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Best aftermarket mods and products for your 4x4 off-roader revealed! How to kit out your Toyota LandCruiser, Ford Ranger or Nissan Patrol for a real off-road adventure | Opinion

The right aftermarket mods and products will make your 4WD better – and safer – on the rough stuff. (Image: Offroad Images)

Some off-road vehicles are capable of being driven straight out of the dealership and into the Simpson Desert … and some aren’t.

But have no fear, my adventure-addicted friends, for the solutions are easily found in Australia’s world-leading aftermarket industry with companies such as ARB, Ironman 4X4, and TJM setting the gold standard for 4WD aftermarket modifications, equipment and fitment.

Here’s our condensed list of some of the more important aftermarket mods and products you’ll need for safe and stress-free off-road adventures.

Best aftermarket mods

If someone utters “aftermarket” to you, you’d be forgiven for immediately being overwhelmed by mental images of driving lights, bullbars, snorkels, under-vehicle protection, rock sliders, air lockers, long-range fuel tanks, storage platforms, and on and on … that’s fair enough but don’t get ahead of yourself.

Take a breath, put your wallet away for a second and have a think: what are your vehicle's first – and hopefully only – point of contact with the ground?

Yep, your tyres.

In an off-roading situation, or in any driving situation really, your choice of tyres – and their pressures – will dictate how easily and safely your vehicle handles any off-road terrain.

Certain off-road vehicles can head straight from the showroom to rugged terrain, while others may not be up to the challenge. (Image: Marcus Craft)

Often, new 4WDs are sold with HT (Highway Terrain) tyres and those are well-suited to long-distance bitumen touring, not off-roading. They are skinny and don't afford as much protection against off-road damage as other tyres.

A set of good All Terrain (AT) tyres – a good all-round tyre – will save you a lot of hassle on the beach or in the bush. They are tough, less susceptible than HT rubber to damage from sticks and stones and provide plenty of off-road grip.

Mud Terrain (MT) tyres – big and knobbly and made for getting through mud – are for hardcore 4WDers. They are noisy on-road and can add to your fuel bills if you're doing a lot of highway travel on them.

Light Truck (LT) tyres are stronger than passenger car tyres, but then again so is my six-year-old nephew. LT tyres have thick sidewalls and are built to carry loads and run at high pressures. They can be rather noisy on-road but are great performers off-road.

The type of tyres you choose, along with their pressure, determines how effectively and safely your vehicle navigates through various off-road landscapes. (Image: Dean McCartney)

So, get rid of your HTs and throw on top-quality ATs or LTs – they'll set you back between $250 and $450 per tyre, depending on how gnarly you want to get.

Suspension is the next thing to sort out.

Driving off-road is a little bit different to driving on sealed surfaces; it can be lumpy, bumpy and very slow-going and the vehicle, especially a fully loaded SUV, will be put through a tremendous amount of stress and strain on uneven terrain.

As standard, your vehicle's suspension is engineered to be driven on roads; it needs to be modified to better cope with more aftermarket weight onboard and the undulating terrain of remote-area touring.

Off-road driving varies greatly from driving on paved surfaces, often featuring uneven terrain, rough patches, and slower speeds. (Image: Glen Sullivan)

Upgrading the suspension set-up on your stock-standard 4WD is a must. Doing so will improve its load-carrying ability and make it more stable, more comfortable to ride in and, most importantly, safer to drive off the beaten track than it would have been if you'd taken it in showroom form straight out into the bush.

Note: Sort out the suspension after you've thrown on all of the other bits and pieces that you want including, but not limited to, extras such as a long-range fuel tank, dual-battery system, spare-wheel carrier, UHF radios and more. All of that extra weight will mean the suspension upgrade will have to cop that burden.

An off-road-friendly suspension set-up (with coil springs, leaf springs, shocks and more) will cost upwards of $2000 (fitted). Bonus: your vehicle will get between a 30mm-50mm lift out of the upgrade.

If you plan on doing any driving in rural areas, a bullbar is a great idea because animal strike is a serious risk during outback travel as it does happen, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Upgrading the suspension set-up on your stock-standard 4WD is a must. (Image: Marcus Craft)

Animals – cows, kangaroos, camels – are unpredictable and can move onto the road with little to no warning. To protect your family, your vehicle needs robust protection. Bonus: a bullbar will help protect all of the mechanical running gear up front – as well as cooling system etc – that would cop a serious battering if you collided with a rogue roo and your vehicle did not have a bullbar at the time of impact.

