What if you want to go on an off-road adventure, but you only own a two-wheel-drive truck? Is there any way to turn a two-wheel-drive truck into an off-road-worthy vehicle? Is it even safe to drive a two-wheel-drive truck off-road?
To make a 2WD truck better offroad, it is important to install larger tires with a deep tread to increase traction. A suspension lift kit would be great as well. You can also add two hooks, a light bar, and skid plates. Have a winch and tread mats on hand in case you get into a tough situation.
In this article, I will discuss the safety of using a two-wheel-drive truck off-road. I will also give you tips on driving such truck on dirt and mud roads. Let us get into it.
Is It Safe to Take a 2WD Truck Off-Road?
Let me start by going through the safety issues involved in driving a 2WD truck off-road. I will also explain the differences between a 2WD and a 4WD truck and why a 4WD truck is better suited for off-road driving.
What Is a 2WD Truck?
A two-wheel-drive truck is a truck that only sends power to two of the wheels. A 4WD truck, on the other hand, sends power to all four of the wheels at once.
2WD trucks may send power only to the front wheels or only to the back wheels. That depends on the model you have. However, regardless of whether the front wheels or the back wheels get the power, 2WD trucks are not as good for off-road driving as 4WD trucks. The reason for this is simple: Since 4WD trucks send power to all four wheels, all four of the wheels will have sufficient traction to get you out of the mud and other sticky situations.
If your truck gets stuck and only the front or back wheels have power, you might not be able to get out of the mud or get out of a ditch. For example, if you fall into a ditch, the front wheels might be slightly raised off the ground. If you can not send power directly to the back wheels, you will not be able to drive your truck out of that low ditch.
Also, 4WD trucks will be able to get you over soft and rough terrain easier. They also have low range gearing, which is important for off-roading.
What Are Your Needs?
What I wrote earlier does not mean that you can not take a 2WD truck off-road. However, it does mean that a 2WD truck will generally underperform and will not give you the same performance as a 4WD.
If you are interested in driving a 2WD truck off-road, it is important to ask yourself, “What will I use this for?” In other words, how tough of terrain will you drive on? What does “off-road” mean to you? Do you need it to drive across fields and simple dirt tracks in your area? Perhaps you need it to drive to your barn or across your farm. In that case, a 2WD truck is not bad at all.
A 2WD truck can even be used for moderately difficult terrain, as long as you avoid areas with many rocks, ditches, and mud. However, if you need to drive over extremely difficult terrain or you need to go off-road for long distances, a 2WD truck is probably not the best vehicle to use. It would be better to upgrade to a 4WD instead.
You will be surprised, however, with just how resilient most 2WD trucks are. Most people underestimate 2WD trucks and think they can never be taken off-road. That is not the case, as you will see in this article.
This article will go over some ways to modify your 2WD truck and turn it into a vehicle that you can overland in.
Can You Modify a 2WD for Off-Road Use?
Yes. The majority of this article won’t talk about converting your 2WD into a 4WD. Instead, I will talk about other ways that you can optimize your 2WD truck for off-road use. Converting your 2WD truck into a 4WD truck requires a lot of work and experience working on trucks, but there are many easier things you can do to make your 2WD truck better on dirt roads and rough terrain.
How to Change a 2WD to a 4WD
Before I go into those easier optimizations, I will briefly discuss changing your 2WD to a 4WD. If that is the route you want to go on, it is entirely possible. However, the question you want to ask yourself is, “Is this even worth it?”
Changing a 2WD to a 4WD is, in most cases, not worth the time, effort, and money you will have to put into it. The manufacturer created the truck to be a 2WD. Everything is designed for a 2WD system. If you want to change it, you will have to change and replace a lot of things.
You will not only have to take apart the entire transmission to change the output shaft to a 4WD and then put it all back together, but you will have to change and replace a lot of other parts as well. You will need to work on or replace the wiring, the front axle, the transfer case, the shifter, the CV shaft, and many more! That is only a portion of what you might have to work on and replace, depending on your model.
