How to Choose an Off-Road Vehicle

An off-road vehicle can handle rough terrain like sand dunes and mud. Jeeps and Toyota SUVs are good examples of this kind of vehicle.


While there are many factors that determine whether a car can be considered off-road, most of the characteristics can be boiled down to a few basic features. These include four-wheel drive, high ground clearance and the right gear.

Four-wheel drive

The market for off-road vehicles is booming right now. New trucks like the Ford Bronco are generating massive hype among off-road enthusiasts and more SUVs than ever are designed to take on rugged trails. However, with so many options, it can be hard to know which rigs are the best for your next adventure.

Four-wheel drive (also known as 4WD and 4-x4) is one of the most important features you can look for in an off-road vehicle. This system sends power from the engine to both the front and rear wheels, allowing them to move at the same speed and providing traction even if one or more tires lose traction. This capability comes in handy on challenging off-road terrain and in slippery conditions like snow or sand.

In addition to distributing power to all four wheels, some four-wheel drive systems offer additional off-road capability by including selectable modes and locking differentials. These systems can be either full-time (4WD), where all four wheels receive power on a continuous basis, or part-time (AWD), where the system monitors road conditions and sends power to the front and rear depending on the situation.

If you want a capable off-road vehicle, it’s best to choose a model with four-wheel drive and plenty of other trail-ready features. Check out the Toyota Land Cruiser for a great example of a rugged 4×4 that’s packed with off-road tech and ready for your next adventure.

High ground clearance

Ground clearance, which measures the distance between a vehicle’s undercarriage and the ground, is an important characteristic for off-road vehicles. It ensures that a vehicle can clear obstacles and travel over rough terrain without getting stuck or damaged. It also allows drivers to navigate difficult conditions, such as snow and flooding.

Some cars with high ground clearance can easily tackle a variety of off-road trails. However, other off-road vehicles may require specific upgrades or modifications to make them suitable for the terrain they intend to traverse. For this reason, buyers should consult with a dealership before making a purchase to discuss the options available.

Another way to increase a car’s ground clearance is to outfit it with larger tires. However, it is important to remember that oversized tires will decrease the handling and ride quality of a vehicle. Therefore, it is best to choose a set of tires that are close to the stock size to maintain a balanced driving experience.

Serious off-roaders need a lot of ground clearance to power through rocks, mountains, and deep sandbanks. Some SUVs with serious ground clearance are available straight from the factory, such as the Ford Bronco. Its class-leading ground clearance of 10.9 inches is enough to clear most obstacles on off-road trails. Other popular off-road vehicles include the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and the Ford Ranger Raptor.

Tires with good traction

The tires on your vehicle can make or break your off-roading experiences. Many drivers choose to replace their stock tires with off-road options, which can offer superior grip on rocky surfaces. However, installing a tire that is too large can negatively affect your vehicle’s handling and performance. According to TJ Campbell, a tire information and testing manager for retailer Tire Rack, it’s important to know your vehicle and driving habits before you change the type of tires on it.

If you drive off-road most of the time and rarely take your car to paved roads, consider all-terrain tires like the Nitto Ridge Grappler. This tire offers exceptional traction for off-road driving, as well as great highway handling. It can even handle snowy, icy and wet roads when conditions are right.

If you frequently scramble through extreme off-road terrains, mud-terrain tires such as the BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM3 are an excellent choice. These tires have huge tread lugs that deliver superior grip in dirt, mud and sand. They also feature a tougher sidewall design, which protects your tires from damage and punctures. This is especially useful for off-roaders, who often encounter sharp rocks and other obstacles that can puncture a conventional tire. This means that your off-roading adventures won’t be interrupted by a tire failure that requires changing it out on the side of the road.

The right gear

There is a lot of equipment to consider when getting prepared for off-road and overlanding adventures. While some of the gear is not always required, it can help you be more efficient and safer on the trail. For example, a mud-terrain tire makes a big difference when trying to drive through muddy, loose terrain. It is not only quieter than a regular tire, but it also helps to eject mud or snow and help you coast through the tough spots.

A portable battery charger is another essential piece of off-road equipment that should be included in your vehicle’s emergency must-haves. A dead battery can end your adventure very quickly, so it is important to have a way to jump-start your vehicle as soon as possible. Duct tape and zip ties are also very useful for impromptu fixes and other minor repairs on the fly.

If you are traveling in remote locations, it is recommended that you have a means of communication with your friends and family. A satellite communicator like the Garmin InReach is a great option for this purpose, as it allows you to stay connected and also lets loved ones know your location at all times.

It is not a question of whether or not you will get stuck off road, it’s a matter of when. It is critical that you carry an extraction toolkit, especially one that has a heavy-duty jack that can raise vehicles that are up to 7,000 pounds.