A Budget Overlander, Part II – With the necessary capability upgrades sorted, our focus shifted to protecting the soft underbelly of the Forester. Subaru did a fine job keeping most of the vehicle’s components tucked even with the frame rails, but not so well offering skid plates for the vulnerable oil pan, transmission and rear differential. Fortunately, the simplistic design of the chassis makes aftermarket protection both affordable and easy to install. I have a confession to make: when I accepted this assignment I had serious doubts. Before this project I had never thought of a Subaru as anything more than gravel-flinging fun. I found the idea of a mere Forester attacking moderate trails laughable, and I pushed forward expecting to gain little more than a rally-inspired softroader. During a recent trip over the Mojave Road the little Foz shattered all doubts with it’s nimble capability. In the sand and washboard it was the speed demon we expected, cruising along comfortably at around 50mph. On the rocky hill climb after Fort Piute, a trail which rates nearly a 3 after recent storms, it was shockingly unstoppable. We managed to run the entire 140-mile trail in under 24 hours (sight-seeing and camping included) without a single issue. Primitive Racing There are two big names in the Subaru off-pavement aftermarket, but Primitive Racing is the only manufacturer to offer comprehensive protection for the SG Forester (model year 2003-2009). Their full armor package includes three thick aluminum skid plates which provide ample protection to the most vulnerable areas on the undercarriage for about $500. The front skid plate is formed like an upside-down 3/16ths hood, and provides complete protection for the bottom of the entire engine bay. Integrated vents allow for airflow, and options are available for an extra-length “stinger tail” and oil drain plug/filter access ports (we opted to skip the access ports for the best possible protection). Installation is extremely easy: remove the factory mud shield, then install the new skid plate onto the pre-existing threaded holes in the frame. Removing the plate for service is an even simpler four-bolt process. The 4EAT transmission skid plate takes a little more thought to install: an area on the forward corner of the plate is pre-notched for easy removal, as some Subaru exhaust systems can interfere with the plate (ours did). Otherwise, installation is fairly straightforward using existing bolts on the transmission housing. Ample venting is provided, as is a convenient opening to access the drain plug. The rear skid plate is the most difficult… Protection
It all started with a CRACK! In a matter of seconds, an old man with bad eyesight and a late-90s Dodge Dakota had reduced the front end of my Discovery to shattered plastic. I’m still amazed that my fellow motorists find it hard to see a seven foot tall truck in broad daylight—no, this isn’t the first time someone has run into my truck in a parking lot. Despite proper parking lot speeds too slow to register on the speedometer, the insurance adjuster informed me there was $1,600 worth of crumpled cosmetic complexity in need of repair. I smiled and thanked him for stopping by as he handed over the freshly printed funding for the next upgrade. Stout aftermarket bumpers have always been in the build plan for this truck, but rarely do I come across an example of a good looking bumper on a Discovery. It’s a strange market, where “industry leaders” frequently disappear under mysterious or dubious circumstances, and new companies pop up out of nowhere. The rest of my week was spent researching prices, weights, strength, options, accessories, compatibilities, mounting points, crash performances, horror stories, and most importantly—sexiness when paired with the beautiful front end of a 2004 Discovery. Throughout all this craziness only two companies have stood the test of time and continually delivered proven solutions. Only one of these met my strict aesthetic requirements, so I set aside the biases left over from my Big Jeep days and put in the request for an ARB Bullbar. A few weeks later a box nearly the size of the Discovery arrived. The Install Installing the bumper is a relatively straight-forward task, and ARB does an excellent job writing out detailed instructions (something surprisingly few manufacturers have mastered). However, there are still a few pointers that were left out, so I will focus on those here. First up… Install your winch before you install the Bullbar! As might seem obvious, getting the winch into the Bullbar is much easier with the Bullbar sitting face-down on the ground. What isn’t obvious is the bottom-heavy attitude the bumper will have when maneuvering it onto the truck and finalizing the fitting with a winch hanging off the back, which makes it all much easier to accomplish. All of this can be done before tearing down your truck, that way you still have wheels if you need to make a trip to the hardware store (I did, twice).… ARB Bullbar
Columbia Rovers Aluminum Fuel Tank Skid offers 1/4-inch of fuel tank protection at only 18 pounds of added bulk. I’ll admit, I’m still a skeptic of aluminum when it comes to protecting a two-ton truck from rock damage, but recent conversations with other off-roading experts have convinced me to give it a try. I’ve opted to do this test with a fuel tank skid, since there is not one available from the factory, and it is not a place I would consider in the least bit vulerable (in 5 years of wheeling a Discovery, I have never hit the fuel tank)… Aluminum Fuel Tank Skid