4x4s as they roll off the factory floor are pretty capable off-road, but if you’ve got 4×4 fever like I do, then accessorising your rig for performance, safety and comfort will be high on the agenda.
But for someone new to off-roading the choice can seem endless and confusing so here’s breakdown of off-roading accessories and a description of what they actually are. Hopefully it helps you decide where you head with your 4×4:
This is often one of the first accessories bolted to a 4×4. It’s primary purpose is to give the front of your off roader some protection, but it’s also used to hold your winch, some extra recovery points, mount your ariels and spotlights and light bars and give you more clearance / entry angle. There are a wide variety of bull bars on the market to suit any needs
Brush bars act in conjunction with your bull bar and side steps. They are a steel tubes that follow your front wheel arch from your bull bar to your side steps. They protect those expensive front guards / fenders from any damage. Unsightly yes, but cheap and effective.
Site steps sit in between your wheels to help you get into your 4×4 but also protect the sills from damage. Not all steps are designed with protection in mind. The lightweight aluminium versions will bend in a heartbeat on a rock. Even some of the cheap steel versions will too! Be sure of the toughness of your steps before you put them to the test.
Sliders are positioned in the same place as steps, the difference is they are just a simple bar rather than a platform to stand on. These are typically seen on your more serious off-road rigs as they don’t stick out as far as steps giving slightly better performance. But for big lifts — good luck getting in your 4×4 🙂
Like the bull bar, a rear step / bar has evolved over time. Not only does it give the rear of your car better protection and possibly clearance it also allows you to put your spare or even a second spare as a swing away. Mount jerry cans, tow points even rear winches! They are heavy and expensive but effective and very handy if you have the power in your vehicle and the cash in your pocket.
Under body Protection
Older cars seem to have pretty good protection around transmissions and fuel tanks. Newer cars with all their complexities and road first / dirt second design seem to need a bit more love under the floor. Under body protection kits are sheet steel to keep your vital (and expensive) components safe and are very affordable for what they give you.
Diff guards are an extra layer of protection around your diff housing. Rocks can smash a diff housing when hit hard, but these things are pretty tough! They are cheap but do count towards your unsprung weight. If your 4×4 has ooodles of power this shouldn’t be a worry. But if power is an issue for you, these things might do more harm than good.
Wheels and Tyres
All terrains are tyres that have been built to be solid off-road without too much compromise on road (noise / handling / wear). These are probably the most popular you will see on 4x4s. I won’t go into brands here but there are a lot of them and it’s a highly competitive market.
Mud terrains are designed to have great performance off-road and be complaint with on road regulations but not very good. They wear quickly on the black top and some are super noisy but extremely helpful off-road. Some people have a set of road tyres they use daily, then put on the muddies for the weekends of fun.
Alloy wheels are as they suggest made of alloy. Their benefit is their weight as it’s unsprung weight, but they are a little more likely to break under duress. It’s a compromise.
Steel wheels again, like they suggest are made of steel. These guys are stronger than most alloy wheels but not indestructible. You need to pick what’s right for you.
You’re getting serious when you are are thinking about beadlocks! These are things that attach to your wheels to stop a tyre breaking off from the rim. It means you can run your tyres at super low pressures that are probably the best traction aid you can give your 4×4. Your local tyre fitter will hate you for it though.
In Cab Pressure Monitors
If you like your gizmo’s then you can fit remote tyre pressure gauges that will give you a real-time view of the PSI in your tyres at all times. They even have alarms that you can set to warn you if they are below a threshold. Useless no, but there are lots that need to come before these in the priority list!
These are adult size rubber bands that have performed more recoveries than any other accessory. There’s a technique to use them that you should learn, and there are times not to use them, but should be one of the first things you include in your recovery kit.
For a long time these were affordable to a special few, but in recent times these have become a lot more affordable. Typically mounted to your bull bar (they can be mounted to the back of your car) and are great for self-recovery asset.
