4WD MODIFICATIONS - GENERAL MODS
Your 4WD is in the firing line for damage, on and off road, so make sure the shiny bits are protected.
Windscreens are always vulnerable – even on highways – and the best form of protection is careful driving in places where there’s a stone hazard. It’s important to keep your windscreen clean and free of scratches. Make sure your washer bottle is topped up with a soapy solution – plain water is useless
against smeared bugs – and don’t use the wipers on a dry, dusty screen.
You can bet that if your windscreen is coated with bug bodies your radiator, aircon condenser and intercooler will also hold their fair share of debris. Fortunately, most bug bodies decay quickly after being toasted in a radiator, but if the cremated remains aren’t cleared away they’ll build up. Gentle hosing forward from inside the engine bay is the best removal method, but some engine bays are too crowded to allow that process. BBQ skewers offer a gentle ‘toothpick-style’ removal method.
Some 4WD owners fit mesh panels in front of their vehicles’ grilles, but the mesh needs to be of the correct size or the resulting air restriction is about the same as having a radiator clogged with bugs. Mesh panels need to be manufacturer-approved.
We’ve noticed a trend among 4WD makers to put heat exchangers low-down in engine bays, where they’re vulnerable to flying stone damage or obstacle damage off road.
If your machine has coolers hanging low they need to be protected by bash plates. A solid plate may look like the best protection, but airflow will be eliminated, so drilled sheet steel or heavy mesh is a better proposition.
Grille openings are in some cases invitations for flying stones to punch holes in your heat exchangers. If your 4WD has an open mouth you might need to put in a coarse mesh ‘filler’ behind the grille bars – not tight mesh that will restrict air, but fine enough to keep out marble-sized stones.
Bugs, ‘n’ Rocks ‘n’ Things
The styling trend to gently sloping fronts means that bonnets and mudguards are likely to be pock-marked by stone chips. Many owners fit plastic bonnet strips to protect paintwork and they do a good job. Make sure you get one that has a sufficient gap between plastic and paint to allow trapped leaves to fall out.
Don’t expect plastic bonnet strips to be a lifetime investment – they get busted by flying stones and become brittle after couple of years’ UV exposure.
Flying stones can do damage to items stowed in a roof rack, so it’s a good idea to fit a frontal protector to the rack. A rack with a front panel that’s raked backwards also helps reduce fuel consumption.
Stone chips are a different matter and everyone collects ‘em, but it’s possible to minimise the damage by – you guessed it – slowing down. Back off when you’re approaching oncoming traffic on dirt roads – stop dead with your flashers on if it’s a truck – and you won’t collect so many paint chips and windscreen ‘stars’.
Protecting the Glassware
Lights are easily damaged by flying stones and, to a lesser extent, by tree branches. The obvious protection for headlights and spotties is a set of light protectors.
The favourite protector for headlights is a pair of clear, polycarbonate shields that snap into place over the standard lights. There are also clear covers available for popular spot lights.
These covers work well, but need frequent removal and replacement to keep the inner and outer faces clean. It’s important to soak them well before attempting to remove dried-on bugs, or scratching is a certainty. We chuck ours in the used washing-up water when we’re camping and leave them to soak overnight, before doing the cleaning job in the morning.
The downside of clear light covers is a reduction in cooling airflow over the lenses of the lights and while that’s not a problem with normal bulb power – up to 80 watts – it can cause premature bulb failure in those that have 100W or 130W globes.
The other stone protection option for spotties is a pair of opaque covers, but they don’t offer any protection when the lights are being used.
Steel mesh light covers were all the rage 30 years ago, but seem to have fallen by the wayside – literally, maybe. That’s a pity, because they offered positive stone protection and didn’t restrict airflow around the lights.
There are several types of magnetic and thick, sticky-back protective material you can buy. We’ve checked on some of these over the years and found that they do protect the bodywork paint from unsightly scratching. However, they often look a bit wierd.
We haven’t yet evaluated the latest clear, protective films that need to be professionally applied, but reports suggest they work quite well in protecting against minor shrub branch scratching.
However, for serious off-road work, where you’re likely to be pushing through ti-tree or mulga scrub, more protection is required. We use side rails in conjunction with a ‘roo bar and side steps on our own 4WD, to keep as much bush as possible away from the glossy bits.
Another possibility is to use a colour-coded protective spray, of the type used to protect ute tubs from scratching. Yes, we know some of this stuff is thick
and has a highly-textured finish, but we’ve seen some examples that actually enhance vehicle appearance.
The yellow-topped LandCruiser has thick protective coating because it’s a mining ute that travels through a blast curtain made of heavy conveyor-belt strips that ripped the standard paint down to the bare metal in no time.
The red and grey Jeep has 2-3mm-thick Xtreme Protective Coating material sprayed onto its hard-top, bar work, rack and flares. Practical and looks sharp, eh?