When it comes to getting your truck or SUV ready for off-roading, it’s a given that true off-roaders are built, not bought. In other words, even four-wheel-drive vehicles are not ready for much more than a dirt road. If you want to tackle local mountain trails, desert dunes or do a little rock crawling, your off-road vehicle is going to need significant upgrades — big tires, lift kits, long travel suspension, skid protection, fender flares, shock absorbers and more. Here’s how to begin.
Start With a Lift Kit
For many off-roaders, a lift kit and big tires are enough. Some basic kits might require an afternoon to install, nearly zero fabrication — which is great for DIYers — and instant gratification mucking about the trails. Go ahead, get a little dirty, then come back when you’re ready for the next step.
Why Do You Need Long Travel Suspension?
Do you want to go faster and harder? While lift kits increase clearance, they don’t fundamentally change suspension geometry, such as wheel travel. For this, you should consider a long travel suspension.
You need this upgrade for two basic reasons: The faster you go, the more suspension travel you’ll need to soften landings after launching off dunes; and the more complicated the trail, the more suspension articulation you need. Longer wheel travel helps keep your tires planted, improving traction.
Long Travel Suspension Fundamentals
A basic kit should include several critical components:
- Longer upper and lower control arms that push the wheels farther away from the vehicle’s center line, up to 6 inches per side, allowing the wheels to vertically move farther.
- Longer coilover front shock absorbers with remote reservoirs that have longer travel, allowing the suspension arms to move farther. Remote reservoirs run cooler, reducing shock fade on intense terrain. Bonus points if you can tune the knobs to adjust shock sensitivity.
- Longer front constant velocity axles that push the steering knuckles away from the center line of the vehicle. Be sure to order and carry spares because these aren’t available at your local auto parts store.
- Extended brake lines to prevent a catastrophic loss of braking — given that more suspension travel and longer control arms mean the brake calipers are that much farther from the frame.
- Bump stops, strike plates and limit straps that reduce damage from shock and overextension at the limits of suspension travel.
- Extended fenders to keep those big tires covered, preventing them from kicking rocks and mud up into your windshield.
Even with all these components, there may be other necessary modifications. You may need to modify the driveshaft, rear leaf spring mounts or other components to keep your rig from falling apart. Learning how to weld is a great skill that will keep your rig together in the toughest terrain.
If you decide to install a long travel suspension kit, be sure to have it checked by someone who knows about suspension upgrades. Your four-wheel-drive vehicle will require a keen eye on maintenance to keep it safe on-road, but there’s nothing quite like what it enables you to do off-road.
Check out all the suspension parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on long travel suspension upgrades, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photo courtesy of Pexels.
Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.