If you are the proud new owner of a four-wheel-drive ute, then you may be planning to take it off-road for some great weekend escapes with your buddies. Usually, these vehicles come well-equipped from the manufacturer, but if you are a true aficionado, you may be looking for more performance and a better ride. How can you address the handling of the vehicle so that it can live with even the most demanding of tracks?
Where Should You Start?
Some people advocate that you should "lift" the 4x4 to give it additional clearance and therefore, so they say, better handling. However, this is not necessarily the case, and you may be better off changing the stock suspension for upgraded parts instead.
The average 4x4 these days is designed as a compromise. The manufacturers understand that most people use these vehicles in an urban environment and may never set foot on a loose surface road. Consequently, the suspension shocks and springs are not fully designed for rugged driving.
Usually, the standard shock absorber is hydraulic, but you would be better off installing a gas-filled version for your needs. This will provide stiffer compression and will contain the movement of the associated spring, stabilising the vehicle more quickly when it encounters a significant bump.
You will also find that the steering is tighter, and the vehicle won't roll as much when you go around a corner at some speed. Make sure that you choose shock absorbers that operate within a tight range of lift to make sure that you maintain a lower centre of gravity. You may also look into reservoir shocks, which have an additional chamber to manage fluid displacement effectively. In extreme conditions, these may stand up better and may resist the tendency to fade.
If you are fitting upgraded shock absorbers, you need to adjust the spring rate as well. Look for parts that have stiffer compression rates than the factory installation, such as dual-rate springs. These are quite technologically advanced and are essentially two different springs within a single coil. One is rated for slower speeds and can be combined with a secondary spring rate to provide better performance during extreme conditions.
Finally, you should also think about upgrading to a stiffer bump stop on each corner, which helps to contain some of the movement and prevent the springs from compressing past the optimum level.
Sourcing the Parts
Have a word with a parts supplier at companies like Tony's Auto Wreckers so that you can fit all these upgraded components to your ute before your first adventure.