If you’re new to off-roading, you’re probably hearing terms thrown around that are unfamiliar. To help clear up any confusion, here are brief explanations of some of the most common terms:
Ground clearance is the distance between the lowest spot on the bottom of your vehicle and the ground below. The higher ground clearance will help you get over these obstacles without harming the underbelly when you’re driving over rocky or bumpy terrain. When auto manufacturers list ground clearance, they are referencing that distance when the truck is empty; once loaded up with passengers and gear, the ground clearance will be shorter.
Off-roaders often modify their vehicles to improve ground clearance, such as adding bigger tires, installing lift kits, or adding make-specific mods such as Tacoma aftermarket bumpers.
The angle between the front bumper and the front tire is the approach angle. The bigger the approach angle, the closer you can get to an obstacle before it makes contact with your bumper. It’s also the steepest angle that can be safely climbed. Think of it this way: imagine a giant boulder on the trail. If you go head-on, the boulder will hit your front bumper. But, if you come at it from the side, your tire will make contact before your bumper, allowing you to safely crawl over. You want your tires to make contact rather than your bumper whenever possible.
Bumper mods can improve your approach angle and give you more room to maneuver.
The departure angle is at the rear. Imagine your truck climbing a steep hill; if the rear departure angle is less than the front approach angle, the back of the truck will scrape the ground as the vehicle tilts up to ascend.
Break Over Angle
If you’re taking your truck over the top of a steep hill, you want your vehicle to pass safely over the peak without getting hung up like a teeter-totter. This requires a short wheelbase – front and rear wheels that are positioned reasonably close together. High ground clearance plus a short wheelbase will give you a break over the angle you need to get over an obstacle. A visual image is helpful for understanding this term as well.
Center of Gravity
There’s some math involved with determining your vehicle’s center of gravity that we’re not going to do here, but the important thing to know is that the higher your center of gravity is, the more likely your vehicle is to tip over. Low is the way to go. When loading up your truck, adding heavy stuff to the roof rack raises your center of gravity and increases your risk of tipping.
We hope this helps as you shop for and outfit an off-road vehicle. Enjoy the ride!