Does Off-Roading Damage Your Car? Here Are The Facts


Taking your car into the unknown, spraying mud as you zoom through a puddle, and crawling over monstrous boulders is the definition of off-roading. Off-roading is for the adventurous who like to take the path less traveled. Off-roading can be fun but it also comes with dangers. If you are new to off-roading, there may be things you aren’t sure about, including whether off-roading can damage your car. 

Does off-roading damage your car? Off-roading will damage your vehicle as it will exert more force and torsion on every system, wearing out parts a lot faster than normal use. The most common damage done to vehicles when offroading is scratched paint, dented rocker panels, damaged lower control arms, and scratched oil pans. Larger damages can include a broken driveline or transmission.

We all have seen videos of Jeeps rolling over or wheels flying off of cars when off-roading. In reality, however, off-roading isn’t generally like that. Things like broken axles, rolled-over cars, and destroyed engines or transmissions only happen in the most serious off-roading situations. There is a wide range of intensity when it comes to off-roading and the risk of damaging your car changes as the intensity changes. We’ll discuss in this article what kind of damage your car can take while off-roading and what you can do to help prevent it. 

How Offroading Can Damage Your Car

When off-roading, your cars may go over boulders, scrape against trees, and travel through mud and water. Countless things can be damaged while off-roading. The first thing you need to watch out for when off-roading is minor damages. This will include things like dents, scratches, and maybe a shattered headlight or side mirror. These damages won’t hurt your car’s functionality, but they can be annoying. Not to mention popped tires. There are so many different things that can pop tires when off-roading, so it is always good to have one or two spares with you. 

We have a great article on how to avoid scratching your vehicle when offroading.  Spending my entire youth growing up in Moab, Utah, I have extensive experience in the scratch department. Check out our article about car scratches here.

There can also be major accidents while off-roading which can be more costly. Going through uneven terrain can put a lot of stress on your car’s joints and suspension systems. If you hit a bump too hard or hit a rock just right, one of these joints may come loose, or you may pop a shock out of place. If you do end up hitting something hard enough, it is possible to crack or snap an axle. These are one of the worst damages because you can’t move your car at all; it will be challenging to get it back to a shop. 

Transmission damage is also common when off-roading. Transmissions go through a lot of unintended abuse when offroading regularly. Constantly being in 4WD low and usually reaching high RPMs puts a lot of strain on your transmission. Whether you have a manual or an automatic transmission, it doesn’t matter; there will be a lot that your transmission has to do. Generally, manual transmissions are more durable than automatic transmissions. 

We have an entire article devoted to the ins and out of offroading with a manual transmission, check out the article here.

If you aren’t careful, you can even damage your engine while off-roading. As I mentioned before, when off-roading, you often hit high RPMs when going up steep inclines. This means that your engine is working hard. Proper maintenance is required to keep your engine in good shape when you are off-roading. Dirt and grime may get into your air intake, which can mess up your engine. It is important to check your air filters regularly and change them as necessary.

Lastly, how can we forget rolling? Rolling a car is an off-roader’s worst nightmare. Rolling cars while off-roading isn’t entirely uncommon because you may be trying to make it up steep banks or full-on walls when you get into some off-roading situations. Rolling can be scary because if you start to roll, you lose all control. Particularly, if you start to roll down an incline, you aren’t going to be able to stop. Rolling can cause cars’ roofs to collapse in on drivers and can ultimately result in costly repairs that your insurance company won’t want to cover. 

How To Avoid Damaging Your Car While Offroading

Many accessories and tools have been created to help protect your car from damage when off-roading. Protecting your car is important and will help keep you on the trail longer so you can enjoy the entire process of off-roading. Two ways you can avoid damaging your car while off-roading is modifications and aware driving. Modifications will help your vehicle handle much more than it would have originally.

Body armor and steel plates are a great way to protect your car. Body armor usually consists of steel plates that are placed under the front of your vehicle as well as other common points of contact to help protect from scratches, dents, and damage. Body armor can be very basic and only protect small parts of the car, or it can be as extensive as to cover most of the car. Skid plates are also useful as they protect the undercarriage of the car from scrapes and punctures. 

Running boards and rock sliders are other modifications that can be used to avoid damaging your car. Running boards and rock sliders can help block rocks from flying up and chipping the paint on the doors of your vehicle. Mud flaps can also help with this if you would rather have those. Rock sliders also help protect against rocks denting and damaging the bottom edge of your car. There are also special coatings that you can put on your vehicle to protect it from scratches and even dents. 

Even with all of these modifications, you can still damage your car. There is only so much you can do if you aren’t driving your vehicle smartly and safely. When off-roading, it is important to not overdo yourself. Don’t try to go through terrain or up an incline that you have no business doing. Doing things that you have zero experience with often leads to damaged or destroyed cars. Driving recklessly can also lead to damaging your vehicle. This includes driving too fast and taking turns too hard. 

How To Prepare For A Damaged Vehicle On The Trail

When trying to help prevent damage when off-roading, the common saying, “ an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” comes into play. Taking the time to ensure that you are properly equipped and that your car is ready for off-roading will save you a lot of headaches and time once you hit the trail. This is a wide variety of tools that you can prepare yourself with to be ready for damage when it does come. 

Having basic parts and the tools needed to replace or fix them can make a big difference. Parts that you want to keep handy on the trail include spare tires, brake and radiator fluid, and even possibly an extra shock. Having the tools needed to make these repairs are essential. Basic tools like a wrench set, socket set, and screwdrivers are always good to keep on hand. Having other things like car jacks, shovels, and even a saw can be useful on the trail because you often run into the mud and fallen trees. 

One of the greatest tools to have while off-roading is a winch. Winches can help get your car unstuck and help you flip cars upright if rolled. Winches can even help drag cars to a safer place if an axle breaks. You can also prepare for damage on the trail by familiarizing yourself with trails and familiarizing yourself with any obstacles that are going to be on the trail. The last thing I want to mention is always to prepare yourself with a way to contact someone for help. Satellite phones are great for that. 

Which Types Of Vehicles Get Damaged The Most While Offroading?

The vehicles that most often get damaged while off-roading is vehicles that have low clearance and poor suspension systems. Vehicles with these aspects will often scrape their undercarriages which will often lead to punctures and scrapes. Punctures can often lead to leaks. If a brake line or fuel line gets caught, then you will be in trouble. It is important to make sure a vehicle is well-equipped to handle a trail before heading out on the trail. 

Sedans and low-clearance SUVs don’t usually do well with off-roading because they have been designed specifically for road use. Just because a car is advertised as an adventurous type of commercial does not mean that it is meant for off-roading. Preparing a vehicle with the correct suspension and modifications is essential. Special modifications may not be needed with trucks or Jeeps that are designed for off-roading.

Kyle Cannon

Kyle currently works as a mechanical engineer and graduated with a minor in automotive engineering. His passion for cars is his daily motivator and is constantly working on his projects such as restoring his 1966 Bronco, 1968 Firebird, or modifying his 2022 Bronco.

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