Any car person will agree that customizing one’s vehicle is part of ownership. While it may be just a cosmetic upgrade, increasing performance characteristics, or even doubling down on practicality or utility, much thought should be taken before deciding to invest money in parts that will likely stay with the car for many years to come. But to see your prized car done up in the way you wanted it to be can be an extremely fulfilling and gratifying experience, especially when you count the number of hours of research and money one can spend these days. In the case of pickups, the size and versatility hasn’t gone unnoticed, and it’s rare to see a completely stock pickup on the roads these days. Some of them are rocking a lift kit or at least an aftermarket set of wheels, and that’s not even counting the ones that go all out and kit out their trucks for off-road duties.
In this article, we’ll touch on some interesting upgrades and cosmetic enhancements that will help you spice up your pickup, or at least give you an idea on what can be accomplished with your hard earned cash. Remember, as with most aftermarket parts, any stock part that will be replaced needs to be kept in storage. When the time comes to sell the modified vehicle, it’s always a good idea to throw in the parts that were replaced, and give the new owner a chance to revert it to stock form. After all, what’s nice for you may not be appealing for a would be buyer, and depends on the market you’re selling to.
1. New pair of shoes
Right off the bat, this is one of the simplest ways to help your pickup gain some identity and street credibility. Tire and rim selection can be tricky, however, so make sure the size you choose, and the rim’s offset, won’t lead to tires rubbing on the body.
While going big definitely adds presence, rocking 20-inch wheels can be costly. Wrapping those bigger wheels in rubber will be more expensive, plus, recognize there may be compromises or accommodations that will have to be made. Bigger tires may require a lift kit, advanced gearing, or brake upgrades. When upgrading your vehicle, tire size should be the first building block and then other upgrades are chosen based upon it.
Tires deliver the most performance per peso than any other upgrade. The right tires can enable four-wheeling success on various off-road conditions, and control, safe braking, and cornering on the street. Unfortunately, what works best on the streets does not necessarily translate when off-roading.
2. Lift Kits
Designed to raise ride height for the purpose of improving off-road performance, these kits enable steeper approach, departure, and breakover angles, higher ground clearance, and accommodate larger wheels and tires. There are also levelling kits, which can add anywhere from one to three inches in height. They usually fit on top of the truck’s coil spring strut assembly and will mostly correct the factory-designed rake, where the rear sits higher than the front. These are vehicle model specific, so do some research and find a reputable manufacturer. Allowable wheel and tire sizes are also noted with each kit, so keep in mind how big and bold you want to go.
However, due to the raised center of gravity, it goes without saying that road handling characteristics will be impaired. If you have to take your lifted pickup on the street, don’t take corners at speeds you normally would, and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
3. Grille Replacements
We think you’d agree with us when we say that the biggest statement piece of any pickup is the front grille. Slap on an aftermarket replacement, and those left lane sitters will finally move to the right. Seriously, though, a carefully chosen front grille can add a ton of masculinity to any truck. The best part is, it serves another purpose aside from looking good. Some aftermarket grilles have light supports that will mount your utility and off-road lighting. There are a lot of choices out there, but pick up a reputable brand that makes one specifically for your pickup - they usually just bolt on without fuss.
4. Light Bars
If you spend a lot of time off the beaten path or do a bit of camping out in the wilderness, there’s a good chance that your biggest challenge is darkness. In the dark, navigating rough roads is challenging, and lighting up your campgrounds or work space is a necessity. A good investment in auxiliary lighting allows you to stay away from civilization longer and more comfortably.
These lights can be mounted to your grille, front bumper, to any racks or mounts on the pickup bed, or the rear tailgate. They can range from LED spotlights to full on off-road driving lights to turn night into day. They can also light up the sides of your vehicle to provide visibility when stopped or when you’re maneuvering around the jungle, and are made to take the bumps and vibrations of constant abuse. While they draw minimal power, always check their power requirements and if an aftermarket battery setup is required to power them properly when you have multiple lights and other sources that may drain, such as radios and compressors. LED light bars are not created equal, so narrow down what you need based on budget and usage. Oh, and please do not use them on the road - they are incredibly bright, obnoxious, and illegal. Cover them up with plastic or rubber covers when not in use and on public streets.
5. Better suspension
As with stock tires, the suspension that comes in your pickup is designed mainly for street use. When we hit the trail, they are asked to perform beyond the limit in an environment that they were never primarily designed for. High-speed use over rough terrain can lead to the oil in the suspension to get so hot that it foams and you lose all dampening ability. Not good. Additionally, most stock suspension is designed for use with factory size tires. If you plan on fitting larger tires and/or heavy accessories, you could be exceeding the design parameters of your suspension. This will not only cause them to heat up faster, but also adversely affect the vehicle's handling.
Swap those stock units with aftermarket choices. There are a ton of options, but mostly, they all share the same characteristics - they can take more punishment with tougher and thicker components, dissipate heat better, and can be valve adjusted manually or automatically depending on the brand and budget.