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The minimum ground clearance for off-roading depends on a variety of factors. Primarily, the type of off-roading you intend to do will have the greatest impact on how much ground clearance you actually need. After all, riding sand dunes requires a different level of ground clearance than rock crawling.
Let’s discuss a few ground clearance issues to help you get a better idea of the minimum ground clearance you need for off-roading.
What is Ground Clearance?
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Ground clearance is the lowest ride height of a vehicle and is measured from the lowest part of your rig to the road surface. Ground clearance is obviously important because it will determine the type of trails you can safely navigate. If you have a low ground clearance vehicle, you’ll need to stick to dirt roads, tarmac, and other well-maintained trails. But if you have higher ground clearance, other off-roading possibilities are opened up. But ground clearance isn’t the only factor to consider here. Instead, you need to consider the approach angle, the departure angle, and the break-over angle of your vehicle.
Minimum Ground Clearance for Off-Roading: Approach Angle
The approach angle of your vehicle is the maximum angle between the ground and the lowest portion of the front bumper. Obviously, a low approach angle will limit the type of terrain you can drive over as it could scrape obstacles like rocks and tree roots as you drive over them. What’s more, you could damage components on the undercarriage of the vehicle. That’s why hard-core off-road vehicles, like Jeep Wranglers, have approach angles well above 40 degrees. They are purpose-built for handling rough terrain. The Honda CRV, which is not designed for off-roading, has an approach angle of 18.9 degrees. Granted, you don’t have to have a 40-degree approach angle if you’re sticking to dirt roads, but if you want to get into some trickier off-roading, keep the approach angle in mind.
Minimum Ground Clearance for Off-Roading: Departure Angle
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The departure angle refers to the distance between the ground and the lowest part of the back of the vehicle. Just like with a low approach angle, if your vehicle has a low departure angle, you run the risk of dragging bottom as you exit an obstacle. Again, this is why Jeep designed the Wrangler like they did – the 2020 Wrangler has a 37-degree departure angle. For comparison’s sake, a Honda CRV AWD’s departure angle is 26 degrees.
Minimum Ground Clearance for Off-Roading: Break-Over Angle
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The third component of ground clearance is the break-over angle, which refers to the angle between the vehicle’s tires and the lowest part of the vehicle’s undercarriage. The break-over angle is critically important because if you drive over an obstacle that’s too large, your vehicle will scrape, or worse, get high-centered on the object. The longer the wheelbase of a vehicle, the shallower its break-over angle. This is why Jeep Wranglers have such a short wheelbase – they can get up and over larger obstacles than something like a full-size quad cab truck.
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Other Ground Clearance Factors
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Remember that the amount of ground clearance your vehicle has will depend on two other factors as well: how much weight you’re carrying and the level of inflation of your tires. Obviously, a full-loaded vehicle with gear on the roof and in the back will not ride as high as one that has no additional weight. The ride height difference might not be enormous, but it can still impact how much ground clearance your vehicle has. Likewise, if your tires are fully aired up, you’ll have more ground clearance than if you deflate to navigate sand or snow. Again, the difference won’t be much, but it could mean the difference in getting over an obstacle and getting high-centered.
So, What is the Minimum Ground Clearance for Off-Roading?
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As noted earlier, the minimum ground clearance for off-roading simply depends on what type of off-roading you want to do. But the rule of thumb is that the more extreme you get with your off-roading adventures, the more ground clearance you’ll need. A basic rule of thumb is that if you’re sticking to well-maintained tracks, you’ll need anywhere from 6-8 inches of ground clearance. If you’re overlanding, ground clearance in the area of 8-10 inches is a good place to start. But if you plan on navigating tough two-tracks or rock crawling, opt for ground clearance of at least 10 inches or more. Of course, as we’ve discussed, basic ground clearance isn’t enough to ensure you can safely navigate a trail. Consider the approach and departure angles as well as the break-over angle before you hit a trail. It could mean the difference between a successful trip and one that involves you getting stuck or causing serious damage to your vehicle.