Are 2WDs Just as Off-Road Capable as 4WDs

While 4WD is useful for mud riding, rock crawling and other off-road pastimes, you won’t have to trade in your 2WD to get in on the fun. With a few simple upgrades, your two-wheel drive vehicle can get out there and keep up with the best of them.

Narrowing the Gap

10 or 15 years ago, you would have had to do some serious deliberation before making the choice between 2WD and 4WD. Although 4WD models hold their value better than their 2WD counterparts, the cost of a 4WD is higher. To make things more complex, 4WDs of that time came with downsides such as diminished ride quality, reduced fuel economy and less power.

As lightweight utes became popular, automakers realized that these vehicles were being used in a growing range of conditions. With this realization came a wider selection of vehicles that appeal to today’s drivers, and a narrower gap between 2WD and 4×4 accessories and rims and tyres packages.

Today’s Features

In today’s vehicle market, some larger, heavy duty vehicles have the same 4WD suspension kits on their 2WD vehicles. The only substantial differences we see now are the differentials found on a 4WD’s front wheels, and the availability of greater low-end torque and lower gearing in 4WD mode. These features are an advantage on tow-capable vehicles, whether or not they’re ever used off-road.

Making the Mods

If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering what sort of changes you can make to breathe life into your faithful 2WD. A 2WD’s off-road capability boils down to two requirements: traction and ample ground clearance. A lift kit—which is designed to offer clearance for larger 4×4 mags wheels Australia while maintaining braking and steering geometry—are also an option for 2WDs. With lift kits, suspension upgrades and Ford Ranger grills, you can assemble a system that’s customised to your requirements without sacrificing ride quality and comfort when you’re on the highway.

Tyres and Traction

The same applies to off-road tyres, which provide much-needed traction. There are so many off-roading competitions, each with a specific tyre tread and design, that your options are only limited by your budget. BFGoodrich has a long history of success in the Dakar and Baja rallies, and it offers heavily-treaded 4×4 tyres online that are marketed for 2WD use as well.

The Differential Makes a Difference

Another potential option for 2WD owners is a differential locking system. Many of today’s 2WD and 4WD models have a limited slip differential that locks the axle when the wheels start to slip. When an axle locks, the engine’s full power is sent to both wheels. If that makes you scratch your head in confusion—as it does many people—we’ll provide a simple explanation of non-slipping and slipping differentials.

When in a turning motion, the inside wheel travels a shorter distance than the outside wheel travels. In the case of turning vehicles, an inside wheel has extra traction or weight, so more power is routed to the unweighted wheel. When these wheels are stuck in the sand or in the mud, the wheel with the least traction gets all the power—but since it can’t bite into the road surface, it just spins non-stop.

Why Get a Manual Locking Differential?

An automatic locking or limited slip differential is typically adequate for light off-road use, but it’s not a substitute for a manual locking differential. With these systems, you can lock the differential at the base of a hill or before you ride through the sand or mud. While most manual locking differentials are sold to hardcore off-road drivers, they can work on 2WDs in equivalent conditions about 95% of the time.

See a Professional for These Mods

The above listed modifications aren’t cheap, and with the exception of Ford Ranger wheels and tyres, they’re beyond the aptitude of most novice installers. If you’re forced to choose, however, between buying a 4WD and upgrading your current 2WD, the latter option will add stoutness to your vehicle at a fraction of the cost.

While 4WDs are popular among Australia’s off-road crowd, there’s no reason to sell your current 2WD in order to go off the beaten path. With upgrades to the suspension, tyres, wheels and differential, you can get high-level performance from your 2WD vehicle. For help and advice on choosing the right upgrades for your 2WD or 4WD, consult a local or online seller.