Next up, frontal protection.

Bullbars are strong, well-engineered and can hold lights, UHF radio aerials, and a winch, if need be.

An aluminium-alloy bullbar is a fair bit lighter than a steel one, so will save you a few bucks in the fuel-consumption stakes, but a steel bullbar is stronger.

If you plan on doing any driving in rural areas, a bullbar is a great idea. (Image: Marcus Craft)

An OEM bullbar or an airbag-compatible bullbar from a reputable aftermarket supplier (ARB, Ironman 4x4 et al) is just the ticket.

A bullbar may cost anywhere from $1300 to $2800 (including fitment) depending on your vehicle, but the outlay is more than worth it, especially if it's going to keep you and your family safe.

Be aware: a bullbar adds weight to the front end of your SUV, so vehicle dynamics will change and you will have to adjust your driving style to suit.

Now for recovery points.

To safely recover your vehicle when stuck, you'll need proper recovery points installed. (Image: Marcus Craft)

At some stage, your 4WD will get bogged – no matter how great your vehicle is, no matter how many tattoos you’re sporting, and no matter how many Instagram followers you have.

And when you get bogged, you need to be able to recover your vehicle safely – and for that to happen, your vehicle needs to have recovery points.

Never use a vehicle’s factory tie-down points (those are just to secure the vehicle when it’s being shipped) as recovery points because they won’t withstand the forces generated when your vehicle is dragged out of the mud or sand and they will bend, buckle or snap off endangering nearby bystanders and vehicles.

Also, never put a snatch strap or a tow rope over a tow ball to haul out a stuck vehicle; the results can be fatal.

Consider acquiring or renting an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) for your travels. (Image: EPIRBhire)

If your standard vehicle doesn’t have genuine recovery points, then buy some and have them fitted by reputable fitment professionals.

Other stuff, like a raised air intake (aka snorkel), vehicle underbody protection, driving lights etc are all important and cool, but not as important or cool as the mods I’ve just noted.

So, prioritise, get high-quality gear and have it all fitted by the pros.

Best aftermarket products

There is a mind-boggling variety of vehicle-recovery gear available – ranging in quality and price – for all manner of trips – from weekend bush sojourns to three-month-long remote-area expeditions – but if you stick to the basics for starters and make sure you have good-quality equipment onboard, then you're heading in the right direction.

There are vehicle-recovery kits available but remember you’ll need at least a tyre-pressure gauge, tyre deflator, tyre-puncture repair kit, vehicle-recovery tracks (MaxTrax or the like), an air compressor, a long-handled shovel, bow shackles and a snatch strap (these last two items are for vehicles with genuine recovery points, generally 4WDs).

The good news is: all good aftermarket outlets, including ARB, Ironman 4x4, TJM and more, stock a variety of vehicle-recovery kits as well as the individual items.

The Garmin InReach Mini, a palm-sized GPS and satellite communicator, has been a reliable companion on numerous trips in recent years. (Image: Marcus Craft)

You’ll also need a good first-aid kit – and be trained in its use and actually know how to use it – as well as a reliable means of communication, besides your phone. Ideally you should have a UHF fixed mount radio onboard your vehicle, or at the very least UHF handheld radios for car-to-car or car-to-person comms.

Also buy a sat-phone (or hire one), buy an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) (or hire one), and/or buy something like a Garmin InReach Mini, a palm-sized GPS and satellite communicator that has served me well on many trips in recent years.

There’s a lot of other gear to consider – maps and mapping tech, camping equipment and more – but the items mentioned above are a great place to start.

Having a dependable form of communication beyond your phone is crucial. (Image: Dean McCartney)

What I reckon

There are easily many more mods and gear to throw on and in your 4WD – some of it necessary, some of it frippery – but take your time and build up your own onboard mods and equipment additions as you go. There’s no rush.

Every trip will yield another possibility in terms of extra gear you might want to get.

Your best bet? Start off by buying buy a few crucial off-road mods for your pride and joy to improve its off-road ability and continue on from there.

Marcus Craft
Contributing Journalist
Raised by dingoes and, later, nuns, Marcus (aka ‘Crafty’) had his first taste of adventure as a cheeky toddler on family 4WD trips to secret fishing spots near Bundaberg, Queensland....
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