Ford F-150/F-250: Off Roading Modifications

Here is how to make your Ford F-150 or F-250 Super Duty ready for any off-road terrain.

By Pizzaman711 - November 12, 2014

This article applies to the Ford F-150 (2004-2014), and the F-250 Super Duty (2005-2014).

Straight from the factory, your truck is capable of some light off-road activities. There are options to choose when purchasing a truck that can help improve the performance, but there are some things the dealer won't include by default. Here are some of the popular off-road modifications for your Ford F-150 or F-250 Super Duty.

Starter Modifications

Tires

DIY Cost - Around $800-2,500, depending on size

Professional Installation Cost -Usually no charge with purchase of tires. Otherwise, around $15 a tire plus valve stem/TPMS sensors/etc.

Tires are a great way to improve your off-road performance. Not only can larger tires give you more ground clearance so you don't high center, you can also get a more aggressive tread pattern to match the terrain your going through. Off-road tires aren't cheap, but there's a night and day difference between a street tire and a dedicated off-road tire. It is recommended to have a shop install these because it is rather hard to balance tires without the machine auto shops have.

Shock Absorbers

DIY Cost - $200-3,000+ for shocks/coilovers

Professional Installation Cost - $100-150

Skill Level - Novice to moderate; shocks are bolt in and go, coilovers will require compressing the spring on them

Upgrading the shocks can make a huge difference when not driving on pavement. The factory shocks are designed for the street; they aren't meant to handle off-road conditions and will fade fast. Shock fade is when the oil inside them begins to overheat and lose its properties that help dampen the ride. This will lead to a rough and bouncy ride because the oil is no longer controlling the shock. Aftermarket replacements correct this by providing more oil capacity to prevent fade and more adjusting to tune for your conditions.

Factory Options

When purchasing a truck new, you'll be able to choose some options that you'd otherwise have to source aftermarket. These options include things like skid plates to protect the under side of your truck, locking differentials to help provide traction, and some trucks even come lifted to provide more ground clearance. The upside to going through the factory is you won't lose your warranty, the downside is you'll pay a high premium for parts you could have gotten for less than half the cost at an off-road shop.

Intermediate Modifications

Mild Lift Kit (Body or Suspension)

DIY Cost - $200 (Leveling kit) - $3,500 (Lift kit)

Professional Installation Cost - $200-$1,000

Skill Level - Moderate; a good selection and working knowledge of tools is required for install

Lift kits are a great way to gain some ground clearance by allowing you to fit larger tires. If you're planning on purchasing a lift kit, I suggest waiting on that new tire purchase so that they don't end up looking undersized. You can lift your truck in a variety of ways whether it be a leveling kit, body lift, or suspension lift with the cost increasing and off-road benefit increasing in that order. The more height you can gain, the more clearance you can have for larger tires. This translates to more ground clearance at a ratio of half the height of the tire change. For example, if you had 31" tires and then went to 35" tires, the lowest point on your truck will now be 2" higher from the ground.

Tires Beyond Stock Limitations

DIY Cost - Around $800-$2,500, depending on size

Professional Installation Cost - Usually no charge with tire purchase. Otherwise around $15 per tire plus valve stem/TPMS sensors/etc.

From the factory, a stock 4x4 is limited to about a 33x11.50" tire and a stock 4x2 is limited to about a 31x11.50" tire. Once you lift your truck you can not only clear larger tires, but wider tires as well. You'll gain the benefit of both more ground clearance and a wider footprint. The ground clearance will help you from dragging the ground and damaging parts of the drivetrain. The wider footprint allows you to gain more traction by having wider (read: more) tire touching the ground at a time.

Locking Differentials

DIY Cost - $200-$600 per axle

Professional Cost - $500-$800 per axle

Skill Level - Hard; recommended to leave this to a professional so you don't damage your axle

Locking differentials come in a variety of types that function and engage differently, such as:

  • Limited slip differentials: These lock when sensing a wheel losing traction. They are best for a street-driven truck.
  • Automatic lockers: These are locked all the time and will unlock when a wheel needs to be free such as when turning. They can provide weird handling characteristics on the street.
  • Selectable lockers: These are controlled usually through the flip of a switch, engaging a lever, or something similar. They use air, electricity, etc. to engage the locker on your command, and tend to be the most expensive.

Any form of a locker will give you a huge increase over an open differential. With an open differential, both wheels will spin until one loses traction like when a tire is off the ground. Once this happens, the truck will divert all power to the wheel with the least load, which in this scenario is the wheel with no contact to anything but air. Lockers will prevent things like that from happening by keeping the distribution of power even between the two wheels.

Advanced Modifications

Extreme Lift

DIY Cost - $3,000-$8,000+

Professional Installation Cost - $500-$2,500+

Skill Level - Hard; a lot of extreme lifts require modifying other components such as cutting or welding to install

Extreme lifts are great for rock climbing because they give you lots of ground clearance to go over obstacles. It is not recommended on the road because of the bad fuel economy that comes with it. It could also get very dangerous in case of an accident because a monster truck could just drive over a little car.

Monster Tires

DIY Cost - $2,000-$4,500+

Professional Cost - Usually free with tire purchase, otherwise around $30-$50 for install per tire

Skill Level - Hard; recommended to leave to a professional to make sure the tire is properly seated and balanced

Monster tires are a great off-roading modification. Monster tires give you great ground clearance and can allow you to go over practically anything. However, if you are using the truck on the road, you will get a rough and noisy ride along with bad fuel economy.

Full-Time Locking Differentials

DIY Cost - $200-$600 per axle

Professional Cost - $500-$800 per axle for install

Skill Level - Hard; recommended to leave this to a professional so you don't damage your axle

A full-time locking differential can provide insane traction for mud runs. Unlike a locker, which is controlled by the wheel load or you, a spool differential is locked all the time. The only time it'll unlock is when it breaks from having too much load or when trying to turn too sharp. The downside to spools is that the wheels can't unlock during turns, meaning that when one wheel needs to turn faster than the other, it'll try to force the other to go faster which leads to axle hop. Axle hop can be terrible as it can not only damage the differential but also snap axle shafts. Spools are only recommend for going in straight lines.

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