Doing all of the above will take a lot of time and effort. It can be quite expensive, as you will have to buy a lot of new parts. Even just finding the parts can be difficult. You will have to piece together your new 4WD from parts taken from different sources. Unless you want to pay thousands of dollars, you will probably end up getting parts from junkyards or eBay.
These parts may be faulty, and you may experience a lot of problems when driving your truck. The faulty parts may even cause safety hazards, defeating the purpose of converting your 2WD into a 4WD (which is to achieve better performance off-road). Also, your truck will legally still probably be considered a 2WD, even though it is a 4WD.
So no, it is usually not worth it to change your 2WD to a 4WD. The exception is if you are doing this for the sake of experience or fun.
If you want a project to work on and have the money to spend on extra materials (or even an entirely different – but used – 4WD truck of the same model where you will get your parts from), go ahead. Otherwise, just do the other optimizations mentioned in this article and do not bother trying to change your 2WD to a 4WD. If you want a 4WD that badly, you would be better off just spending the money on a used 4WD truck.
Now, I will go over how you can optimize your 2WD and turn it into a worthy off-road vehicle.
Change the Tires
The first step is changing the tires to off-road tires. 2WD trucks are designed for on-road driving, and they come with tires that are great for paved roads but not that great for dirt roads. It is best to change the tires – this should be your first step.
You need to look for tires that have deep tread. The deeper the tread, the more traction the tire will have on dirt and unpaved roads. Another way to get more traction in your tires is by simply installing bigger tires. Bigger tires will have more surface area touching the ground at any given time, which translates into increased traction. Traction is important in off-roading, as it will allow you to drive on mud, dirt, rocks, and other unstable terrains.
Tires with deeper tread are designed to grip the ground, even if it is not smooth. It will help you go over wet grass and mud. Braking and accelerating all use up traction, so if you have more traction in your “traction tank” due to better tires, you will have more stability when braking and accelerating. This extra traction will help your truck avoid slipping and sliding.
Increase the Suspension
Another way to optimize your 2WD truck for off-roading is to raise the suspension. A raised suspension will help you get over rocks and bumpy terrain easier. More ground clearance will also prevent your truck’s underbody from damage and help you avoid getting stuck on small hills or bumps. You will also feel the bumps and jolts less in your body.
There are many suspension lift kits that you can buy. Make sure to buy a lift kit that increases your suspension instead of just raising the top part of your truck. In general, there are two main kinds of lift kits: Lift kits that raise the entire suspension and lift kits that only raise the body of your truck a few inches above the frame while keeping the suspension and frame as is.
The latter kind of lift kit is called a body lift kit. Although they are cheaper and easier to install, they don’t do much for off-roading. They will make your truck look cooler, but since your suspension won’t be improved and the distance between the ground and your truck’s frame will not be increased, they will not be a good choice for turning your 2WD into an Overlanding vehicle.
Install Skid Plates
Installing skid plates will help protect your truck from damage. These skid plates, which go on the sides, front, and back of your truck, are designed to protect your truck’s underbody when you end up skidding on rocks. Skid plates are made of abrasion-resistant material, and they are not usually noticeable unless you look for them. Nevertheless, you can paint them if you would like your truck to look better.
They protect the underbody of your truck. Rocks can damage parts of your truck, such as the transmission, gas tank, and transfer case. When you are in the middle of nowhere, the last thing you want is a broken transmission or a cracked gas tank, so installing skid plates is essential.
Do not confuse skid plates with belly pans, which cover the entire underbelly of the truck. Belly pans are more for on-road trucks, as they help protect the underbelly from flying pebbles, sticks, and the like. However, they are not very useful for off-roading.
The only downside of installing skid plates is that they will increase the overall weight of your vehicle. For off-roading, the lighter, the better. However, this weight increase is negligible, and the benefits certainly outweigh the downsides.
