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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
"What modifications should I do if I want to take my Frontier off road?" or "What modifications should I do first?" or some variation thereof are questions that commonly crop up on this forum. I have also seen a number of new members who were under the (mistaken) impression that they needed to put a huge lift on their truck in order to make it off road capable. With this thread, I want to try to answer some of those questions (and squash some of the myths). My eventual intention is to make this a sticky thread, but for now it is just a discussion thread - if you have any additional thoughts on what it takes to make a Frontier off road-worthy, please feel free to contribute.

First, a little background on me and my rig. I purchased my Frontier brand new in 2009 and started off roading it right off the bat - when it was completely stock. Over the years, I continually pushed my truck (and myself) to its limits, increased my skill set and became a better off road driver, and slowly upgraded the truck as the need presented itself (and as my budget allowed). At this point in time, I have taken my truck on nearly 200 trail runs.

It's not a big Frontier by any means - it's currently sitting at around 3.5-4" of lift by means of a Titan swap and runs 285/75/16 (33") tires. Despite that, it has gone places that most Frontiers only dream about - the famous Rubicon Trail in California (it did great; only needed my winch once), Steel Bender and Hell's Revenge (including Hell's Gate) in Moab, etc. and I have used it to break trail in 12" of snow with 2'+ drifts, among other things. In addition to the Titan swap and tire upgrade, my rig has a full set of armor (skid plates, sliders, aftermarket bumpers), a winch, front and rear lockers, and lower differential gearing. My build is overkill for the majority of Frontier owners.

READ THIS PARAGRAPH: For any new Frontier owner, particularly one who is relatively inexperienced with off road driving, this is what I suggest - the most important modifications are skid plates, rock sliders, and a good set of all terrain or mud terrain tires. Anything beyond that can be added in any order that you would like, but I would strongly suggest that you take your rig on a whole bunch of trail runs in a bone stock or near stock form before you spend money on anything besides those three things. Stock Frontiers can be a lot of fun and my opinion is that people should grow into their vehicle rather than spend a bunch of money on mods (that they may not actually need) right off the bat.

Having said that, here is a list of considerations if you want to take your Frontier off road. This was written with the second generation ('05+) in mind but many of these concepts can be applied to the first gen as well.

Recovery points
Recovery points should be one of the first considerations. The stock tow hook (if equipped) and stock trailer hitch (if equipped) can function as recovery points. These items can be added if the truck did not come with them. A trailer hitch helps protect the rear bumper but the trade off is that it worsens the departure angle, which is already quite poor on the Frontier.

Virtually all aftermarket bumpers come with recovery points.

Tires
This is an area where you don't want to be cheap - good tires are important for the safety of you and your family. Cheap tires can have poor traction or wear too quickly. Tires should be have an all terrain or mud terrain tread pattern and be made by a manufacturer with a good reputation (BF Goodrich, Cooper, Goodyear, Toyo, etc).

The question of whether to run all terrains or mud terrains is tricky, and it really depends on how you use your rig:
For rocks - either is fine. Mud terrains will have a slight edge, but all terrains will still perform admirably.
For mud - mud terrains, duh
For sand - all terrains
For snow - this is a bit trickier. All terrains tend to do better on hard pack, ice, and snow that is not very deep and has a hard surface underneath for the tire to bite. Mud terrains do better in deep soft snow.
For street use - all terrains will be quieter, have less of a negative impact on gas mileage, and have better traction in rain, ice and hard packed snow. If your location has mild winters, this is a personal preference.

There are also some "hybrid" tires that fall somewhere between the two, such as the Goodyear Duratrac.

Skid plates
4WD Nismos and Pro-4x's come with a set of flimsy skid plates from the factory. Other trims do not come with any skid plates except for a radiator skid. For mild trails, factory skids are generally fine. For moderate trails, consider upgrading the engine, transmission and transfer skids to aftermarket skid plates. For the gas tank, the stock skid is probably fine if your truck came with one (if it didn't, you should get one). There are steel and aluminum options for aftermarket skids. Aluminum skids are lighter but more expensive. They are suitable for most people if you want to spend the extra money. Steel skids should be purchased if you plan on doing a lot of rock crawling where the undercarriage is likely to drag.

