Prerunner Trucks: Your Guide to Off-Road Trucking

Ready to off-road? Then let us show you how to make a prerunner your next vehicle or project! Read more to get started.

What Is a Prerunner Truck?

Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series - lucasoiloffroad.com
Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series - lucasoiloffroad.com

Off-road races like the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, Trophy Truck, and Off Road Racing Series are currently in full swing and the Baja 1000 is planned for November. Heavily modified machines dive into the mud, sand, and dirt race courses filled with tight turns and high-flying jumps. Whether it’s short track or point-to-point racing, off-road racing teams don’t just go blindly into their next event. Instead, they utilize highly modified prerunners to scout out the tracks and trails so they can get a feel for what to expect when it comes to race day.

Modified Ford F-150 prerunning the 2014 Baja 1000 - bfgoodrichracing.com
Modified Ford F-150 prerunning the 2014 Baja 1000 - bfgoodrichracing.com

A prerunner truck can essentially be any vehicle capable of driving on a racing course and allow drivers to understand the layout and identify the best lines prior to a race. Prerunners can often be light vehicles like motocross bikes and UTVs, but in trophy truck and buggy classes teams typically want to feel the courses at full speed in a similarly sized and modified vehicle. These heavily modified “prerunner” trucks and SUVs have caught the attention of the car world.

The Face of Off-Road Culture

You’ve seen them out on the road, heavily modified, lifted trucks rolling in droves down American backroads. Enthusiast prerunners take a lot of their modification inspiration from the trophy truck design with the oversized tires, lifted sports suspensions, skid plates in place of lower front bumpers, fiberglass flared out fenders, light bars, and spare tires prominently displayed. But these trucks are less about racing and more about having fun.

Prerunners congregate in places like the Arizona sand dunes to make impressive jumps and carve out some high-banked turns. Trucks gather at the Midwest DirtFest and tear up the dirt tracks of Wisconsin. They’re showing up at the Mississippi Mud Fest and get down and dirty. They’re probably right outside your very own town doing donuts off a country road. These homegrown prerunner beasts are spreading across the United States like wildfire and major manufacturers have taken notice. So, let’s help you figure out how to buy, modify, and just go have fun in your very own prerunner.

The Best Manufacturer Prerunners

Car manufacturers don’t always know exactly what customers want, but when one brand finds a niche with great sales numbers, the others follow suit. There’s currently battle of high-performance prerunner styled trucks going on between manufacturers. So, what better way to get a head start on your own prerunner than buying one and looking to modify it from there? Here’s some of the options out there.

Ford F-150 Raptor

2023 Ford F-150 Raptor - ford.com

2023 Ford F-150 Raptor – ford.com  |  Shop Ford F-150 on Carsforsale.com

The Ford F-150 Raptor is probably the most well-known prerunner inspired truck to date. It debuted in 2010 as a performance package including special body alterations like a front skid-plate, wider fenders, and its own decal package. The current model features a 3.5L twin-turbo HO EcoBoost putting out 450hp and 510 lb-ft of torque, Fox Racing Live Valve Shocks, BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires on 17in. cast aluminum wheels or available beadlock-capable wheels, and a Terrain Management System that includes a “Baja” mode.

Ford F-150 Raptor R

2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R - ford.com
2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R - ford.com

If the standard Raptor isn’t quite enough power for you, Ford has brought the F-150 Raptor R to the table. This new performance truck takes all of the goodies that makes the standard Raptor a great prerunner and the drops a supercharged 5.2L V8 into it. The larger power unit pumps out 700 horsepower and 640 lb-ft of torque making this the most powerful F-150 Raptor version ever. That’s enough to take on the likes of some full-sized newcomers, but it isn’t the only new Raptor joining the OEM prerunner truck segment.

Ford Ranger Raptor

2024 Ford Ranger Raptor - ford.com

2024 Ford Ranger Raptor – ford.com  |  Shop Ford Ranger on Carsforsale.com

The older Ford Rangers have long been a fan favorite for prerunner builds, but Ford hasn’t leaned into that scene for the mid-size truck. That is, until now. The Ford Ranger Raptor has been around internationally for a while now, but it is finally coming to the US for 2024. It comes with a twin-turbocharged 3.0L EcoBoost V6 that generates 405 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque to create the most powerful Ranger ever built by Ford. Not only is it powerful though, it’s also one of the most capable off-road mid-size trucks. The Ranger Raptor provides great off-road handling through its performance tuned suspension featuring FOX 2.5-inch Live Valve Shocks, utilizes a reinforced frame and suspension mounts, selectable drive modes, and 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO3 tires wrapped around 17-inch wheels that can be optioned with beadlocks.

