Worried about banging up your brand new truck off-road? There’s all manner of protection parts vying for your hard earned dollar. Here’s how to determine what you need, and which parts work best.
Front bumpers add protection against animal strikes, off-road scrapes, and in some rare cases, even high speed road collisions. They also provide a convenient place to mount winches, lights, and radio antennas.
But, often, bumpers are simply installed for looks, along with one million and three off-road lights. This is unfortunate, because fitting an aftermarket bumper involves a lot of compromise and cost, which could better be spent on more effective protection elsewhere.
Bumpers can be made from either aluminum or steel. If you’re hoping your bumper will add a considerably amount of protection for your vehicle’s critical cooling system in a high speed animal strike, you want one made from steel. Of course, steel bumpers are heavy. Plan on one adding at least two hundred pounds to the front of your truck. And all that weight, way out at the extreme end of your vehicle, will necessitate fitting aftermarket suspension designed to adequately support and dampen that weight.
Let’s talk about car-on-car action. The Australian government dictates that bumpers made or sold there must be tested to ensure they retain full compatibility with airbags and crumple zones. Believe it or not, but they even design them to be somewhat pedestrian friendly. Bumpers made elsewhere cannot typically make the same claims.
Going one step further, Australia’s biggest 4x4 accessory brand, ARB, also performs physical crash tests of its bumpers (pictured top) fitted to popular trucks. The same types of crash tests performed to determine a vehicle’s level of outright safety. And, by spreading the forces of a partial overlap collision across both a truck’s frame rails, the Australian government has verified that in such crashes, those bumpers may actually reduce forces compared to a stock vehicle.
If an ARB bumper is available for your vehicle, consider it to be the safest, highest quality item available. If not, consider foregoing a front bumper altogether.
Rear bumpers also provide a convenient place to mount stuff, but are a little less mission critical both for on-road safety and off-road scrapes. If you find yourself dragging your rear bumper over rocks, consider replacing it. If you just want a place to carry an oversize spare tire, consider a Rig’d Supply Ultraswing. That will mount to your receiver hitch and likely help keep some weight off your vehicle.
A set of Slee Off-Roadrock sliders on a 200-series Land Cruiser. (Photo: Slee)
By far the most frequent off-road damage is going to occur to the area on your vehicle’s body, down low, between the wheels. Not only are the door sills low, they’re outside your line of vision, and represent the vehicle’s widest point. This is then doubly problematic if you drive a vehicle with a very long wheelbase, such as a four-door Jeep or a crew cab pickup.
Look for sliders that mount to at least two sides of your vehicle’s frame rails (the outside and bottom), or better: ones that form a U around three sides of the frame.
To work, sliders need to be capable of supporting half the entire loaded weight of your vehicle. Steel should be the only material you consider.
Repairing door sills is very complicated, and very expensive. This is one protection item that very quickly pays for itself.
If your vehicle is fitted with stock skid plates, like this Tundra TRD Pro, then they should provide totally adequate protection for most drivers. Only upgrade them if you find yourself bending or breaking the plates.
It’s a good idea to make sure important, fragile, low-hanging parts like your oil pan, transfer case, and fuel tank, are reasonably well protected. Often, stock off-road packages like Toyota’s TRD range or Ford’s FX4 offer skid plates protecting these areas on your vehicle.
Unless you’re rock crawling, there’s likely no need to add an all-encompassing plate system to your vehicle. Its frame rails (and sliders, if you add them), are going to touch down a long time before other parts, and will provide a decent level of protection for most general off-road driving.
Just drive carefully. There’s no reason you should be bouncing your truck off rocks and trees, unless you’ve decided to make doing that a deliberate hobby.
*Protection parts are heavy, expensive to ship, and challenging to fit. Consider purchasing them directly from the shop where you had your GFC fitted. They’ll be able to talk you through your exact needs, and handle all the work expertly.
Top photo: Stuart Palley*