We recently connected with Overland Bound Member #0833, Isaac Marchionna about his mega loaded up overland rig that he uses every day as his daily driver in Downtown Portland. He gives us his insight into what to expect when you make your off-road vehicle your pavement pounder on the city streets!
The Art of the Overland Rig Daily Driver
By Isaac Marchionna
Overland Bound Member #0833
Daily Driver: 2015 4Runner TRD Pro (with a lot of mods)
Location: Downtown Portland, OR
All photos courtesy and copyright of Isaac Marchionna
We’ve all felt it. The insatiable call of the wild… but the crushing reality of a day job. These two pulls have lead many of us to build an Overland Rig and then drive them on a daily basis. And with this decision comes different responsibilities and realities that you have to take into account when you daily an expedition rig.
Let’s be honest for a moment…driving an Overland rig around a crowded population center can be pretty smile inducing. You’ll pull more attention than any sports car could muster; however, you’re also driving around a rather big, heavy, and maintenance intensive vehicle. Here are a few points I’ve learned along the way with my daily driver.
You’ve likely tricked out (or are in the process of building out) your rig to store all your camping gear, drawer systems, fridge, power management, etc etc etc. The downside to this consumption, or “utilization” of space, is that your ability to carry humans (what the vehicle was designed to do) has now been comically “downsized.”
I am familiar with the quizzical reaction by people when asked if I can haul stuff for them or pick up a group of people. I don’t have extra space to offer. Remember that friend who needed your help moving a sofa? Have fun not sounding like a deadbeat when you tell him he’s on his own moving and you have a long bed expedition truck. “Oh I would love to help you…but adventure mobile!”
The Fury Road Factor
One of the things you’ll see on almost all Overland vehicles is the addition of armor, both underbody and front/rear bumpers. Here are the advantages. First off, these systems are invaluable in their ability to take a hit and be beaten back into shape or replaced entirely. Damaging a plate worth a few hundred dollars, rather than causing crippling damage worth thousands, is an entirely fantastic trade off.
Bumpers allow for the mounting of additional lights, winches, recovery points, fuel, spare tires, jacks, communication systems, all while providing additional armor for the trail. I cannot tell you how many times my rock sliders have proved to be awesome investments just in stopping door dings, while mangling the doors of those who are careless around my truck. I shouldn’t laugh, but here I am doing that while writing. But all that metal comes at a cost: weight.
Weight can both help and hinder you on the trail. Proper distribution of weight can provide better traction when scrambling up a boulder field in the mountains. In the city however the additional weight means you have more mass to stop. Urban driving means a lot more stop and go traffic; it also means being able to stop the vehicle when a pedestrian darts out in front of traffic.
We are vastly exceeding the original gross vehicle weights spec’d by the manufacturers. My vehicle for example comes in at a whopping 6600 lbs fully fueled. The original vehicle ranged from about 4700-4800 lbs in stock form. That weight affects everything from acceleration to braking distances. Your brakes become that much more critical on the trail and on the street. Do not ignore them and upgrade as necessary. That might mean stronger pads, and caliper systems.
You can do more damage in a crash due to armor and weight, and it is your responsibility to know how your rig behavior. Every modification you do has a real world implication on vehicle performance, and you are responsible in knowing how those implications play out on the road.
Space is at a premium in cities and you need to know the relationship between the dimensions of your vehicle and how it relates to its place in the physical world. You do not want to be the person who parks their wonderfully reinforced steel bumper into someone’s BMW because you were parallel parking your expedition battleship into a space just barely big enough.
Parking space is going to be your biggest concern. If you think hunting for a parking is bad when driving a midsize car, it’s hellishly tricky when you’re trying to park a vehicle that’s got a swing out tire carrier, bull bars, sliders, etc. Your friends will quickly learn to expect you 5-10 minutes late because you parked 10 blocks away from your meet up point.
Do you have a swing out tire carrier? Take into consideration the need for enough space to open your tailgate, especially in parking structures or on the street. It’s all too easy to be forced to open up swing arms over someone’s hood. Don’t be the guy that drags the business end of a hi-lift jack over someone’s car hood. It’s not cool.
Know your vehicle’s height, and know it as well as you know your social security number. Know it so well that you begin to cry a little every time you go to park your vehicle in a parking garage, but immediately turn around because you know you’d tear the top of your vehicle off if you proceeded down that highway to the danger zone.
Parking garages are not your friend. They are no one’s friend. The average height of parking garages in my city range from 6’6” to 7’. My truck is 6’11” when fully fueled. Most parking garages also have weight limits on their ramps. You will exceed one or both of those limits. Again, do not be that guy. You’ve made a conscience effort to build up your vehicle with lights and roof top tents, you put a bed on the top of your vehicle. Now you must lay down in it and live a life of desolation far far away from the comfort of a parking garage.
Lock It Down
One of the more overlooked upgrades you must also do is security. This means where you leave the vehicle and how you leave it. Many of us outfit our vehicles with communication and navigational gear and these are items that are highly desirable by those who might wish to alleviate us of our technological and financial investments. That means being able to stash or secure high value items such as HAM radios, GPS systems, lights, etc. Anything that can be secured via locks or anti-theft bolts is worth the time to do so.
If you carry fuel and water externally it behooves you to keep things locked. I have heard conflicting thoughts on keeping external gas tanks fueled or not, and I am not an expert on this from a legal standpoint. I’ve seen shady people come up and wrap their knuckles on my fuel tanks to see if there was anything in them, or come out of stores to see someone trying to mess with the locks thinking they could steal the cans. Also consider that someone could tamper with your external fuel tanks. 5 gallons of gas can do quite a bit of damage when strapped to your rig, especially in the hands of someone who wishes to do your rig harm. Know when to fuel up and load up the vehicle for travel, and download gear and fuel when back in town.
“We didn’t buy them for the mileage…”
Speaking of gas, all of these modifications come at a severe penalty to miles per gallon. The original manufacturer spec sheet for my vehicle listed 18 city and 21 highway. I’m going to go have a sad moment when I think about what I’m getting now. Okay, the moment has passed. I’m lucky to get 13 in town and 14-15 on the highway at sea level, on a downward slope…with a tailwind.
This is the nature of what happens when you add nearly a ton (that’s not figurative, that’s literal) of armor, cargo systems, roof rack, lights, winches, batteries, and all other forms of expedition knick knacks. You will find that your ability to make it 4-5 days of commuting will become a bit ambitious, especially when you factor in traffic. Know your vehicle, and how thirsty it gets. Gas is more expensive in population centers, and you will pay dearly for your decision to live in a city.
Because all overland rigs vary, what I’ve mentioned may not apply to you. The takeaway is that every overlander needs to be well versed in how their vehicle performs, how it exists in physical space, and how your modifications affect those around you.
From stopping distances due to extra weight, how additional armor increases the size of your vehicle, and how internal modifications alter usable space… if your vehicle is your daily driver, and thus there is no separation between “work rig” and “play rig” you need to understand there will always be a compromise somewhere in what you’re giving up to take on.
There is something incredibly powerful in having an overland vehicle. It means you are constantly in a rig that tempts you to go and explore. And it means you’re daily driving something that can be loaded up in a moments notice to escape the confines of urban living and find yourself on an adventure.
You’ll get more smiles, waves, and questions than the guy driving his bland and boring sedan to work and back. If you’re prepared for the trade-offs, it’s a wonderful thing to have a vehicle that inspires as much as it can be challenging.
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