Rock sliders
Rocker panels are a common location for body damage, since the proper technique on a rocky trail is to place the tires (rather than the undercarriage) over the largest rocks. Rock sliders are not the same as step bars. Step bars will do nothing to prevent off road damage, and in some cases will actually cause more damage to the body of the truck than if they weren't there at all. Rock sliders are designed to take abuse and will help protect the body of your truck.

Suspension
There are two considerations when choosing a suspension lift - ground clearance and suspension travel. New off roaders have a tendency to inflate the importance of raw inches of lift and minimize the significance of suspension travel (if they even understand it at all). Suspension travel is an extremely important component of a good off road build. It determines how well (or how long) the tire at each of the four corners will stay in contact with the ground when the terrain is uneven. Anytime you lift one or more tires off the ground, you have just increased the difficulty of the obstacle and the likelihood of breaking something.

Detailed discussion of various lift setups is beyond the scope of this thread, but there are a number of stickied threads in the Suspension section that can help with this. In general, the more technical the trails you plan on doing, the more money you will end up investing in suspension. Trucks that are primarily street driven but see an occasional forest service road might do just fine with a 2" spacer lift and bump stops on the UCAs, and a set of blocks or longer shackles in the rear. Rock crawlers will either want to SAS or do a Titan swap using aftermarket parts up front and upgrade the leaf springs in the rear. Most people are going to fall somewhere between these two extremes and might consider a more middle-of-the-road setup: coilovers, aftermarket UCAs and AALs, for example. Other things will need to be considered as well, such as cam bolts, longer rear shocks, and replacing or unbracketing the brake and ABS lines, so make sure you do plenty of research.

Your average Frontier does not need more than 2-3" of lift to be a capable vehicle on most moderate trails.

Mud flap delete
The mud guards that come on the Frontier are rigid and low hanging. They are prone to breakage and have a chance of damaging the body of the truck if they are dragged over a rock. Most people who are serious about off roading end up removing them (either permanently or only when running trails) or installing more flexible mud flaps. If you decide to remove yours permanently, make sure you understand your local laws (in many states, you are required to have them).

Sway bar delete
The front sway bar reduces body roll but hinders the front suspension. Removing it is beneficial for suspension travel and lets each side of your independent front suspension truly move more independently. This modification is generally only recommended if you are running stiffer-than-stock coils due to the increased body roll. Remember that this item was included on your truck as a safety feature.

The sway bar is easy to remove and reinstall, so if you aren't sure whether this mod is for you, you can take the sway bar off and drive around for a while. If you don't like the way it feels, just bolt it back up.

The second gen Frontier does not have a factory rear sway bar.

Rear diff cover or skid
If you drag the rear differential over a rock, there is the possibility of peeling back the diff cover and losing fluid. Several companies make a diff cover that is significantly stronger than stock and greatly minimizes the chances of this happening. You could also add a diff skid but be aware that this reduces your ground clearance.

Aftermarket bumpers
The approach and departure angles on a pickup truck tend to be one of its weaknesses from an off road perspective. Replacing the stock front bumper with an aftermarket one will increase your approach angle, prevent body damage, allow you to add a winch, and allow you to add extra driving lights. Installing an aftermarket rear bumper will increase your departure angle and prevent body damage.

Sometimes people can only afford to add one bumper at a time and aren't sure which to buy first. Body damage is more likely if you drag the front bumper than if you drag the rear (particularly if you have a trailer hitch installed), but the rear is more likely to drag in the first place. You can put a winch on an aftermarket front bumper but not a rear one. I can't make a recommendation either way since they both have their pros and cons; this is your decision entirely.

If you choose to retain the stock rear bumper, you may consider relocating the hitch plug. It is prone to damage in the stock location.

Lockers, gears, differentials
Lockers are a wonderful addition to an off road rig, as they will significantly increase your traction and off road performance. For mild trails, they are unnecessary. Nismos and Pro-4x's come with a factory rear locker. If you have a different trim line, an aftermarket rear locker can be added.

