Do You Need Aftermarket Suspension In Your 4X4?

Owning a 4WD opens so many options for travel and adventure whilst exploring this great country of ours. Could you imagine if you couldn’t get down that track along the coast to so many awesome …

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Club 4X4 Insurance
Feb 23 2023
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Owning a 4WD opens so many options for travel and adventure whilst exploring this great country of ours. Could you imagine if you couldn’t get down that track along the coast to so many awesome destinations because your vehicle didn’t have the capabilities?

Let’s start with the standard 4X4 vehicle sitting in the showroom. When you test drive 4WD vehicles, they are setup to compete with other 4WD brands in the market of a similar nature. For some manufacturers, it’s extremely important that the ride out of the showroom with maybe 2 or 3 people needs to feel as comfortable and smooth as possible. If the ride was rough as you head out of the car yard driveway, with a virtually unloaded vehicle, you would probably feel negative towards it.

The manufacturers are usually very conservative, providing soft, supple suspension, which when test driven, will tick the comfort box for the potential purchaser. The manufacturer will usually supply a less aggressive tyre to suit the road user more so than the off-road enthusiast, being more comfortable and more cost effective while still doing the job for the average motorist.

Now for those who will actually put a 4X4 to work off-road, one of the first modifications is usually a good set of tyres, but whether you rip the brand new suspension out to be replaced with something more off-road oriented can be a tough decision to make.

Let’s dive in a little deeper to the brand new 4X4 being sold in Australia. There are some vehicles that have been introduced over the years with great quality suspension systems as standard and in some cases, better quality off-road tyres too.

The Ford Ranger Raptor is a great example with a dedicated and amazing suspension system designed to suit higher speed harsh terrain rather than your typical lower speed 4WDing. It has its pros and cons though, with an unbelievable ride style and wider stance, but also a reduced load carrying and towing capability than a standard Ranger.

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Another good example is the Nissan Navara, which has 2 variant. The Nissan Navara SL Warrior and the Pro-4X Warrior have been converted by Premcar to be more suitable for the off-road enthusiast to tackle off-road terrain immediately after its purchase. It is also more suitable than the standard Navara versions for towing. But it still has its negatives as the suspension it comes with is designed to suit everyone. But one size does not fit all in the 4WD game, with this suspension setup being a compromise, which you might need to change slightly to suit your adventure lifestyle.

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Manufacturers are clueing up to the fact that taking a bigger piece of the pie back from the aftermarket by selling kitted out vehicles is a great way to grow profits. Now whilst these updated vehicles are an awesome addition for the consumer, they are also setup as a compromise. You really can’t have a one-size-fits-all solution to the vast Australian market who have so many different requirements from their 4WD.

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A good example of this is Club 4X4s Ford Ranger Raptor. Due to carrying extra loads and towing a camper trailer, it required a spring change that also gave extra ground clearance, which you can CLICK HERE to read more about.

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There are some simple solutions to assist suspension setups in carrying varying loads and driving styles. Airbags act as secondary springs with an adjustable spring rate, which can be increased for additional loads, like the ball weight from a trailer, the gear taken on a big trip or even tradespeople when loaded up with supplies.

In my 79 Series, I have air bags from the guys at Airbagman, which can be adjusted in the cab with a touch screen interface called ARB Linx. When we add full fuel, I’ll run 12 PSI in the airbags and as we consume the fuel, I will adjust the pressure to 8 PSI to allow for more compliance and a softer ride. The idea is to ensure your vehicle’s suspension is setup correctly without the assistance of the airbags, so the springs installed should be holding the vehicle to the correct height. When you add a load to the vehicle, you add a little pressure in the airbags to assist its ride.

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Variable shocks allow the user to make personal adjustments to their setup by either a simple or maybe detailed set of adjustments. I would like to run through a couple of great Australian designed adjustable shocks, which are extremely different, but both allow the user to customise their ride.

Let’s start with Tough Dog’s adjustable shocks. By adjusting a dial at the base of the shock, you can transform the comfort and control of the vehicle from a very soft and subtle ride to a firm and stable controlled ride.

ARB have their BP51 adjustable shocks. These are a progressive shock that work harder towards the top and bottom of the shock movement, but most importantly, the user can adjust the shocks separately for compression and rebound.

For the bigger, heavier rigs like my 79, controlling the rebound is so important.

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There are other designs of adjustable shocks available, so you might want to do a little research for yourself. It’s great to have the capabilities to make your vehicle handle better to suit the load you are carrying and the driving style you are chasing.

For a 4WDer, the biggest issue in setting up a 4X4’s suspension is knowing what you will be using it for and what gear will be added to it. This can be quite frustrating to the new 4WDer having had minimal exposure to 4WDing and relying on other people’s thoughts to hopefully get it right. Different styles of 4WDing will usually require a different setup and the suspension system installed needs to be designed to suit vehicle loads and driving characteristics.

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Now let’s imagine you decided to purchase a vehicle, add a dual battery setup, drawers and a fridge, bull bar and winch, roof rack etc. You then add your family, the camping gear and luggage. If you haven’t changed the suspension on this vehicle, it will most likely be dragging its rear and become quite dangerous to drive. This could be expanded out to include your choice to tow a camper trailer, adding at least potentially 100s of kgs to the rear weights of your vehicle.

For most people, the reliance on an aftermarket suspension kit is extremely important. For me, if you are going to purchase a 4WD that’s going to carry a decent whack more weight than standard, the right suspension system will be one of the most important decisions you make.

Remember, the suspension kit in your vehicle is not just holding everything up or carrying the load, it is also providing you safe travels on- and off-road, and the biggest factor in comfort. It’s just so important to get it right.

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How do you get it right? There will be a lot of research required. Firstly, before you take delivery of your 4X4, you will need to do the following.

Figure out what you will be using the 4X4 vehicle for.

Figure out what accessories will be added to the vehicle to suit your needs.

Calculate the weights of everything that will be added to the vehicle, including, people, luggage, fuel food etc. You will be surprised at how quickly things add up. Your 4X4 accessory store can help you with this.

Now you need to compare this overall weight with the standard GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) of the vehicle. You might find that you are already over the vehicle’s GVM.

This is good to know before you register the vehicle as the aftermarket suspension company should be able to assist you with a pre-registration GVM upgrade, allowing you to add the vehicle accessories and carry the gear required to head out on your adventure.

Whether you are purchasing your vehicle fully kitted out from the dealer with your choice of 4X4 accessories or arranging your favourite accessory company to build the vehicle for you, ask as many questions as you need to make sure the suspension system is right for you.

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Let’s get back to the question, “Do you need to upgrade your 4X4 vehicle’s suspension on a standard 4X4?”

If you are going to change the vehicles characteristics and weights even slightly outside of what it was originally designed to carry, to suit your adventure, I believe you should look at a better suspension system to help both carry the load correctly and safely. For anybody who is planning on towing a heavy trailer, the suspension system could make your driving experience less stressful and more enjoyable.

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-Michael Ellem

Offroad Images

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