Top 10 mistakes people make when modifying a 4X4

By Wes Whitworth 10 Min Read

Getting a new (or even your first) four-wheel drive is an exciting time. Dreams of the mods, the build, epic locations to take the new whip all come flooding to the forefront of our minds. But and take it from someone who’s made all these mistakes, there are a few things you’ll want to watch out for as you go about modifying your dream four-wheel drive into the adventure machine you’ve always wanted. Let’s talk about the mistakes, cough, er, we’ve heard about, yep, that’s it, heard about, let’s go with that, and see if we can stop you making them too.


1. Buying the wrong four-wheel drive

Yep, many of us have purchased the wrong four-wheel drive straight off the bat. And it’s an easy trap to fall in to. You’ll want to sit back before you jump on your first 4X4 and decide what you want to do with it. Read articles, watch videos, work out exactly what you want out of your four-wheel drive. If you’re going to go rock crawling, then a brand spanking new $100,000 fourby is probably not the best choice. Unless of course you’re going to drop another $60,000 into it and don’t care if it gets beat up, then go nuts (and send us videos!). Same too if you want a reliable long-distance tourer to head around Australia in, a $2000 TB42 powered petrol GQ is probably not the best option (that said, people have absolutely done it). But there are specific rigs for specific jobs; nothing’s impossible, but some choices make life a lot easier.

2. Get the order right

There’s no point in going and ordering 35-inch tyres for your Ranger if you’ve not done a lift yet. They simply won’t fit. Or getting the world’s greatest awning, without anything up top to bolt it to. Think about what accompanying mods you’ll need to be able to use that bit of kit, and whether you need them at the same time as the mod you’re dreaming of. Some things can be done close to one another, in the wrong order, like getting a fridge first, then a dual battery system to run it, but you’ll work out pretty quickly that a flat starter battery every morning is less than ideal.


3. Get the right accompanying mod

Most things you’ll do, especially so with suspension, will need an accompanying mod to make it work right. If you’re going to do a suspension lift in an Independent Front Suspension (IFS) 4X4, chances are you’re going to need a diff-drop kit. Maybe even Upper Control Arms (UCAs) and extended brake lines. Putting a big lift in, without the right accompanying mods will see you bust a CV first time out, or tear a brake line in half first time you lift a wheel and get all of the down-travel.

4. Bigger is better… sometimes

Eight-inch lifts, 40-inch boggers, super-flex arms and flexy-coils look great and give you some amazing articulation, but they’re not going to be ideal if you live in the guts of Sydney and use your 4X4 as a daily. Aside from the local constabulary trying to sell you tickets to the Policeman’s Ball every time you get behind the wheel, there have been times where too big has been a hindrance. That’s why you’ll see most blokes that do serious off-roading have four-inch lift kits instead of six or eight-inch lifts.

5. Have an endgame in mind

Don’t get me wrong; no four-wheel drive is ever completely finished. Many have come close, but no-one’s ever gotten there. With this in mind, you’ll want to have an endgame floating around your head. Think about all of the mods you’ll want, and then put them in order of importance to you. As you go about modifying your rig, this list will change, and have things added and removed. Keep in mind your accompanying mods, and what you’ll need to do each, and then start doing them as time and funds allow. But start the build with a solid idea of where you want to end up.


6. Buying the cheapest stuff you can find on eBay

Just don’t do it. 90% of the junk you’ll find on eBay is exactly that, and cheap for a reason. If it’s not a knock off part (anyone remember HKS/GReddy catch cans back in the day?) it won’t work as it should, won’t do anything (think catch cans again), or will fail that spectacularly, it could kill you, or your new pride and joy, or someone else. There’s a reason good gear usually attracts a price tag, but don’t get swayed toward the most expensive, which leads us in to…

7. Buying the most expensive ‘brand-name’ gear

On the other side of the last point, don’t just jump at something because it’s got a ‘brand-name’ attached to it. Don’t get me wrong, some bits of kit from some brand-names are absolutely worth their asking price. But sometimes, you’re paying for a brand-name only, and there are better products out there for cheaper. As an example, have a look at the new ‘winch-rings’ getting around that work like a snatch block. Some ‘brand-name’ ones getting around are over $300 for a lump of aluminium. So long as the alloy used is decent, do you really need the pretty brand-name CNC machined in the side of it to show your mates for an extra $200?

8. Understand how one mod can affect another

Like we said earlier, with getting the order right, and the right accompanying mod, try to get an understanding of what each mod will do, and whether it will upset the apple cart. Suspension is the big one here; screw with suspension geometry at your peril. Tyres and final drive ratios are another one. If you’re going to put bigger tyres on, it’ll screw with your speedo and gearing. Know how this works, and how you can fix it.

9. Legalities

We have to run under the Australian Design Rules (ADRs). They mostly keep us safe out there on the road, and they’re what’s attached to the long arm of the law. There are certain things you can do to your four-wheel drive that will absolutely smash the ADRs, and others that just sort of bend them. If you want to go proper big with anything (think suspension, wheels and tyres), you’ll most likely need to have an engineer sign off on it. So when you’re going about modifying your rig, look around at who’s done what, and what (if anything), they needed to do to keep it legal. Aside from the local smokies, insurance companies really like for things to remain legal on your four-wheel drive.

10. Weight

We’re all watching our weight lately, and not because it’s after Christmas. Every state across Australia has their police force and their transport agencies monitoring vehicle weights and towing weights. There are a few weight calculators out there that will help you get a solid idea of how much you’re adding to your four-wheel drive. Just make sure you keep it under the GVM, or if you’re going to go over, start thinking about a GVM upgrade.

One last thing to think about…

Modifying your 4X4 is a beautiful thing, and many a beer and family barbeque is to be had with mates on weekends when you’re going about it. There are a few mistakes we’ve all fallen into, and despite this article, chances are you’ll still make some of them. That’s half the joy of building up or four-wheel drives; hell, my entire life in four-wheel drives has just about been an object lesson on what not to do, but hey, we’re always learning. I just hope some of the things in this article can save you making the same mistakes I have, yes, alright, I was talking about me this whole time.


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