How deep can 4x4 vans get you? Beginner questions...


You are asking for van opinions in a van forum, so take it with all with a grain. The Prius at the trailhead....yes we have all seen that. Smart? no. Good for car? No. Hole in oil pan next time they tried it? Yes.
Vans can get you places, but as said, there are some pretty serious concessions. Top heavy, limited suspension travel, long/tall, nasty angle of departure depending what models. Most are parking lot 4x4 imo. But once you get there you are golden.


Like to Camp
I love my 4x4 SMB. But note that what you CAN go over is not the same as what you SHOULD go over.

Every vehicle, especially a camping van, is a mess of compromises. It helps to be clear about what you wanna do.

And 4x4ing breaks stuff. A lot. Both outside and inside. It's just part of it. I did more risky stuff in my van earlier on, and then I kinda tired of fixing stuff. I was once more into the challenge of getting down tough roads and such, and vans are piss poor at that. They crown on stuff, have poor turning radiuses and sight lines, and the ride is horrific. But hey, you get your house way out there, even if interior screws and pots and pans are raining down on you. Especially horrid for passengers...yikes.

Another factor is that with a van you're often the biggest, heaviest thing around. Recovery stuff is really tough with a 4 ton van. I can pull out lotsa little 4x4 with my winch no problem, but they can't help me much. Sometimes just a little oomph will do it, but if you're beached, yikes.

So I got to the point where I towed a real 4x4, or put my dirt bike on a ca. Which is what you'd do for say the Rubicon.

I love the van. But I think if I were to do it over, I'd go with suspension upgrades short of full 4x4: like sways, lift, spring/coil work, wheels and tires, brakes, maybe gear ratio. Maybe even a locker. The greatest part of the 4x4 setup, though, was the transfer case. It really helps on descents esp to have that compound low with a heavy van. That would probably get you over the "white rum trail" (heh...Utah would never have a rum as opposed to rim trail, ya know?). And if I wanted to do hairier stuff, I'd buy a hardcore 4x4, side-by-side, etc.
Great post. A lot to consider. One of the best setups I've run into is a 4x4 pickup truck with a camper top (or a SMB would work) that was towing a Polairis Rzr. That Rzr had 31" tires on and for the money it would go a lot places.

And speaking of getting heavy trucks stuck, I listened to this guy at Expo East last fall. He got his truck stuck in a California dry lake bed and after multiple recovery attempts over 3-4 days, it took a bull dozer at some distance to drag him out. Personally even with a SWB Jeep, I've had to learn to be wiling to turn around. :)



Expedition Leader
I loved my 2wd van. It went just about everywhere including down a sandy wash in Mohave, up a trail that a Synro couldn't, all over really. All that weight in the rear makes for great traction. The reason I went to a 4x4 truck with a camper was because the van was just to top heavy to be safe when out solo. Had to turn back a couple too many times but man I loved that van. I imagine something with 4wd and a suspension would be very capable as long as the trail is not too far off camber. View attachment 393754
I like the older Dodge vans. If available a limited slip would sure be nice. That streamlined fiberglass top rocks.
Yeah, what Half-E said, no way on the Rubicon trail, that is serious rock crawler country and NO place for anything long wheelbased. I've never driven it in a 4x4, but a few times to Rubicon Springs and back on our mountain bikes... passing the rock crawlers by the dozens... :D

SoCal Tom

I did the Rubicon in an Early Bronco. A guy in a cherry LR Disco with a 3 inch lift was in another group. By the end of the first day, every body panel was dented, and the rear bumper was bent into a smile. The next day I passed him in Rubicon springs as he broke his second swing arm? Holding the front axle in place, so the whole axle rotated and snapped the front ujoint. Keep the van off the 'con.

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A lot depends on the driver.....Money can't replace knowledge and driving ability in the proper hands.

Listen to these (somewhat judgemental/amazed) guys as they talk in the background. They have no clue.

It is a 1995 Ford Crown Victoria....not a rental and the automatic transmission is nearly bullet proof. This probably served a police force for the first 10 years of its life.
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^^^ hates cars
^^^ what he said. 5% tires, 5% vehicle, 90% driver.

Our van has proven to me numerous times that I still have a lot to learn. The van is more capable of a vehicle than I am as a driver. Sometimes all it takes is others to show you the line. I discovered long ago that your only as good as the people you ride/drive/wheel with. Get your off-road buddies together with a van and I think you'll be happy with what it will do.


If you want to see a SMB 4x4 conversion, I'm in B'ham too. Let me know. Vanapalooza is coming up too. Lots of vans to look at.

I have had it 11 years. Love it except for the maintenance and repair costs. It will go far beyond what my butt pucker will allow. The 4x4 has been used many times, often just using low range is the biggest help. Easing up and down steep grades without riding the brakes. Having a dry place to eat and sleep inside is the biggest adVANtage verses camping around a vehicle. Camp set up takes a minute to raise the roof. Done. The issue of the vans *looking* top heavy is not an issue for me. Most of the weight is the drive train which is down low. The center of gravity of a 4x4 SMB is 4" higher than a 2 wheel drive stock van. The extra weight of the front axle and transfer case is low. Mine is the regular body Ford so the tail end dragging has never been an issue. I have scraped the rear bumper lightly a couple times. If you want to run tight northwest rockcrawling trails in the trees, get a smaller rig. If you want your tiny house with you when you get there, get a van.


West slope, N. Ser. Nev.
I'm in agreement with Railvan. The larger, taller house cars just look like they would blow over in a light wind. It's the same with my truck camper. I've been through a couple 100 mph side wind gusts while camping but there was too much weight down low to put it on its side. By design, there is nothing up high that weighs anything. Mine has Dana 70 and Dana 80 axles with locking diffs with big heavy steel wheels and heavy 35" tires; an NV-5600 manual trans with a cast iron case weighing in @ 360 pounds; the big, wide chain NV-241HD T-case; an 1100 pound Cummins CTD down low; a Warn 15K pound winch and Tomba Burro; none of which I consider light weight. As it sits, the loaded TC weighs 10,400 pounds. I"ve had the box on some pretty scary angles, with the onlookers sucking in a deep breath; but how do you think all those Euro Expedition style rigs can lean on such and angle? Answer: most of the weight is down low.

If you are really serious and have the cash, these two were spotted at the end of the gnarly trail in Death Valley:

Just picture your house car in the Little Sluice: Mine was a dedicated Rubicon machine:


West slope, N. Ser. Nev.
One more thing. I also agree that the operator makes a lot more difference than the machine. I have tested the edge of off roading, traveling, and camping with a large rig for a couple decades now. I didn't start here. I started with my first Jeep. 13 4WD's and 1.5 million miles driving rig with a transfer case later, I have the technique to live on that edge. Much of that is knowing when to back off. It's all a feel you cannot just plug in with instant gratification. There must be many dead ends and wrong decisions along the way to guide you. The build of the machine makes a smaller difference.



I agree about the operator. But it's not just skill, it's also what you're willing to risk balanced against that skill. And just accepting the inevitable and maybe unforseen breakages, oopsies, etc that happen in more difficult driving conditions.

And take your passsengers into account as well. The driving can often keep you occupied, but for a passenger it can be both uncomfortable and intimidating. And especially hideous for those in the back.