Install a Push Bar (Bullbar)
Installing a push bar, sometimes called a bullbar, on the front of your vehicle is also a good idea if you plan on driving your 2WD truck on rough terrain. The main reasons to get a push bar are to protect your vehicle’s front and help you barrel through bushes and shrubs if you need to.
Sometimes, if you get stuck and need to drive through underbrushes or even a pile of mud to get out, a push bar will come in handy. It will also prevent things from getting stuck on the front of your vehicle.
Another reason to get a push bar is to help protect your vehicle if you are involved in a large animal collision. In the United States, that would usually be a deer, but I would be talking about a kangaroo in Australia.
Finally, a push bar will make it easier to attach a winch to your truck if you ever need to get it out of a ditch. You are more likely to need a winch if you have a 2WD truck than a 4WD truck.
Add a Hitch
Install a hitch on the back of your truck if you need extra room to store things. You might want to take a bicycle with you for the mountain trails you will come across. Perhaps you want to store a spare tire on the back of your truck. Another reason to install a hitch is to make it easier to pull your truck out of a ditch if you ever need a towing service to help you out.
Install a Roof Rack
This article assumes you have a pickup truck, but you can always install a roof rack instead of a hitch if you have any other kind of truck. A roof rack will give you more space and allow you to store extra bags, suitcases, a canoe, a tent, and more on the top of your vehicle. It can add some weight to your vehicle, but you can get an aluminum roof rack instead of a steel roof rack if you are concerned about that extra weight.
Get a Light Bar
A light bar is a bar with strong flashlights mounted to the roof of your truck. Put it near the front of your truck, on top of the seating area. Having lights will prove very useful when you are off-roading at night.
However, even during the daytime, you will need the extra light if it is cloudy outside or driving in a very dark and dusty area. A light bar will help you see where you are going and avoid animals, obstacles, and dangerous ditches that you would not be able to see in the dark.
Raise Your Air Intake
A good modification to do before off-roading, especially if you plan to off-road through rivers, lakes, and brooks, is to modify your air intake. You can buy an air intake kit that goes up so that your air intake entrance is higher. The benefit of doing this is that you won’t have to worry about water getting in your car, even if you drive through creeks or lakes. If water gets into the air intake, it can damage your engine, and you may end up getting stuck.
Add Tow Hooks
I already mentioned that adding a push bar to the front of your vehicle or a hitch to the back of your truck will make it easier to get your truck out of ditches. Nevertheless, it is still a good idea to install some tow hooks – and if you did not install one or both of those modifications, you need to install tow hooks.
As mentioned, a 2WD is much more likely to get stuck than a 4WD truck. That is why tow hooks are so important. Ideally, you should install two hooks on both the front and the back of your vehicle, as either side can get stuck.
Consider Regearing Your Truck
Regearing your truck is more of an expensive and complicated procedure. You may also not have any expertise with doing this and might have to take your truck to a professional. Nevertheless, since you probably already installed larger tires, it is still something to consider.
The larger tires put extra stress on your drivetrain and gearbox. Your gearbox and drivetrain were not designed for such large tires. Regearing your truck can help it handle the new stress put on it. Another reason to regear your vehicle before off-roading is that you can create lower gears. Lower gears will help your truck handle difficult terrains, especially when you are on an incline.
However, regearing a truck takes a lot of time, and it can be expensive. It is only something you should do if you have the time and expertise to do it yourself or the money to pay a professional to do it.
Add a Locker to the Rear Wheels
A locker is something that locks your two wheels together. Installing a locker to your rear wheels won’t turn your 2WD truck into a 4WD truck. Nevertheless, it will give your truck a lot of 4WD capabilities without spending money on replacing a lot of parts.
Imagine that one of your rear wheels has lost grip of the ground. It is just spinning in the air. If you do not have a locker, that tire is entirely useless, regardless of how hard you push the gas pedal. On the other hand, it is not useless if it is locked to the other wheel. Installing a locker can help you drive over mud and other tough terrains.