A front locker can be added too. For all but a small population of off roaders, a front locker is overkill. For people who like to run very technical trails, they can be a huge asset.

Lower differential gearing and/or replacing the front diff with one from a Titan (called an M205) can be considered, depending on the type of off road use that the truck will see. The half axles for a Titan diff are much easier to change on the trail than the ones on a Frontier - something to consider before investing in a front locker and/or lower gears. A detailed discussion of these mods is beyond the scope of this thread.

U bolt flip kit and rear shock mounts
If your truck will do a lot of off roading in rocky terrain, you could consider purchasing a U bolt flip kit (prevents damage to the U bolts on the rear springs if they are dragged over a rock) and/or upgrading the rear shock mounts to beefier ones. Losing a rear shock mount on the trail is not catastrophic, however - you will still be able to drive your truck home.

Driver experience and skill
I saved this for last, but I think it's actually the most important item on the list. You can spend all the money you want on building your rig, but at the end of the day, you need to know how to drive it. I heard recently that off road capability is 80% driver and 20% rig, and I don't think that's far from the truth.

If you are just starting out, learn as much as you can. Read books, browse the internet, take classes if they are offered in your area, but most of all, get out on the trail with more experienced drivers who can show you the ropes. Focus on increasing your skill set and practice using good technique (don't just mash the skinny pedal to the ground if you are having trouble - learn how to pick good lines and use good technique to get through difficult obstacles). Learn how to spot other drivers through obstacles - this will help you learn the art of choosing lines.


Please feel free to add any additional comments (or ask any questions) below.
 

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It all depends what type of off road you are into.
I ran beaches for years and did not need skids plates,sliders etc.
If you rock crawl or desert race you need skids for sure. I found that out the hard way.
If your into mud, I have no clue.
Been stuck quite a few times trying to get to my Baja fishing holes.
 

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I ran All Terrains for many years running beaches.
Most of the time they worked fine. The only time I had problems was when I needed to cross muddy fields to get to the beach.
The All Terrains would be plugged and could not clear themselves. When you ran on the beaches they would just dig into the sand even after airing down. They looked like huge sugar doughnuts.
If you are planning to do high speed desert type running, I would not recommend a locker.You would be much better off running a limited slip.
I agree totally about driver skill and experience.
I am a very experience off roader as far as getting to my destination.
Until I rode with experience desert racers did I learn how terrible a driver I am. If I am able to get back in the truck, it will be in the right hand seat.
Also people say I want to jump my truck.
All I can say is don't do it.
Some on this site have suspension system that can handle jumps but unless you have full cage, harness etc. DON'T!!
Even with all that a couple years ago, a school teacher sitting as a co- driver was killed. It was during a CODE race(Mexican organization) , it was not even a violent collision. He was not wearing a HANS device and broke his neck.
All of us in our group wear them.
 
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Terrific post Jenn! Okay folks .... this will be the best free advice that any of us will receive today! I say it regularly (JeniorNV) has heard me say it. My truck is capable of much more than my current driving ability. But I go wheeling as often as I can and learn more each time. My other expensive addictive hobby is wildlife photography. You cannot learn to take better photos unless you get out and take pictures and then take more and more. the same thing with off-road driving, wheeling, crawlin' or whatever you want to call it
Thank You again!
 

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Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
It all depends what type of off road you are into.
I ran beaches for years and did not need skids plates,sliders etc.
If you rock crawl or desert race you need skids for sure. I found that out the hard way.
If your into mud, I have no clue.
Been stuck quite a few times trying to get to my Baja fishing holes.

This is a good point and it does reinforce my statement that people should go off roading a bunch before spending too much money on mods. My build works well for me and the trails I drive on, but we are all individuals who live in different places and drive on different trails. My personal experience is that I didn't know what I really needed to do to make my build work for ME until I had developed enough experience to know what types of trails appealed to me, how far I was willing to go in terms of technicality of the trails, and where my truck's shortcomings were for my current and intended use.

