Off Road Maintenance Tips To Ensure Performance


December 17th, 2019

Taking your vehicle on off-roading adventures to explore the wilderness is an exciting and rewarding hobby. To make sure your vehicle is safe and reliable for your off-roading explorations, your vehicle must be correctly maintained to ensure it stays at peak performance. When you're out on the trails, you want to be focusing on your driving and having fun, not worrying about whether your vehicle can handle it.

Not surprisingly, an off-roading vehicle needs more care and attention than one that is driven on the roads, as off-roading is hard on a vehicle and its parts. Even with normal maintenance items, you need to be more diligent for an off-roading vehicle due to the additional stresses this vehicle encounters when being pushed to the limit on a regular basis. Always do a thorough check of your vehicle before and after each trail run, focusing on the following steps.

Prepare Your Vehicle and Yourself

Preparation is absolutely crucial when planning an off-roading trip. Vehicle maintenance starts before you even hit the trail. Before you go out, check your vehicle for anything amiss, and make sure the fluids are full. Read up on your vehicle's traction control system so you know how to activate it, and understand the capabilities. Invest in some good tires that are appropriate for the type of terrain that you intend to travel. Decide if you want aftermarket bumper bars to protect your vehicle's bumpers from debris. 

Also, research your trail ahead of time so you know what to expect and can bring along any necessary accessories. Do your research and make sure you understand how to maintain traction and how to shift appropriately for off-roading conditions. For safety, always have first aid equipment on-hand and a backup plan in case your vehicle is disabled.

Clean Up

Vehicles that regularly go off-road pick up a lot of dust, dirt, and mud. You should be washing and vacuuming out your vehicle after every run. The engine compartment and undercarriage, especially, will pick up a lot of dirt and debris. Dirt will wear out your suspension, brake pads, and other parts of your vehicle. Doing a thorough cleaning will ensure that dirt won't get lodged anywhere. This is also important because you are likely to miss problems or worn out parts on vehicles that are caked in dirt.

Engine

Like everything else, the engine in an off-road vehicle can wear more quickly since it's constantly being exposed to dust and debris. After cleaning out the engine compartment thoroughly, check for any loose, worn or damaged hoses, belts, or clamps. Also, take a look at your radiator to make sure it isn't damaged.

Air Filter

Along the same lines as keeping your vehicle clean, it is important to pay special attention to your air filters. All the dust and dirt from the trails build up in the air filter and can contaminate it. Some air filters can be cleaned out and oiled, which should be done regularly if you are off-roading. If this isn't possible, it is recommended to change your oil filter more frequently than the 15,000 to 30,000 miles recommended for typical-use vehicles.

Wheels and Axles

Image via Flickr by  R E B E L ™®

Most off-roading vehicles have larger tires, which can cause more wear on ball joints, knuckles, and stub shafts in your axle system. It is best to jack up your vehicle to check these areas for cracks and wear. While your vehicle is jacked up, pull on each tire to make sure none of them are loose.

Tires

Many off-roading adventures require changing the air level in your tires in order to get a better grip on the trail. Always check your tire pressure again the next day or after the vehicle hasn't been driven for a while to make sure it is where it should be. Heat from driving can change the readings. Tires on a vehicle used to off-road regularly take a beating and will wear faster than tires used on normal roads. Be aware of this and purchase new tires when needed.

Even between tire changes, regular tire rotations and alignments are very important. If your tires are wearing unevenly, this can affect your 4x4 capabilities and experience on the trail. Tires on an off-roading vehicle will need to be aligned often since every bump jostles the tire out of place little by little.

Check Fluid Levels

It's always a good idea to check fluid levels before heading out on the trail and when you return. Since you will likely be out in the middle of nowhere, you want to make sure everything will work as intended. Check not only the level of the oil, but also the condition of the oil. Also check your coolant, antifreeze, power steering fluid, and windshield wiper fluid. If you've taken your vehicle off-roading in high water areas, check for a milky white clouding, indicating water contamination. If you see this, drain the fluid and refill it with clean fluid.

Brakes

Brake maintenance is very important, as it's dangerous to lose stopping power unexpectedly. Brake drums should be inspected for dirt and mud, especially if you've been off-roading in deep mud. Brake lines should be inspected for any worn parts, cracks, or wear. If you've lifted your vehicle without installing longer brake lines, this can cause the brake lines to be stretched too tightly and can cause a lot of wear on the lines. Replace any worn or cracked parts before going back on the trails.

Suspension and Steering

Crawl underneath your vehicle to take a good look at the steering and suspension parts after a run. Look for loose nuts or bolts, and make sure the steering box and steering box sector shaft is attached securely. Check the suspension components for any damage, worn out parts, or parts rubbing against each other.

Shocks

Shocks are another item that takes a lot of abuse when off-roading. The shocks absorb impact when going over bumps, so off-roading with bad shocks is sure to be a major headache! Check your shocks after your ride for dents or leaks. Check the bushings to see if they need to be replaced.

Winch

Before going out on the road, make sure you know how to use your winch safely. Winches have a lot of tension and can be dangerous in inexperienced hands. If you used your winch, you may have wound it up in a hurry. Take the time to unwind it and wind it back up appropriately, taking care to watch for any damage or wear.

Do a Thorough Check for Damage

Do a once-over of your car to make sure there is nothing loose, out of place, or worn out that you missed. Check for damage or cracks in your vehicle's frame. Many off-road enthusiasts use a cover on their differential to protect the component, but these covers can leak if dented, so they need to be checked as well. There may be joints and bearings on your car that should be greased to work properly. If you have a manual shifting car, keep an eye on your clutch, as these can get worn out much more quickly with frequent off-roading.

Get Your Vehicle Inspected Regularly

Some states require regular inspections on vehicles, but others do not. Even if it is not required, get a set of professional eyes on your car regularly to help you check for any issues. Make sure that you let your mechanic know how you use your vehicle, so they can check critical areas and advise you on how to best maintain your vehicle for the way you use it. It saves a lot of money and time to locate an issue and fix it before it becomes a problem. This is especially true for an off-roading vehicle, where you may be stuck miles away from help. The more people that look at your vehicle, the more chance that a problem area will be noted and fixed.

Know Your Limits and Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Know your limits as a driver, and the limits of your vehicle to avoid costly damages. Different vehicles have different traction abilities, ground clearance, and suspension kits. Check your surroundings while you are off-roading to know what type of ground you are on, hill grades, and water levels. Fording water can be especially dangerous, so make sure you know how deep the water is and how fast it is moving. A little bit of care and common sense goes a long way towards keeping your vehicle running at its best.

Off-roading is a fun and rewarding sport, especially if you take the time to keep your vehicle maintained and running smoothly. As long as you are observant and take care of any problems immediately, your car should be able to keep hitting the trails for years to come. For great parts at a low price to extend the life of your vehicle, visit our website.