Have you been overtaken by the allure of off-roading culture? There’s a wide world to explore, but to do it right, you’ll have to ensure that your vehicle stays in optimal condition — “good” doesn’t cut it for this type of extreme vehicular recreation.
This is because many of the physical stresses and route demands of off-road driving require a bit more car care than those of dry-pavement-only vehicles. To stay out on the trails, it’s imperative that you keep on top of your truck maintenance or SUV upkeep.
To give you an idea of what that entails, as well as some professional insight into how to take the best care of your off-roading vehicle, we have listed some tips for 4×4 service and 4-wheel drive maintenance below. Many of these tips apply to car maintenance in general, but they’re especially important, if not critical, when it comes to 4×4 vehicles.
Any type of car ownership requires regular oil changes, but this recurring auto service is even more important if you off-road with a 4×4 vehicle. Many off-road applications put a lot of stress on your engine, especially when you’re in lower gears of 4WD, which gives your wheels madly increased torque, but also causes greater wear and tear on the car’s internal components.
Whether your 4×4 vehicle has a mere 12 months of driving history or more than 24,000 miles logged in its odometer, always check your owner’s manual for the proper oil change intervals. Once you understand the your model manufacturer’s recommended guidelines, create a maintenance schedule — and stick to it.
Keep Your Tires Rotated And Balanced
Tire rotations and tire-balance checks are two more staples of car ownership that only increase in importance with 4×4 vehicles. First, for many 4×4 transfer cases, tire size has to be equal in order to shift safely and with precision. Excessive wear and tear on your auto tire treads can actually damage your transfer case if it’s neglected. In addition to this expensive possibility, both front and rear tires wear at a vastly different pace in 4×4 vehicles depending on how the auto is driven, so regular tire rotations are necessary for tire care and assurance of maximized tire life span, as well as general driver safety.
Your tires need to be balanced as often as they are rotated, as this equalizes the weight distribution around the axle and minimizes tread wear imbalances. Each and every bump in the road and rock on the trail can influence your balance in small ways that compound one another over time. Getting your tires rotated and balanced at regular intervals prevents uneven wear on your tires and suspension — not to mention it reduces vibration and aftershock during especially gnarly 4×4 excursions.
You may start to notice a theme in 4×4 maintenance, and that is avoiding excessive tire wear. Another common cause of tire wear for avid off-roaders is misalignment. Not only can misalignment cause tire wear and tread degradation, but it decreases handling quality and reduces your gas mileage as well. If you feel your steering wheel pulling to one direction, take it to the shop as soon as possible. Best case scenario, your tires are merely inflated to uneven pressure levels. And even if your tires do end up needing to be aligned again, the small fee for the service pays dividends in the long run.
Check Fluid Levels
Before any big off-road adventure, it’s important to check all of your vehicle’s fluid levels. Making it a prerequisite before you leave can save you a lot of hassle, and possibly a long hike and call to AAA, if you end up catching the problem before you’re on the trail. Start by checking your engine oil, as it is the most important. Even if you get your regular oil changes, check the oil level as well, looking out for contamination. Next on the list is engine coolant, which is extremely important in keeping your engine from overheating. Finally, make sure you have windshield washer fluid. It’s also a good idea to keep a jug handy in your vehicle on long trips.
Not sure which fluid levels to check? Read our guide to car fluid maintenance here.
Change Your Air Filter
Trails are full of dirt and grime, that’s part of why we love them! However, over time, those contaminants begin to block your air filter, which can compromise engine function. In general, it is recommended to have your air filter changed every 15,000 to 30,000 miles. However, if you frequent trails and dirt roads, or even if you only off-road occasionally, it is advised to increase the frequency of your air filter changes and cleaning services.
Know Your Vehicle
When it comes to off-roading and driving a 4×4 car, maintenance is only half the battle. If you want to ensure your 4×4 truck or SUV lasts as long as possible, it is critical for you to know its limits. Different driving applications put different kinds of stress on your vehicle. Daily commutes, towing, dirt-road driving, and many other common vehicular encounters can all take a toll on your off-roading rig.
When venturing on an off-roading route, you should always consider how the driving environment you’re tackling comes into play. Scout any sharp hills before climbing, and always check current speed and depth before crossing any bodies of running water. To get an ideal feel for the limits of your vehicle, we recommend having regular discussions with your mechanic. Let them know what your truck or SUV goes up against, and they can advise you on the best maintenance schedule.
One of the most useful, but often overlooked, pieces of truck maintenance is simply knowing when to bring in a professional. The best way to know this is by receiving regular vehicle inspections. Catching problems before they arise is the most cost-effective way of keeping your vehicle in great condition, but this method requires a mechanic you can trust.
Thank you for reading our guide to 4×4 maintenance and off-roading vehicle care. Here at Fort Collins Foreign Car Service, we offer 4×4 repairs and four-wheel drive maintenance services for the majority of vehicle makes and models throughout the Northern Colorado region. If you have any questions about your car or off-roading truck, or would like to learn more about our repair services, don’t hesitate — give one of our trusted mechanics a call or drop by our local car shop in Fort Collins today.