I ended up in a much different place with it than where I would have expected when the truck was new.

If skids and sliders are unnecessary for a particular person and the off road driving they do (or want to do), then they should just start with a bone stock truck with a good set of tires and go from there.

Stock Frontiers can be a lot of fun and my opinion is that people should grow into their vehicle rather than spend a bunch of money on mods (that they may not actually need) right off the bat.
 

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I'd like to have the opportunity to do some rock crawling some day but I've tailored my truck more towards the mud and logging trails down here in South Carolina that I frequent. Armored bumpers and rock sliders work great out there, whereas lift and mud tires are more the necessity here. I love the versatility and reliability of our truck!
Awesome write-up and contributions! It's cool to see the continued growth of the forum.


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Discussion Starter #8
Stock Frontiers can be a lot of fun and my opinion is that people should grow into their vehicle rather than spend a bunch of money on mods (that they may not actually need) right off the bat.

I like this statement of mine and am incorporating it into the first post (just thought I'd mention that in case any latecomers to the thread think I'm repeating myself :laugh:).
 

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Thought I would mention that it is almost impossible to create a truck that is capable of doing all things well.
You need to find a happy medium especially for a daily driver.
My Fords needed to haul heavy loads( carrying a 400-1000 lbs. of ice was not uncommon)for my extended trips into Mexico. Be able to run beaches and in places, rock crawl to get to those beaches.
Installed increase capacity fuel tanks because the availabity of fuel was not always available.
Along with these tasks, I needed to tow my 7,000lb boat down down two lane, pit hole filled roads.
The suspension was modified to carry those and to tow.
Worked fine running beaches but was horrible running washboard unladen.Bounced all over the road and at times I would have to stop and rest during the 45 mile drive to and from my house.
I know this is a Frontier site but my Dodge is the best truck I ever owned to full fill these needs.
The only complaint it is a ***** to drive and park in the city.
 

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Thought I would mention that it is almost impossible to create a truck that is capable of doing all things well.
You need to find a happy medium especially for a daily driver.
My Fords needed to haul heavy loads( carrying a 400-1000 lbs. of ice was not uncommon)for my extended trips into Mexico. Be able to run beaches and in places, rock crawl to get to those beaches.
Installed increase capacity fuel tanks because the availabity of fuel was not always available.
Along with these tasks, I needed to tow my 7,000lb boat down down two lane, pit hole filled roads.
The suspension was modified to carry those and to tow.
Worked fine running beaches but was horrible running washboard unladen.Bounced all over the road and at times I would have to stop and rest during the 45 mile drive to and from my house.
I know this is a Frontier site but my Dodge is the best truck I ever owned to full fill these needs.
The only complaint it is a ***** to drive and park in the city.
Naw man, Its awesome to branch out. I'm a big proponent of "needs must."

I like my smaller truck and it's perfect for what I do. It certainly couldn't handle a giant trailer or heavy load and that's ok.

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The reason I bought the Frontier because it filled my requirements for what I needed.
To desert race. It it not quite there yet and maybe will never get to that level I want to achieve.
What it did do was provide a platform for what I love to do. Building and fabrication. It doesn't matter if it is trucks, cars, boats,guns, fences,speaker mounts for home entertainment systems.
Latest project will be a pitching machine.
I am fortunate (lot of 60-70 hour work weeks I might add)that I have my Dodge to tow and chase. The Frontier to race and my Ford Focus for grocery shopping.
 

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This is a very good subject to discuss. Thanks, Jen.
Just want to mention if you mostly rock crawl, reservoir shocks might not be a necessary expense. There are mostly for high speed driving, to control heat which helps with shock fade.
My Frontier serves only one purpose and has many modifications and equipment not needed in other applications. Example, who needs two outside antennaes for their gps. I do. The internal antennaes with the units did not get data fast enough. Fine for most driving but not for desert racing.
 