PTO winches work in the same way as 12-volt winches with one difference. Instead of a 12-volt motor winding in the cable / rope it uses gearing attached normally to your transfer case. It’s a tractor inspired application and with a lot less complexity in its operation is a lot more reliable. You will need your car to be running to use the winch though, which is a PTO winch’s only real downside
Hanwinchesrs are what we all bought when we couldn’t afford automatic winches. They work on in the same way other than instead of a motor or PTO helping you, it’s you’re own arm power that pulls the cable. Chances are if you have to use on of these things to get you unstuck, when you’re home you’ll be checking the bank balance for a new solution as they are hard work!
Winch extension strap
Your winch cable or rope sometimes isn’t long enough to reach that anchor point. A winch extension strap gives you some flexibility to extend the reach of your winch. They are affordable (compared to a winch) and I certainly use mine much more often than I would have thought.
With all this winching, snatch strapping going on you need a good set of high-tensile d-shackles to make sure everything is fastened to your rig, other rigs and anchor points well. They’re cheap and there is a difference between good and pointless, but don’t hit the dirt without them
Tree trunk protector
When your winching and using an anchor point as a tree, instead of ringbarking and killing the tree, a tree truck protector allows you to wrap a strap around a tree to then connect your winch too. You should not be able to buy a winch without getting on of these and you’re an idiot if you don’t use one.
A snatch block is again another support tool for any winching you might do. It’s a 4×4 friendly pulley system that allows you to adjust winching angles but also double back to your rig for extra pulling power. When you’ve got serious bog you need to really think through these blocks can really help.
I’ve seen winch cables break and rope break. They are both dangerous and potentially deadly. Where you stand is important to mitigate this, but a winch dampener is also a super cheap way to reduce risk. You essentially put this little blanker over your winch cable or rope in the middle that drags it to the ground quickly in a breakage scenario.
High lift jacks
People seem to think that if they have a lift they need a high lift jack. I see these strapped to the roof of every second 4×4 I see of road. Don’t get me wrong these things are handy in the right hands, but things can go wrong very fast if you don’t know what you are doing. I do own one but I tend to use it for farm duties not off-road duties which is actually what they were originally designer for.
These jacks are like a giant pillow that uses the pressure in your car exhaust to inflate and lift up your car. These have been around for a long time, and I don’t think fancy new cars deal with them all that well. We tested it on a late model prado and it stalled the engine. I’ve never had a need to use one (I do have a 2nd hand one) but other people swear by them.
In the good old days we put sticks and stones under our tyres to give us traction in a muddy or sandy bog. These days you carry with you these little plastic boards or rubber tracks to essentially do the same thing. Great if you can afford them, but free alternatives do exist.
I tend to go off-roading in places where tree’s are abundant, but if you’re crossing a dessert and get stuck a winch is useless if you have nothing to attach it to — that’s where these ground anchors help. I don’t know a lot about them as I’ve never owned one. Like the mats there are ways to do achieve the same thing without a proper anchor, but it’s complex and these look much easier to use.
When you hit the dirt you might need to lower the pressure in your tyres to give you a bit more traction. These little things that take up no room make it a lot easier. You pre-set them to a PSI, screw them to your valves and they’ll let our air until you reach the set pressure. So easy, so handy.
The recovery points (the things you attach straps and winches too) are pretty good out of the shop but they are not great. You can get some really heavy-duty replacements to make sure you don’t snap a recovery point in the middle of a tricky extraction.
There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to off-road suspension, but Shock Absorbers play an important role. If you’re putting in bigger springs you need shock absorbers to match. There are also many different brands to choose from so when it comes to picking the right one, it pays to talk to an expert
Coils springs are a given on the front of new 4x4s and for most the rear. Different springs have different attributes such as how much they lift, how stiff or soft they are. Like shock absorbers there are many different options. Unbiased opinions are to be treasured.
Leaf springs are found in older off roaders as well as lots of modern utes. They have different characteristics than coil springs for the most part they are better at carrying a heavy load put don’t give you as much flex. You can dramatically change the characteristics of your suspension with your choice of springs so don’t just opt for any type. Take the time to research.
