Story by Jonathan Hanson

Top 5 Expedition Modifications

These Can Be Left Off The Expedition Modifications List

Expedition travel is a different universe than weekend four-wheeling. When you’re just out for a few days near home—camping, challenging a few trails—breaking down is no more than an inconvenience. Expedition modifications are critical. But if you’ve embarked on a long journey far from familiar territory, perhaps in another country or on another continent, a breakdown can endanger the trip. It can even affect your safety if you’re traveling solo and are tens or hundreds of miles from assistance.

For journeys such as this, your priorities regarding vehicle expedition modifications and accessories need to change, from an emphasis on maximum 4WD performance (and, let’s be honest, maximum looks) to reliability and durability. Herewith are five top ways to minimize your chances of an epic field repair if you’re planning an epic overland adventure.


Re-gearing differentials will weaken pinion gear

Re-gearing your differentials to compensate for taller tires will weaken the pinion gear

if you’ve embarked on a long journey far from familiar territory … a breakdown can endanger the trip—or even your safety if you’re traveling solo and are tens or hundreds of miles from assistance.

Expedition Modifications: Big Tires

Everyone loves the look of big, aggressive tires on a 4×4, and in certain situations, they have advantages in ground clearance, traction, and the ability to successfully climb ledges. But big, heavy tires extract a heavy price. They put massive additional stress on your suspension, steering components, and bearings. They hurt fuel economy and retard acceleration—and if you install higher-ratio differential gears in an attempt to compensate for these downsides, you’ll simply weaken the pinion gear, which has to be reduced in size to gain the higher ratio. Larger-diameter and heavier tires also increase braking distances. Remember that Land Rovers conquered Africa on skinny 7.50×16 tires and Land Cruisers conquered Australia on the same size. Besides, if you destroy a 37-inch tire in Botswana I guarantee you won’t find a replacement in Maun. They know better there.


Land Cruiser Troop Carrier with 2-inch lift and BFG tires

Our Land Cruiser Troop Carrier, which we’ve driven around Australia and across Africa: 2-inch lift, moderately sized 235/85R16 BFGoodrich All-Terrains.

Big Suspension Lift

As with tires, there are some advantages to a raised suspension for rock crawling or mud bogging. Not on an expedition. You want to keep your center of gravity as low as possible to ensure maximum fuel economy and safe handling while carrying the equipment and rations needed for a long journey. Big suspension lifts increase angles on rod ends and driveshaft joints, leading to premature wear. You’ve probably seen photos of the Camel Trophy Land Rovers that challenged some of the toughest terrain on the planet—they all rode on stock-height suspension. If you really think you need some lift, keep it to a couple of inches. The expedition experts at ARB know this—their Old Man Emu suspension kits are all in the 2-inch range.


ARB/Old Man Emu expedition-capable suspension

ARB/Old Man Emu has long specialized in expedition-capable suspensions: Modest lift, durable shocks

Race Shocks

Along with a suspension lift, many owners install long-travel shocks modeled after racing versions, with all-metal heim-joint ends, external-bypass tubes, and remote reservoirs. Shocks are designed to deal with the kind of high-speed, high-amplitude movement common in off-road races—exactly what you’re not going to be doing on a long journey in a loaded vehicle. You need a simple shock with enough oil capacity to stay cool after a full day of driving over washboard or rutted roads and trails. The best expedition shock I’ve ever used is the Koni Heavy Track Raid, an utterly boring-looking thing next to the racer jobs but capable of soaking up mile after mile of abuse under a fully loaded Land Rover. Simple rubber bushings last longer and are far easier to replace than heim joints and help dampen road vibrations.

Our group successfully ascended the Dakhla Escarpment in Egypt with these three Toyota Land Cruisers on stock suspension and 235/85R16 BFGoodrich All-Terrains, in the course of a photo-matching survey of the Western Oases.

High performance intakes deliver clean air to engines

The only kind of “high-performance” intake you need is one that delivers clean air to your engine.

Expedition Modifications: Wheel Spacers

A wheel spacer is a disk—usually aluminum—that fits between the hub and the wheel. It increases the track width and reduces lateral load transfer, which can fractionally help handling and stability. They give your truck a more aggressive look, too. Unfortunately, they also put significant extra stress on wheel bearings. You’re moving the wheel farther away from the bearing and essentially lengthening a very strong lever. You’re also increasing the scrub radius. This is the distance between where the pivot point of the kingpin intersects the ground and the center of the tread. This also increases the kingpin offset. All of this affects the steering and suspension negatively. It will wear components you do not want to have to replace in a spot where “Amazon” only refers to a large river.


Camel Trophy Land Rover on its side

High-Performance Air Intakes

Intake systems replace the stock air filter. They produce more horsepower are frequently much worse at actually filtering air, or so they say. They are often more vulnerable to water intrusion during a crossing. Advertised horsepower gains are measured on a dyno—about as far from expedition reality as possible. Most factory intake systems are carefully routed to ingest cold outside air. They minimize the danger of water ingress. You can install a snorkel. This does not automatically turn your vehicle into a submarine but helps get the intake above some ground-level dust.


Sahara Desert and tire tracks

Even in the Sahara you don’t need big fat tires.

Expedition Modifications: Roof Rack

OK, I said five, but here’s a bonus. Do without a roof rack if you can. Ah, but what about the Camel Trophy Land Rovers I just mentioned? They looked awesome under those roof racks piled high with jerricans and Pelican cases, right? True, but, first, the CT vehicles usually had two team members plus two journalists inside. They were operating in extremely remote terrain and had to carry extra gear on the roof. More important, those vehicles all too frequently ended up on their sides during demanding special tasks. You don’t want to do that. You won’t have 15 other Camel Trophy vehicles to help you get back on all four wheels.

Sahara Desert and Land Cruiser
Excess roof loads negatively affect handling and fuel economy. Everything strapped on the roof is vulnerable to casual theft. They’re even bad for braking: Weight up high tends to pitch the vehicle forward under braking, unloading the rear tires. If you need a roof rack, keep the load as light as possible. The weight of the rack itself plus, say, a roof tent is about maximum for safety’s sake.

Remember, on a long, remote journey, reliability should be your number one through five priority. The best approach to most critical driveline components is to stay as close to stock as possible.

Expedition vehicles in desert

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