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This is a very good subject to discuss. Thanks, Jen.
Just want to mention if you mostly rock crawl, reservoir shocks might not be a necessary expense. There are mostly for high speed driving, to control heat which helps with shock fade.
My Frontier serves only one purpose and has many modifications and equipment not needed in other applications. Example, who needs two outside antennaes for their gps. I do. The internal antennaes with the units did not get data fast enough. Fine for most driving but not for desert racing.
I agree fully. Intended usage and Location plays a big role in how your truck might need or not need.

I chose Aluminum skid plates because I live in MN and almost all of my off roading is on dirt with the occasional hidden rock. Steel skid plates were not worth the added weight/cost savings.

I chose SPC upper control arms due to the control arms having bushings and a ball joint instead of heims and a Uni-ball. I chose Bilstien 5100's over any of the aftermarket coilovers again for rubber bushings and no heim joints. Salty Gritty winters being the main reason.

I chose wheel travel over lift height for control, traction and comfort off road.
 

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When I saw the thread title my first thought was "fill it up with gas". They are pretty off road worthy in stock form. I have had mine on the beach at Cape Hatteras a few times and it goes like a tank. It has had no problems with snow either. Granted we do not get a lot in North Carolina. I am not going to take a new truck rock crawling or mudding so that is not an issue for me.
 

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When I saw the thread title my first thought was "fill it up with gas". They are pretty off road worthy in stock form. I have had mine on the beach at Cape Hatteras a few times and it goes like a tank. It has had no problems with snow either. Granted we do not get a lot in North Carolina. I am not going to take a new truck rock crawling or mudding so that is not an issue for me.
I thought "buy one"!
As for snow, I love driving in fresh virgin snow. The deeper the better. I live in rural Wi and leave for work about 4 in the morning. Most times I get to run the snow first. Weather has never stopped me.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
These last two posts further reinforce the point I made in the fourth (bolded) paragraph. These are decently good off road machines right out of the box. Throw on a good set of tires, add skids and sliders if applicable, then take it out and wheel it a bunch. If you discover that it still can't do everything you want (and you have enough experience to reasonably make that determination), then add some of the other cool stuff I discussed in my novel. The stock configuration didn't meet my needs, but it might meets yours.

Thanks for contributing.
 

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Discussion Starter #17 (Edited)
This is where I started...

Early June 2009. Brand new truck, about 48 hours after purchase, already out on the trail, me totally inexperienced and trying to figure out what the truck could do:




May 2010. Almost one year later, still completely stock (Long Trails and mud guards FTW), still taking it out as much as I could, still just barely scratching the surface in terms of learning the truck's capabilities and trying to come up with a long term plan for it:

 

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4wd.

I needed to recover my motorcycle off a trail a couple of months ago and brought a friend along. Took him up the hill climb JrNV and I went up out of Tahoe City. 4low steep, but stock truck territory. My buddy who is not a total gumbo was flipping out how steep of a climb we were on.

Good post Jenn. SOOO much info. But I think you are speaking to a very Very VERY small % of Frontier owners. Just what the truck can do 4low stock is impressive.
 

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Discussion Starter #19 (Edited)
SOOO much info. But I think you are speaking to a very Very VERY small % of Frontier owners. Just what the truck can do 4low stock is impressive.

Yup. Refer to paragraph number 4 in the OP. :) But sometimes when I get going on a topic I feel enthusiastic about, I can't stop...and that's why there are so many words after the fourth paragraph. :laugh:

I remember the hill you are talking about. It seems to be relatively common on this forum that an inexperienced driver will attempt a trail like that, react the way your buddy did, and then jump onto the forum thinking they need to invest a ton of money in a big lift or other mods because they feel like the truck was struggling. But the reality is there is a good possibility all they need to do is increase their skill set and gain a little more confidence.
 

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With me it was a little different. The Frontier was my fourth 4x4.
After off roading in Mexico for 20 years I knew what I needed when I ordered the Dodge in 2004. Had a garage full of parts. The performance was miles above my Fords.
The Frontier was a little more difficult. It was built to race the 1000.
First time it went off road was 4 days before the race. Tested fine(except for blowing the clutch).
Problem was, I thought I knew how tough the race was, evidently I didn't.
 
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