RAM 1500 TRX

2023 RAM 1500 TRX - ramtrucks.com

2023 RAM 1500 TRX – ramtrucks.com  |  Shop RAM Pickup 1500 on Carsforsale.com

While RAM has had the RAM 1500 Rebel option for a while, it hasn’t been quite the prerunner monster we dreamt of. But, with their recent reveal, RAM back in the conversation. The RAM 1500 TRX is taking a stand against Ford and forcing their hand to compete. The truck’s design features a skid-plate, fender flairs, light bar accessories, and functioning hood scoop. It’s the built-in performance is shaking up the market. Featuring Bilstein remote-reservoir dampers, 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory all-terrain tires on 18in aluminum wheels or available beadlock wheels, and of course the Hellcat supercharged 6.2L HEMI V8 engine putting out 702hp and 650 lb-ft of torque. Be sure to read more about the new RAM 1500 TRX in our recent news article.

Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 Bison

2023 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 Bison - chevrolet.com

2024 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 ZR2 Bison – chevrolet.com  |  Shop Chevrolet Silverado 1500 on Carsforsale.com

Chevrolet gave the Silverado the ZR2 Bison treatment starting with their 2022 models. The Silverado ZR2 Bison features a ton of American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) components that give it a more aggressive presence and make it more capable when traversing through the trails. These full-sized Chevy prerunners aren’t going to outperform RAM or Ford’s performance trucks, but they’re a step in the right direction. They feature either a 6.2L V8 that delivers 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque or a 3.0L Duramax diesel engine that cranks out 305 horsepower and 495 lb-ft of torque. No matter what engine it chosen, the ZR2 trim also provides Multimatic 40-millimeter DSSV spool-valve dampers, tuned springs, and 18-inch AEV wheels with 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory MT tires. For those that want all this plus a little more high-end interior, check out the GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X AEV Edition.

Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison - chevrolet.com

2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison – chevrolet.com  |  Shop Chevrolet Colorado on Carsforsale.com

The Silverado’s smaller brother received the ZR2 Bison options well before it, but it’s getting some upgrades for 2024. The 2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison now only features a 2.7L high-output turbocharged inline-4 engine that puts out 310 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque. It may be a smaller motor, but those specs are way better than what the 3.6L V6 and the 2.8L I4 diesel that this model carried before were putting out. The Colorado ZR2 Bison also features a multitude of AEV components all around, Multimatic 40-millimeter DSSV spool-valve dampers, and 17-inch AEV beadlock-capable wheels wrapped in 35-inch OD Mud/Terrain tires. Want a little more tech and luxurious appointments? You can find some of the same upgrades and performance specs on the GMC Canyon AT4X AEV Edition!

Toyota TRD Pro Series

2020 Toyota TRD Pro Series - toyota.com

2020 Toyota TRD Pro Series Lineup – toyota.com  |  Shop Toyota on Carsforsale.com

Toyota has been manufacturing prerunner designs since 1998, when they actually named one of the Tacoma’s trims Prerunner. The Toyota Tacoma Prerunner trim however has been replaced by a new trim level called the TRD Pro that spans much of the Toyota lineup, including the Tacoma, Tundra, 4Runner, and even the Sequoia. Each model receives the TRD tuned Fox suspension, TRD ¼ inch skid plate, forged BBS wheels, and Multi-Terrain select capabilities. The Tacoma fits the prerunner segment the best out of the bunch with its high fender flares and the TRD Pro Desert Air Intake option drawing in air above the kicked up dustline and keeping excess dirt out of the engine. 2024 models are also getting some ARB additions to make an even more rough and tumble Tacoma.