Equipment You Will Need for Off-Roading in a 2WD
Now that you have made the necessary modifications to your 2WD truck, it is important to buy other equipment that you will need for off-roading in such a truck. These will not be attached to your truck directly, but they will prove very helpful when off-roading in a 2WD.
A winch is a hauling device you can use to get your truck out of the mud or a ditch. If your 2WD truck gets stuck, you can attach the winch to the truck and use it to haul it out of wherever it is stuck.
There is more than one type of winch. You can get a hydraulic winch, which is more expensive or an electric winch. A hydraulic winch generally has more power, so it is better for heavier trucks. Also, there are other differences between winches. For example, you can get a winch with a steel cable, a more common type, or a winch with a synthetic rope.
A synthetic rope is lighter than a steel cable so that it won’t weigh down your truck as much. However, it also costs a lot more. Also, a steel cable is better for the mud and rocks.
Plastic Ramps or Traction Mats
Consider getting some plastic ramps, also called traction boards, that you can put in front of your wheels. These ramps will help you get out of muddy and wet situations even if you do not have a winch. These are sometimes called recovery boards or traction boards. This pair of DEFEND INDUST Traction Boards are affordable and easy to use.
An Emergency Kit
It is also important to have an emergency kit, with both medical supplies and food. Include basic medical supplies like alcohol or peroxide, bandages, and the like. Carry some spare canned food and water if you get stuck somewhere for a while and need some time to get out. A satellite phone will help you call for help, and a satellite GPS will help you navigate even if you can not charge your phone and have no internet connection.
Get a pop-up tent that you can store on the back of your truck and use at night to sleep in. There are many tents designed to go on the top of your trailer or RV, but you can also put a small tent on the back of your pickup truck. Having a tent is useful even if you do not plan on spending the night in tents, as you may find yourself far from a motel or hotel while it is getting dark.
The best advice you might get about off-roading in a 2WD vehicle is that you should practice and build up your skills. You may be used to off-roading in a 4WD, but if you have a good set of tires and an improved suspension, you will get the hang of off-roading in a 2WD pretty quickly. Practice as much, and as often as you can.
It is also a good idea to start with easy off-road trips. You might take some easy trails at first and spend your nights at easy to reach campsites. Once you get comfortable off-roading in your 2WD, you can up the notch slightly and take it on rougher terrain. It all depends on your comfort level.
You will be surprised by what a 2WD truck can do off-road. Most people will be too scared to go off-road in a 2WD, but people have gone on long off-road trips in regular 2WD cars that did not have all the modifications I talked about in this article. Anything is possible if you have the experience and put your heart into it.
If you are looking for some inspiration, check out a video that this guy, who went on an off-road trip in a 2WD Ram 1500, made:
There is nothing as fun as challenging yourself and doing what other people think is impossible.
Off-roading in a 2WD might not be for beginners or people who have never gone off-road before. However, it is entirely possible – you can do a lot more than most people think with a 2WD. The most important modification to make is to have larger tires with better tread. Just that modification alone will make your 2WD that much more effective off-road.
Add a winch in case you get into trouble, some emergency medical supplies, tow hooks to the front of your truck, and a lift kit to improve your suspension, and you will be ready for a cross-country adventure.
- How Stuff Works: Is 2WD off-roading safe?
- Fab Fours: ARE YOU SAFE OFF-ROADING WITH 2WD?
- Adventure Journal: Turn Your 2WD Into a Badass Overland Vehicle
- The Intelligent Driver: How To Choose The Right Truck Winch (8 Steps)
- CJ Pony Parts: WHAT ARE SKID PLATES ON A JEEP WRANGLER?
- eBay Motors: Convert Your SUV for Off-Road (and Off-Grid)
- Car And Driver: 10 Ways to Properly Modify Your Vehicle for Off-Roading
- Racing Junk: How to Convert Your Vehicle for Off-Roading
- Revolution Gear: Re-Gearing your Vehicle
- Practical Motoring: SIX REASONS WHY YOU NEED A BULLBAR
- 4 Wheel Parts: Can You Convert My 2wd Into A 4wd?