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Avoid These 9 Major Failure Points of Off-Road Builds

Avoid These 9 Major Failure Points of Off-Road Builds

If you’re into off-roading, building your own off-road vehicle is one of the best bangs for your buck. However, you can waste money and put yourself in danger if you make a few common mistakes with your off-road build. We want you to be safe while adventuring and get the most out of it.

Today, we’re taking a closer look at some of the most common mistakes when it comes to off-road builds and how you can avoid making them. Let’s dive in!

Off-Roading Has a Learning Curve

It’s safe to say that off-road driving is much different than most people’s daily commute to the office. Few commuters have to climb over rocks or regularly maneuver through rugged terrain. Jumping into off-roading can require adjusting how you drive and growing your skills to know what you and your vehicle can handle. Pushing your vehicle’s limits or driving capabilities can be very dangerous.

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Once you start modifying your vehicle, it can take time to zero in your vehicle, so it performs optimally. This can take a tremendous amount of research and knowledge, so be patient as you make the adjustment and get more familiar with off-roading. By taking your time, you save time and money when it comes to your off-road build.

How Do You Start Off-Road Building?

The first step in starting any off-road truck build is to create a plan. Having a plan helps ensure you know where you’re going with the build. Decisions you make at the start can impact decisions further down the road. Without a solid plan, you could waste money on useless or incompatible parts. Many of these builds aren’t cheap, and wasting money isn’t likely something you want to do.

While creating your plan, take note of the projects you’ll be able to tackle yourself and those you’ll need to hire a professional. To make the most of your time and money, you’ll want to ensure everything is lined up for when the professional gets their hands on your vehicle.

Off-road truck build with desert backdrop
Before you start building, make sure to do an in-depth plan of your build first.

Tires are one of the first priorities of many off-road truck builds. A solid set of tires can help prevent you from getting stuck or navigating difficult terrain. The more aggressive the tread, the better you’ll perform on dirt and loose surfaces. Ensure your tire sizes match any adjustments in lifting that you’ll do to maximize your ground clearance.

Those looking to smooth out their ride will also improve their suspension. This typically means upgrading shocks and springs. Your springs will carry the load of the vehicle, and shocks will control the movement of the suspension.

Having a plan is important, but it’s also vital that you keep the end in mind. You may end up straying slightly from the original plan, but the goal is to create a solid off-road build that can get the job done during your adventures.

Pro Tip: Make sure you stock up on these 8 Critical Recovery Gear You Must Have when building your off-road vehicle.

9 Common Failure Points of Off-Road Builds

There are several failure points when it comes to off-road truck builds. A single failure can derail your off-roading adventures and leave you stranded. Let’s look at some common failure points and how you can avoid them.

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1. Too-Big Tires

Bigger isn’t always better, especially when it comes to tires. Many off-road builders think they’re making the right choice by going as big as possible when it comes to their tires. Sure, larger tires can provide more ground clearance and conquer obstacles. However, larger tires mean decreased torque, slower starts, increased stopping distance, and more wear and tear on your shocks. Big tires almost always need to be paired with a gearing change to make sure your engine and transmission are still operating withing spec.

To avoid making the too-big tire mistake, ensure you size your tire appropriately. Sadly, it can take much research to find which tires are best for your specific off-road build. Just because a tire can fit your vehicle doesn’t mean it’s the best tire for your axles. Take the time to research so you can go farther and have more fun without wasting time, energy, or money.

2. Poor Wheel Choice

You might think that choosing the right wheels is a simple and easy decision. However, it’s just one of the many complicated decisions you’ll have to consider during your off-road build. Consider the wheels’ diameter, width, and backspacing for your build. Your wheel choice often dictates whether you’ll have taller or shorter sidewalls, which can change your off-roading experience.

You want to pick a wheel less than half the tire’s diameter. This typically means if you’re putting 40-inch tires, you’ll want no more than 20-inch wheels. They will give you plenty of sidewall height to provide steering stability and a smooth ride. 

In addition, wheels can take tremendous stresses offroad and are susceptible to failure at the lugs or due to a rock strike. Running a strong off-road specific rim can prevent catastrophic failure on the trail.

Close up of off-road truck tires
Quality and the right size tires are crucial for a successful off-road truck build.

3. Poor Tire Choice

If you’ve had to shop for tires, off-roading or not, you know there’s no shortage of options. You must consider how and where you’ll drive your vehicle the most. Having a set of expensive off-road tires can make your vehicle look beefy and be great for off-roading, but paved roads can take a toll on them if it’s your daily driver.

