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How to Choose a 4x4 Truck


4x4 Trucks for Different Terrains
Garrett Sisson puts himself and his Jeep in a precarious position while off-roading with a group of other four-wheel drive enthusiasts in the Chokecherry Canyon area near Farmington, N.M.
Garrett Sisson puts himself and his Jeep in a precarious position while off-roading with a group of other four-wheel drive enthusiasts in the Chokecherry Canyon area near Farmington, N.M.
AP Photo/Norman Dettlaff

Starting with a solid 4x4 truck is the key point in buying a truck for off-roading, no matter what terrain you plan to take on. Ford, Chevy, Dodge, Toyota, and Nissan as well as several other manufacturers all have 4x4 trucks suitable for off-road driving. These trucks typically include a powerful engine with plenty of torque. The chassis and suspension are designed for bouncing over ruts and rocks, so they may feel a bit stiff on the way to the mall. And of course, off-road trucks feature true four-wheel drive capabilities, meaning all four wheels receive power from the engine for driving across ice, through sand, or out of mud and gravel.

With the basics in place, the options for off-roading come into play, depending on terrain. Tires are the first thing to consider, as different sizes and treads are used in snow, sand or dirt. The truck's clearance might not be an issue for icy off-roading, but it will be important for rocky fields. If the truck of your dreams is a little low, it can almost always be lifted a little higher to clear more obstacles.

Skid plates come in handy, too. These are for protecting the underside of the truck from trees, rocks and other debris. Manufacturers often offer skid plates as part of an off-road package that can be purchased with a new truck, along with things like upgraded shock absorbers and knobbier off-road tires. The Ford Raptor is a good example. It's offered with skid plates, special suspension, special tires and engine and transmission controls designed specifically for off-road use.

The Raptor also has a locking differential to help in sand and snow. This means the wheels spin at exactly the same rate, no matter what. Normally, when a truck drives around a turn, the outside wheels spin a little bit faster to keep up with the inside wheels. A locking differential keeps the wheels going around at the same rate, and prevents the wheels from slipping. Using this feature on dry pavement can wreak havoc on a 4x4, though, so it's best used only when the going gets rough.

Climate can make a difference when choosing a 4x4 truck, too. Read on to find out what's best for you.


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