Toyota Tacoma TRD PreRunner

2024 Toyota Tacoma TRD PreRunner - toyota.com

2024 Toyota Tacoma TRD PreRunner – toyota.com  |  Shop Toyota Tacoma on Carsforsale.com

That aforementioned PreRunner trim hasn’t been seen since 2015, but it is making a comeback for the 2024 Toyota Tacoma. The TRD PreRunner trim comes strictly as a two-door, extended cab Tacoma and is only available with a 4×2 drivetrain. The package brings a lot of the TRD off-road looks along with a suspension lift, locking rear differential, and 17-inch TRD wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires. The engine in this Tacoma TRD PreRunner is a 2.4L turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 278 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque. Not as much power as some other prerunner-esque models, but this small truck is bringing things back to the prerunning roots.

Toyota Tacoma Trailhunter

2024 Toyota Tacoma Trailhunter - toyota.com
2024 Toyota Tacoma Trailhunter - toyota.com

Toyota is also introducing the ultimate overlander Tacoma for 2024, which could work out as a great prerunner option straight from the manufacturer. The Trailhunter trim is the new top of the lineup option that turns the Tacoma into an unstoppable off-roader. This four-door Double Cab takes everything from the TRD Pro trim and adds on ARB components like the co-developed Old Man Emu 2.5-inch monotube shocks with rear external remote reservoirs. The Trailhunter gains additional ground clearance and features tougher undercarriage protection all around too. Plus, Toyota announced the Associate Accessory Products program that provides customers with a catalog of a ton of additional overlanding and off-roading accessories straight from the dealerships.

How to Build a Prerunner Truck

Your Blank Canvas: Finding the Best Prerunner Truck

Do the major manufacturers’ off-roading trims count as prerunners? While they definitely look the part, for true prerunner enthusiasts these OEM versions have a hard time stacking up next to their highly modified passion projects. So, why not join the faithful by building one yourself and making your prerunner one of a kind?

Custom built prerunners - Dirty Duner on duneanddirt.com
Custom built prerunners - Dirty Duner on duneanddirt.com

Most prerunner builds start with an older used truck like a Ford Ranger, Dodge Dakota, or Toyota Tacoma and even some SUVs like the Chevy Blazer or Jeep Cherokee. Then it’s into the garage to fabricate, bolt on, and swap out (or just completely remove) some parts of the vehicle. Here’s some steps to begin your prerunner journey.

Project Planning

So, the big question is – do you have the time, expertise, room, and finances to build a prerunner? It isn’t as simple as slap on some kit parts in a day and you’re ready to hit some dirt jumps (unless you really want to bring it back broken on a flatbed). Now is the time to layout the planning and scope of your project. This doesn’t mean it will never be modified again once you’re done or that you can’t adjust spending in one area to help another, but this will help you end up with a prerunner that doesn’t stall out mid-way through the process and end up as a money pit sold for cheap on the internet.

Your Blank Canvas

2006 Ford Ranger - carsforsale.com

2006 Ford Ranger – carsforsale.com  |  Shop Ford Ranger on Carsforsale.com

Start with your base vehicle. Is it your personal vehicle? Do you have another vehicle available to use while working on the prerunner? How much are you willing to spend? 2WD or 4WD? What actually is the model of the vehicle and does it have parts available without major customization? Where are you working on the prerunner? Are you personally working on the prerunner or looking for outside help from a local garage? Then once you have in mind what you’ll be working with, you can go down the list and create your wish list of parts.

Suspension

When it comes to building a prerunner, shocks, struts, springs, sway bars, bascially the whole suspension assembly is getting an overhaul. For starters, don’t buy a cheap bolt-on lift kit off eBay just because “the coils are neon green!” You’ll want quality from a rigorously tested aftermarket suspension brand like FOX, Baja Kits, or Camburg, for example. You can even piece your upgraded suspension together as long as you know what you’re looking for.

Toyota Tacoma with a Total Chaos Long Travel Suspension Kit - toyteclifts.com
Toyota Tacoma with a Total Chaos Long Travel Suspension Kit - toyteclifts.com

Some of the key parts that will be upgraded to create a long travel suspension is the springs and shocks. There are 3 distinct types of springs – coil, torsion bar, and leaf. Coil springs look like heavy duty Slinkys and are typically found installed wrapping around the shocks called coilovers. Torsion bars are flexible bars that can be found connecting from the lower control arm to the chassis mount or the cross member. Then there’s the Leaf springs which looks like several long pieces of metal at varying lengths running above or below the axle.