Our first set of off-road tires were very aggressive with wide side cleats. They were fantastic off-road but were very loud on the highway and only lasted 20k miles. We opted for a more mixed-use set of tires next time.

Many builders end up putting all-terrain tires that aren’t too aggressive. This middle-man provides decent traction when on loose surfaces. Additionally, drivers don’t have to worry about wear and tear from too much traction on paved surfaces. A few things to consider when selecting your tire are the weight, tread pattern, load rating, and sidewall strength. How you plan to use the tires will likely play an important part in the equation.

4. Poor Shock Sizing

Just like you wouldn’t buy just any size shoe to wear for your feet, you can’t buy just any set of shocks for your off-road build. The wrong size shock can damage your vehicle or destroy the shocks due to overextension. Many times after a lift is installed the shocks are neglected and limit the extra motion of the suspension leading to excessive damage.

Do yourself a favor and crawl under your vehicle and take the measurements. Like a carpenter, it’s better to measure twice to ensure you’re getting all of your measurements right. 

off-road Jeep build
If you’re going to build your own off-road vehicle, make sure to not waste money on common build mistakes.

5. Improper Axle Gearing

When you have improper axle gearing, you end up experiencing decreased torque, acceleration issues, decreased MPGs, and strain on your transmission. If you’ve increased the size of your tires, you’ll also need to move to a higher numerical gear set to ease any potential strain on your powertrain. Despite not being able to tell, your build will increase the wear and tear on your powertrain unless you make this upgrade.

It’s not the sexiest modification you’ll make during your off-road build, but it’s necessary. Doing so helps extend the life of your powertrain and provides added performance. When selecting the proper gear ratio, you’ll need to consider your vehicle’s transmission, engine, and tire size.

6. Too-Tall Lift

Many off-road builders make a mistake, and like 90’s rapper Skee-Lo, wish they were a little bit taller. While increasing the height of a build may be necessary to allow larger tires to fit, getting carried away with the height can be a disaster. Increasing their height reduces handling and can make the vehicle top-heavy.

Having a top-heavy off-road vehicle with poor handling can be very dangerous. You want to have a low center of gravity to avoid the potential for a vehicle to roll or turn on its side when making maneuvers. Modifying fenders to increase the room for larger tires can be a better option in some cases than excessively lifting a vehicle’s height.

Pro Tip: Check out these Best Mods to Make to Your Overland Vehicle Build.

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Build your own off-road vehicle for epic adventures.

7. Low-Quality Lift

Far too many builders sacrifice quality when it comes to their lift kit to save a few bucks. We see many builders unsatisfied with the performance results of their budget-friendly lift kits. Inexpensive lift kits will often create more distance between the frame and body, but reduce or do nothing to improve the suspension. It’s often worth spending a few more dollars and investing in a trusted brand name for your lift.

8. No Traction-Aiding Device (TAD) in Axles

If you plan to push the limits of your vehicle and your skills, you want axles with a Traction-Aiding Device. These are modifications to the differential of the vehicle that allow them to lock down and make both tires spin if one loses traction. Almost all factory 4x4 have open differentials that in slippery conditions really only allow for two wheels to turn. Sometimes a posi diff or limited slip can improve traction, but these have their limits and only work well when new. An automatic locker, ratcheting locker or selectable locker can significantly improve when things get slippery.

9. Improper Weight and Sway Control

You must be mindful of the weight you’re adding to your off-road truck build. While you might remove some parts, you’ll likely install beefier ones that weigh more. If you want to avoid unnecessary wear and tear on your components and get the best performance, keep control of your weight. You also want to ensure it’s evenly distributed over the entire build to avoid any potential issues.

If your vehicle is heavy adding a sway bar to the rear of your build can help minimize the chances of a rollover or losing traction. Sway controls can help counteract any negative effects of lifting your vehicle. The more you lift your vehicle, the more essential sway controls will be for your build.

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Don’t Let Off-Road Build Mistakes Hold You Back

It doesn’t matter whether you’re new to off-road builds—everyone makes mistakes. The hope is that your mistakes won’t cost you too severely in terms of time, energy, or money. Learn from your mistakes and try to minimize any potential future errors. Don’t let the fear of making a mistake hold you back from building the perfect off-road vehicle for your adventures.

Have you ever built an off-road vehicle? Tell us your building tips in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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