Sunday, 17 November 2013

Modding for the Safari

So, after reading and hearing all these tales of adventure, you want to bring your four-wheel-drive vehicle into the Borneo Safari next year? Good for you!
The standard 4X4 that you can buy from a number of showrooms these days is a good starting point. This may sound silly but it needs to be said - make sure your vehicle is really a 4X4. The first '4' says it has four wheels, and the second '4' tells you power is transmitted to four wheels. So, you have 4X4s, and 4X2s which have power for only two of their four wheels. And the army has 8X8, 6X6, 6X4, etc. 
Please, please do not call a two-wheel-drive pick-up a "2X4" because you'll be talking about a piece of wood or timber.
And this point (about having a real 4X4) needs to be stressed because there has been at least one Malysian fishing enthusiast who bought a Toyota because all his friends told him the Hilux was the best off-road vehicle around since all the timber workers swear by them. Since he lives in Kuala Lumpur, he had to have an automatic transmission. And, at that time, the Hilux (the SR Turbo version) was available in auto, but only with two-wheel-drive. So, this angling fan went off into the jungle and promptly got stuck at the first patch of mud. And he wondered why.
So, are you sure you have a 4X4? Okay then, read on.
(In the case of the Lone Ranger's Borneo Safari adventures, it was a deliberate effort to find out if the standard T6 Ranger is tough enough to survive the ordeal, and the conclusion is that it is indeed. That does not mean it was easy, or that it cannot be modified to be more capable in the rough stuff. It's no reflection on the engineers' capabilities, it's just that no manufacturer today makes civilian vehicles that are intended to do stuff like they have to do on a Borneo Safari.)
In preparing a (real) 4X4 vehicle for a hard-core event like the Borneo Safari, the main goal is superior ground clearance. That's the strategy. Stuff like approach angle, departure angle and ramp breakover, these are all part of ground clearance.
The tactic to achieve the strategy is tyres. Big tyres. The bigger, the better. And aggressive treads, of course. Many of the mods that you hear people talk about - body lift, suspension lift, etc - are a means to an end, and that end is to enable the car to wear bigger tyres.
The logic is simple. If you have a very tall vehicle with lots of air under the body, it will be less likely to get stuck when deep ruts are encountered, compared to a car with less clearance. 
The vertically-challenged car will likely end up stranded on the high centre of the trail, with all four wheels flailing futilely in the ruts, like a beached turtle.
Even in a situation when all four tyres have insufficient traction to propel the car forward and every car has to rely on the winch to make progress, the taller car will have an easier time because there will be less resistance from the body dragging in the mud.
It's not simply a matter of putting down your money and buying the biggest rubber from the shop because these giant tyres will not be able to fit on a standard car without hitting part of the bodywork or suspension or steering or chassis, or all of the above.
Most medium to large 4X4s that are sold new today, like the ubiquitous double-cab pick-ups and their derivatives like the Fortuner and Pajero Sport, are delivered with stock tyres of about 31" diameter or smaller. 
For decent off-road performance these days, you'd need at least 33", and for the Borneo Safari, preferably 35 inches as a minimum. 
It's a bit like an arms race. If everyone used standard 31" tyres, everyone would be in the same boat, or ruts.
But when one guy uses 35", he will end up creating ruts that are simply too deep for a 33" to navigate. And then some other smart guy will use 36", which give him an edge over all the 35" and 33" cars, until more people show up with the latest 37" rubbers. And then there are the 40"s!
So, aside from a fat wallet (these large Extreme tyres run upward of RM1,000 a piece nowadays), you'd need to create sufficient space within the wheel well.
A Ford Ranger with standard suspension and
 33" tyres is dwarfed by a Toyota  Land Cruiser
 with monster 40" Maxxis Trepador rubbers.
The simplest mod would be a body lift, which entails unbolting the body from the frame, sticking in blocks made of some synthetic plastic like nylon or teflon, and refitting the body about three or four inches higher that it was when it left the factory. It should be noticed that getting a body lift without fitting bigger tyres will yield very little benefit since the axles and differential housings (hence, the car's lowest points) will still be at exactly the same level as before the lift. 
It sounds simple but there are many details to get right, such as relocating the radiator, intercooler and related connecting hoses, brake and fuel hoses, steering and gearbox and transfer linkages, etc. In addition to relocation, some of these components may need to be replaced altogether with longer versions. Done right, a body lift can be an effective way to get bigger tyres on but it can also become a nightmare if not done properly.
Then, there is the suspension left. Longer coil spring, leaf springs and shackles or torsion bars, and matching shock absorbers are needed to put more space between the axles and the car's body. 
There are so many aftermarket options on offer that it is a matter of how much money you have to spend. Reputable brands to check out include Old Man Emu, Tough Dog, King Springs, and more recent players like Ironman, Pedders, etc. 
But do bear in mind that there are also issues that can crop up with too extreme a lift. Things like wheel caster angle and drive shaft angles for cars with independent front suspension (IFS) need to be taken into account if problems are to be averted. 
For example, an extreme lift on an IFS car, coupled with large tyres and a heavy-footed driver is a pretty sure recipe for a broken drive shaft when the muck starts flying. 
It helps to join an online forum or multiple forums that are dedicated to thevehicle you own so that you can learn from others about issues that may be specific to your car.
After the big tyres go on, the next consideration is whether they touch the bodywork when steering to either left or right. If they do (and there's a high chance of it happening if the tyres are a lot wider than standard), then a new set of wheels with more negative offset are in order, followed by a set of aftermarket fender flares to cover the protruding tyres. 
If the credit card is still willing and able, then add a winch, a solid front bumper to mount it on, some heavy duty side steps to protect the side of the car and help you get in and out, plus a heavy duty rear bumper with towing capability, and you're almost ready. There's still the snorkel to aid water wading, and budget permitting, a set of differential lockers to maximise traction.
With the car nearly done, you'd still need an assortment of recovery gear such towing and snatch straps, shackles, S-hook, snatch block, shovels and hoes (cangkul). And don't forget the director's chair.