A body lift is a way to lift the cabin from the rails of your rig. Its primary purpose is to lift the wheel arches so you can fit bigger tyres. You’ll see aluminium and polyurethane versions. There are lots of rules and regulations about what you can and cant do with body lifts. So check your local laws.
These communication tools are great for car-to-car chat in a convoy, can be set to travel long distances to keep in contact with base camps. They are pretty much the chosen communication tool of off-roaders. It’s a public space (everyone can hear you) and there is etiquette to their use (which no-one honours these days) but you’ll use it more than you think. There are lots of different shapes sizes and certain models perform in different ways to research and think through before buying.
Aerials go hand in hand with your UHF radio. They pick up and send the communications. There are different types of units for different circumstances (great over flat long distances/better over hilly terrain) so make sure you don’t just get the big aerials you get the one that suits your needs.
Satellite Phones and EPIRBs
Satellite phones are you’re emergency communications escape hatch. You communicate with a satellite to make a phone call. There are expensive to own and use, but if you’re going on a long trip to the middle of nowhere even hiring one for the duration of your trip is a great safety net.
Traction to the wheels that have grip is vital in any off-road adventure. Lockers help achieve this by making sure all your wheels have equal traction. Whilst this makes turning corners harder, it makes going forward a lot easier. With todays traction control technology the deference in off-road capability of a locked off roader and an unlocked off roader is much smaller. For older 4x4s it makes a massive difference. Air lockers specifically lock your diff using air pressure generated from an air compressor.
These lockers work in the same way the air lockers do with the only difference is they are locked using actuators not air – thus they do not require a compressor. The debate on the pro’s and con’s of air v’s actuated lockers has raged on a long as they have existed and there are pros and cons on both sides.
Automatic lockers lock your diff when they think you need it. They are the mostsimplistic of all the lockers and also the cheapest. The downside is that you don’t control when the diffs lock, the system does which has never been a good prospect for me. But I’ve never used them so hard for me to be overly critical.
In the not-so-good old days, the headlights in a 4×4 were horrible. The off-road community decided to do something about it themselves so spotlights were born. Essentially additional lights that you can turn on when your hi-beam lights are on and perform a lot better. There are many shapes and sizes and even LED version now, but they still fall into two main buckets. Pencil Beam (a long thin light) and spread (a wider but shorter light). They are brilliant if you are traveling around the country, main roads or off road.
Lightbars are an alternative to spotlights and become more affordable when LED lights became generally cheaper. Instead of two circles it’s a thin rectangle of LEDs that perform the same function. Each to their own with these v’s spotlights.
Work lights are another consideration for nigh time adventures. Having a good work light can be very handy when you’re setting up camp after dark. I’ve seen some cleaver installations on roof racks and swing away wheel carriers but you don’t need to even fix them — there are some great portable ones these days.
Off-road GPS Maps
When electronic GPS started to become the norm, it’s no suprise that whilst a little behind, dedicated off-road mapping systems are now readily available. These include stand-alone systems, apps for your tablet and phone as well as systems that integrate in your all-in-one stereo system
Let’s not forget that whilst digital maps are AWESOME, they are not fool proof. You’ll probably never have to use it, but a paper map of where your going can be pretty handy on the slim chance you do.
You’re phone has a compass these days so chances are you have this already ticked off. But there’s having a compass and actually knowing how to use it that will unearth the real value in this device.
This is probably an accessory for the older model off-road vehicle as these modern marvels seem to have space for everything. These roof consoles give you better interior lights, space for your CB and pockets to store maps and other nick knacks.
If you’re travelling in a wagon, chances are the back of your 4×4 is full to the brim of stuff. These barriers give you some protection in an emergency. Instead of the bag hitting you or your passengers in the back of the head — it stays neatly in the back of your car.
Whoever invented draw systems on 4×4 I give you thanks. They are so handy and you can make so much more of your gear immediately accessible. The bad thing is unless you DIY they are so expensive! I’ve seen so many creative DYI installations that are as equally impressive as the premium units if you have the time or the skill.
