The sport of off-road trucking has been growing in popularity in recent years. There is nothing quite like rolling over hills and through streams in a specially made pickup truck that has been built for off-roading. Just like Van Morrison sang on Wild Nights, you feel the wind catch your feet and send you flying. It may seem a little scary at first, but soon you realize your truck has been built to take whatever the trail can dish out. Sure, there are plenty of obstacles, but you know this truck can handle it, going over or around whatever may be in the way. This is not some stock model truck with a few aftermarket parts. This is a dedicated off-road truck that has been built from the wheels up to provide you with hours of thrills and enjoyment, driving wherever the adventure takes you. Here is what you need to know to figure out what separates the trucks that look the part from the trucks that can really play the part when you are looking for off-road trucks for sale.
In order to truly qualify as a trail-ready vehicle, a pickup truck must contain certain features that will keep you safe and protect the vehicle as well from damage by the elements. The key is to identify a truck that has been built for off-roading, like the All Terrain and AT4 models offered by GMC.
A Look to Thrill
The first thing you are going to notice about a dedicated off-road truck is its profile. These are tough, aggressive vehicles from the bold grille and sturdy front bumper all the way to the rear tailgate. The automaker has designed this truck to give you a feeling that it can handle rough terrain, giving you confidence that your off-road truck won’t wimp out when the chips are down, and you are in the heat of the desert or the heart of the forest. For example, the 2020 GMC Sierra AT4 Heavy Duty features black chrome exterior accents, black assist steps, special trailering mirrors, 18-inch 6-spoke machined aluminum wheels, and red vertical recovery hooks. Sure, those hooks look real cool, but you’re going to be glad you have them when you find yourself in a tight spot that requires your AT4 to pull itself out.
This attention to detail for where form meets function can be seen in the AT4’s array of advanced lighting. Aside from high-intensity LED daytime running headlights and taillights, the AT4 features LED fog lamps for times when you find yourself in poorly lit trails and specialized LED cargo lights to help you unload your AT4 when you reach the perfect spot to set up camp. Available smoked amber roof marker lamps complete the package, improving the ability of other drivers to see your truck out of the trail.
You are also going to see that a real off-road truck sits higher off the ground than a typical stock model. In the case of the GMC Sierra 1500 AT4, there is a factory-installed two-inch suspension lift, improving the truck’s ground clearance. You are going to need this so you can clear all the obstacles in your path as the lift will improve the approach and departure angles of the truck. It’s all in the truck’s geometry.
With an off-road truck, it is what you can’t see that often matters the most. To truly be off-road capable, a truck needs to have a 4X4 drivetrain. And rear-wheel drive just isn’t going to cut it. You must have the power, agility, and control afforded by all four wheels moving you forward at the same time. In addition, your truck is going to need a specialized off-road suspension system. With respect to the Sierra 1500 AT4, these are trim specific Monotube Rancho shocks, one of the best shock absorbers designed specifically for off-roading. These shock absorbers are not the standard ones on your dad’s pickup truck. These ones are designed to handle the rough terrain of the trail while minimizing the impact on you and your passengers. You’ll know you’re off-roading without worrying that you are about to ruin the interior of your truck with what you just ate for lunch.
A true off-road truck is also going to have protection for its most vulnerable parts. Just like other automotive vehicles, some of the most critical parts are located under the chassis. The 2020 GMC Canyon All Terrain has an underbody transfer case shield to protect this important part from whatever dirt, rocks, and debris you encounter on the trail. It also has a mid skid plate for this purpose as well. The Sierra 1500 AT4 and Sierra 2500/3500 AT4 HD have skid plates to protect the front underbody, oil pan, differential case, and transfer case. This gives you the peace of mind that you won’t do damage to your beloved truck when you push it to the limit.
Another key feature for an off-road truck is hill descent control. You may never know what this feature looks like, but you’re going to be really glad you have it when you take your truck off road. This feature uses the truck’s antilock braking system to provide a smooth descent when you are coming down a hill. The hill descent control will operate each wheel independently so that your truck practically crawls its way down the hill. All you need to do is push the button on your truck’s instrument panel, and the system does the rest. You don’t even need to work the brakes.
It is critical that your off-road truck has wheels and tires designed to handle all-terrain conditions. For example, the 2020 GMC Canyon All Terrain has 17-inch Dark Argent metallic cast aluminum wheels with all-terrain blackwall tires. The 2020 Sierra 1500 AT4 features all-terrain blackwall tires riding on 18-inch machined aluminum wheels with dark grey accents. These wheels and tires will help your off-road truck handle the trail and make it stand out from your ordinary pickup truck.
Powering Through the Off-Road
In order to handle the rough terrain of the off-road trail, you are going to need a truck with serious horsepower and torque. The 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 comes equipped with a 5.3-liter EcoTec3 V8 engine with dynamic fuel management paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. This gives you 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque. If that doesn’t quench your thirst for power, General Motors offers the Sierra 1500 AT4 with a 6.2-liter EcoTec3 V8 engine with dynamic fuel management, capable of producing 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque.
For a smaller truck, the 2020 GMC Canyon All Terrain has an engine that really packs quite a punch, a 3.6-liter DOHC V6 gas engine with direct fuel injection and variable valve timing. This feature improves engine efficiency. This engine is paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission and can produce 308 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque.
The heavy-duty 2020 GMC Sierra AT4 HD earns its name with a truly powerful engine that can help you power through even the toughest trail. The standard engine is a monstrous 6.6-liter V8 gas engine with direct injection and variable valve timing paired with a 6-speed, heavy-duty, electronically controlled automatic transmission. This engine produces 401 horsepower and 464 lb-ft of torque. There is also an optional engine, a 6.6-liter Duramax Turbo-Diesel V8 engine, which produces 445 horsepower and a tremendous 910 lb-ft of torque. This engine is paired with an Allison 10-speed automatic transmission and is the ideal model if you are looking to tow a boat or trailer home to a remote location.
All GMC off-road models feature an Autotrac 2-speed transfer case. This allows you to shift from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive electronically. Most of the time, the system will do this shifting automatically as it detects changes in the road and driving conditions you encounter. By having this transfer case, your truck can make adjustments, so you don’t have to, allowing you the freedom to have fun while your truck is doing the hard work.
When buying a truck for off-road driving, you need a contender and not a pretender. By following these tips I’ve just outlined, you should be able to know the difference so you won’t be caught short on a long trail.