No matter how many customizations you add to your custom SUV or truck, you are still fundamentally going to deal with limitations, or rather opportunities, depending on how you look at them. So keep in mind that even if you’re looking to add lift kits, heavy-duty off-road tires, winches or any other accessories, the chassis that you decide to start with will influence what you can do with your vehicle.
For example, you can start with the drivetrain. Many people who are considering overland vehicles, those used to camp off the grid, might first start looking at all-wheel drive options. These generally come in the form of SUVs that start with front-wheel drive and have some sort of differential that pushes power rearward in the case of limited traction. For those who are looking for a vehicle that can play the part, this can be a good option for people considering exterior and interior upgrades that are mainly cosmetic.
To truly have fun in the dirt, however, you’re going to need to look for something with four-wheel drive, a transfer case and a locking differential, if not three locking differentials. In general, a drive system is set to provide power to the wheel spinning most freely. When you’re off-road, that’s usually not very helpful because that spinning tire might be up in the air a couple feet as you’re trying to move over difficult terrain.
Along with the basics of the drivetrain, you’re also going to want to look into gearing as well as how the truck or SUV handles “crawling”. This involves special low-speed gearing that helps maximize the torque that you’re using. Many Toyota trucks and SUVs come in available trims or with packages that provide this, for example. You can also add into that driver assists. Unlike the ones advertised in commercials for families, these will tend to include selectable modes that can actuate individual brakes or bring a truck or SUV into and out of four-wheel drive mode. They don’t extend the capability of the vehicle, but they can make it a lot easier to handle.
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a base level of both articulation and angles a truck or SUV can attack. Articulation is related to the suspension, and specifically refers to the amount that a wheel on one side can travel relative to the other (left vs. right). This is something that can be modified significantly with specialized suspension components and other parts, but knowing what you have to start with can also help. We won’t touch very much on ground clearance: at Clint Newell Toyota we know that the number is not as meaningful to those who are considering customizing their trucks or SUVs.
Rather, when you’re looking for the right vehicle to start with, you’ll want to compare approach, breakover and departure angles. If you imagine driving your truck or SUV into a ditch or over a rock, the approach angle is how steep a surface it can begin to climb without affecting the front of the vehicle. Break-over angle covers rocks and other obstacles underneath the chassis between the two wheels, and departure angle is the same as approach, just for the rear of the vehicle. Lift kits and bumper modifications are both commonly used to increase these angles for hardcore outdoor adventures.