When you first go away camping with a fridge it will change you. Gone will be the day of soaked food and dwindling levels of ice resulting in warm beer. However, along with the price tag fridges bring with them a thirst for amps and the requirement for additional power storage that can add up fast.
This again is an accessory for the older generation of 4x4s but the seats they put in even premium off roaders in the 80 and 90s were pathetic. As a result there is a strong aftermarket for ready to bolt in premium seating for your 4×4. Pricy like most 4×4 accessories but comfortable!
I don’t think I’ve ever owned a 4×4 wagon without a roof rack. They are great at generating some extra space in your cabin and things in day-today life as well. The do effect your fuel economy and centre of gravity so better if you can get away with not having one, but there are lots of legitimate reasons to fit on to your rig.
Roof top tents
I must admit, I’ve never slept in a roof top tent, but people swear by them. They are super quick to set up, get you off the ground and away from nasties, and comfy. The only problem I see is when I’ve day too many beers need to climb up that tiny ladder!
Roof top mounts
There are some nifty add-ons you can put on your roof rack to store things like shovels, your high lift jack, jerry cans and others. These make for more cabin space and accessibility of vital recover gear.
Everyone seems to have an awning attached to roof racks these days. They are cheap and easy to set up. Mine has had little use, but for what they cost, I’m happy to have one around. There are so many difference combos now, side / back / wing / nets the list goes on!
Air compressors engine
Having access to air is important for an off roader, you might need to deflate and inflate tyres, lock your diffs or pump up that ball for play time. The least common of your two options are engine-mounted compressors. Probably because of their expense and lack of flexibility. That said, they are your simplest and thus more reliable sources of compressed air.
Air compressors 12v
12-volt air compressors are the most common and come in a variety of shapes sizes and brands. You also have permanently mounted v’s movable units just to confuse you further. If you have lockers you’ll need a permanent mount, but if you don’t I think a transportable version is your best option.
Whilst most compressors have a pressure gauge, it’s a pain to have to get our your whole unit just to check your PSI. I have a cheap $10 unit that is much faster to quickly whip around to all your tyres to check they are set to the right pressure. It’s something everyone seems to borrow so now carry two sets.
I know these exist, but have never actually seen anyone use one are cylinders of compressed air that you can carry with you. The theory is that because it is a bottle of air you are not dependant on a engine to generate if for you on the fly. They do take up a bunch of space so I’ve never really been sold on them.
Long range fuel tanks
In Australia, everything is so far away from everything else and you can find yourself 1,000kms away from the nearest fuel station. Putting in a bigger or additional fuel tank is a popular option to make sure you don’t run out of fuel and in a horrible situation in the middle of nowhere!
Long-range fuel tanks are great, but carrying some extra juice in jerry cans can be just as effective. Sure you might have to get out of your car and syphon or funnel the extra fuel in, but it’s a whole lot cheaper than a long-range tank.
Dual Battery Systems
When your thinking about fridges and other power hungry accessories then a dual batter system is a given. Smart manufactures know this and provision them for you in the engine bay, others might require you to be a bit more creative. Your local auto-electrician will no double have some ideas.
Batteries are great but the do run out of charge so having a way to charge them is something to think about. Solar is a great way to keep those batteries topped up in the hot Australian sun and I’ve been using one for years.
If the power of the sun is not an option then a generator is a good alternative. They have recently become a lot better packages and a lot quieter these days making them a much more viable option.
If river crossings or big mud holes are in your future then a snorkel is a great accessory. The essentially lift your air intake to a much higher point so you don’t suck in water through your intake and pretty much kill your engine.
All diffs have little breather valves that expel heat from your diff housing. On some diffs these close when immersed in water. Imaging being stuck in river spinning your wheels and blowing a diff because it got to hot — not good. These breathers allow you to lift the breather valve higher or even safely in your cabin ensuring your diff can always blow of a little steam.
… that’s a lot of stuff hey!
Feel free, if you think I have left something off to let me know in the comments and I will incorporate.