The contents of manufacturer off-road packages vary widely and often provide good street performance too. More compliant ride, better shock damping, wider tires, and improved balance are all potential benefits. Components may include skid plates, upgraded shock absorbers, tow hooks, different springs, limited-slip and locking differentials, electronic traction assists, auxiliary lights, rock rails, larger or more aggressive tires and wheels, and styling cues like upholstery changes and the obligatory decals. Another plus of factory options is they're included in financing, covered under warranty, and matched to the vehicle by the suspension engineers who developed it. Modifying a vehicle yourself, or preferably by having work performed by a local specialty shop, enables a more custom-tailored buildup. This is particularly appealing to those drivers looking to enhance a current vehicle or build up a pre-owned model. But when shopping new, most consumers would be best served by purchasing the right configuration from the get go.
Here's a detailed look at off-road components:
• Skid plates: These metal plates attach to the chassis to protect running gear (oil and transmission pans, aluminum differentials, fuel tanks, etc.) from flying debris and damage from being dragged over rocks, tree stumps, and other trail obstacles. The weight penalty of skid plates is minimal, as is their cost as a stand-alone option, making them cheap insurance for any genuine off-highway travel.
• Shock absorbers: A premium shock is one of the simplest ways to improve the driving dynamics of any vehicle, regardless of the road surface, and a set of off-road-tuned Bilstein, Sachs, de Carbon, Tokico, or Rancho shocks fitted as a factory option may be cheaper than adding them yourself later.
• Springs: Firmer, taller, or both, good off-road springs can retain the ride characteristics and load-carrying ability of the standard units. Soft springs and those with lots of travel make off-highway travel easier and less taxing on the vehicle. Heavy-duty springs, designed to carry more weight, and added anti-sway bars are relatively useless unless you plan on using a snow plow or camper with your truck.