form nearly as well as you’d been led to be­lieve by the man­u­fac­turer’s im­pres­sive mar­ket­ing. The trou­ble is you’ve just about spent your en­tire bud­get on the ve­hi­cle and you only have a cou­ple of grand left to make im­prove­ments. Where do you start?

Noth­ing will im­prove the off-road per­for­mance of a stan­dard four-wheel drive as much as a de­cent set of tyres. Whether you’re go­ing to spend most of your time driv­ing on the black­top, tour­ing Aus­tralia’s vast out­back, or climb­ing nighim­pos­si­ble tracks on the week­ends with your mates, there’s go­ing to be a tyre that’s just right for you, and it will have an LT (Light Truck) cas­ing.

Re­gard­less of the tread pat­tern, an LT tyre will per­form bet­ter than a pas­sen­ger tyre in ev­ery sce­nario, ex­cept per­haps on-road com­fort. An LT tyre’s heav­ier bead and side­wall con­struc­tion means it can han­dle higher in­fla­tion pres­sures for carrying heav­ier loads, as well as lower pres­sures for driv­ing off-road without fear of stak­ing the side­wall.

Choos­ing the right tread pat­tern will de­pend on what type of four-wheel driv­ing you’ll do:a high­way ter­rain tyre for mainly on-road driv­ing, an all-ter­rain tyre for gravel and dirt road tour­ing, or a mudter­rain tyre for ex­treme off-road con­di­tions where max­i­mum grip is re­quired.

The price of a de­cent set of all-ter­rain or mud-ter­rain tyres will de­pend on what size your 4x4 re­quires, but for most pop­u­lar ve­hi­cles you’ll be look­ing at around $280$380 a pop. So bud­get for around $1200 a set plus fit­ting and bal­anc­ing (and add $300 for a match­ing spare), mean­ing half of your $2500 bud­get will be spent on rub­ber. Don’t be tempted to skimp on qual­ity rub­ber – go for a rep­utable brand and you’ll al­ways get good value for money.

You might be tempted to spend the other half of your bud­get on a shiny new bull­bar and set of driv­ing lights, but the next best way to im­prove your ve­hi­cle’s of­froad per­for­mance will be to give it a lift with a new sus­pen­sion sys­tem.

A sen­si­ble 50mm (two-inch) sus­pen­sion lift con­sist­ing of new springs and shock ab­sorbers can cost as lit­tle as $500-$600 on a ve­hi­cle such as a GQ/GU Pa­trol, 80 Se­ries Landcruiser or a Suzuki Jimny – though you can spend more than $1500 on a mod­ern 4x4 ute.

No mat­ter what sus­pen­sion sys­tem you opt for, make sure the spring rates have been de­signed to suit the equip­ment fit­ted to your ve­hi­cle and the load it will most reg­u­larly be re­quired to carry. In other words, a ve­hi­cle fit­ted with a bull­bar, winch and dual-bat­tery sys­tem at the pointy end, and carrying a canopy, drawer sys­tem, fridge and re­cov­ery gear down the blunt end, will need heav­ier spring rates than a stan­dard ve­hi­cle with no load on board. The shock ab­sorbers should be en­gi­neered to work with the cho­sen springs, so it’s al­ways best to pur­chase a matched sus­pen­sion sys­tem rather than sep­a­rate com­po­nents.

If you have any money leftover af­ter tyres and sus­pen­sion, the next item on your shop­ping list should be a snorkel. Not only will it re­duce the risk of your en­gine in­gest­ing wa­ter (and there­fore the po­ten­tial for very ex­pen­sive me­chan­i­cal da­m­age) but it will also keep a lot of the dust out, es­pe­cially if fit­ted with a pre-fil­ter. A de­cent snorkel will set you back $300-$500 plus fit­ting. While there are plenty of el cheapo snorkels on the mar­ket, this is one area in which you re­ally don’t want to be stingy; a prop­erly en­gi­neered snorkel will also be de­signed to en­sure ef­fi­cient air­flow to your en­gine so it won’t suf­fer any per­for­mance or econ­omy losses.

If wa­ter cross­ings are on the agenda make sure your ve­hi­cle’s diffs and trans­mis­sion are fit­ted with breather ex­ten­sions that are se­cured high in the en­gine bay. This is a rel­a­tively cheap mod­i­fi­ca­tion but will pro­long the me­chan­i­cal life of your ve­hi­cle if you reg­u­larly tackle wa­ter cross­ings. If you have any cash leftover you should in­vest in a ba­sic re­cov­ery kit be­fore you head off the road, with a cou­ple of rated shack­les, a snatch strap and a shovel at the bare min­i­mum. And make sure your ve­hi­cle is equipped with proper re­cov­ery points, front and rear. If you’ve still got change, buy a por­ta­ble air com­pres­sor and a tyre re­pair kit – or at least drop broad hints in the run-up to Christ­mas and birth­days.

Match­ing sus­pen­sion front to rear is a crit­i­cal safety is­sue.

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