Sway-A-Way Long Travel coilover shocks installed on a F-150 prerunner - @wicked_prerunners on Instagram
Sway-A-Way Long Travel coilover shocks installed on a F-150 prerunner - @wicked_prerunners on Instagram

Now, the way your suspension handles bumps and jumps comes down to your shocks. Your shocks take the brunt of the upward kinetic energy generated from driving and dissipates that energy with friction creating heat. Shocks handle this extreme transfer of energy with the help of thick oil that flows through orifices in the piston of the shock. The technology behind aftermarket shocks has been continuously improved to become more efficient and refined; thanks in part to the demanding world of racing. That means your prerunner build can get racing performance shocks with adjustable fluid valves, rebuildable components, and they’re ready to bolt into a majority of OEM suspensions with little to no extra fabrication.

Wheels and Tires

Your tires are your truck’s connection to the ground. Going with run-of-the-mill tires just won’t cut it for a prerunner. Your prerunner truck will need hefty tires to really dig into the outdoors while taking punishment from the environment. You’ll also need to take into consideration how much you’ll be driving on the road versus off-road. If this prerunner is basically driving everywhere, investing in all-terrain tires would be for the best, because off-road specific tires have less preferential handling on asphalt, especially in wet conditions.

Nitto Terra Grappler G2 tires - nittotire.com
Nitto Terra Grappler G2 tires - nittotire.com

Some of the big names in performance tires include BFGoodrich, Nitto, and Toyo Tires. Be sure to take your vehicles specs into consideration while shopping. Your suspension will need to provide enough lift and space for travel between the wheels and the wheel well. You’ll also need to take into account how much the enlarged diameter will affect your gearing and how the larger setup will affect your turning radius.

BF Goodrich Baja KR2 Tires on Method Off-Road Racing Wheels with beadlocks - @RogersTirePros on Twitter
BF Goodrich Baja KR2 Tires on Method Off-Road Racing Wheels with beadlocks - @RogersTirePros on Twitter

Finally, decide whether you’re getting new rims for your setup in conjunction with the tires. If you do venture into the wheel market, make sure to get your diameter and offset right. If you don’t take these precautions when installing new wheels, you can create interference with your brakes and cause excessive stress on your wheel bearings leading to preventable repairs. Another decision involves looking into beadlocking wheels. Beadlocks are a bolted-on ring that secures the bead of the tire along the circumference of the wheel. This keeps the inflated tire wall against the inside of the wheel rim and reducing the possibility of the tire falling off the wheel when under-inflated for better traction.

Body Modifications

Nefarious Customs 1972 FJ 45 Prerunner - nefariouskustoms.com
Nefarious Customs 1972 FJ 45 Prerunner - nefariouskustoms.com

So, now that the suspension is lifted and the enlarged wheels are ready, it’s on to giving even more breathing room to that area with some body modifications. There’s three ways to go about this. First, cut the stock fenders to provide more room and add plastic fender flares, though results depend on your craftmanship. Second, removing the fenders altogether will give an aggressive look, but also require some added fabrication and you’ll experience a lot more dirt and mud kicked up from your tires.

Toyota Tacoma with Fiber Glass body kit - JordanSmith127 on tacomaworld.com
Toyota Tacoma with Fiber Glass body kit - JordanSmith127 on tacomaworld.com

Lastly, the best option is buying a fiberglass wide body kit. These bolt on fender kits take strong design cues from trophy trucks with wide flares and high arches. Not only do these kits look good, they also help with weight reduction and provide ample travel room for your prerunner’s wheel setup. From there, you’ll need to replace your front bumper with either a raised aftermarket with a skid plate or just straight from grill to skip plate with a bull bar. This will help the clearance needed to hit certain inclines and protect integral mechanical parts behind the skid plate from damage.

The Outdoors is Your Playground

Chevrolet Silverado prerunner build - @Torq_OffRoad on Twitter
Chevrolet Silverado prerunner build - @Torq_OffRoad on Twitter

After you’ve worked on the suspension, wheels, tires, and adjusted the body of your vehicle, you’re basically looking at a prerunner. From here you really make your own decisions on what you want for the outcome of your project. Things like roll cages, custom fabricated truck beds, light bars, racing seats, racing harnesses, and the under the hood performance are all up to you and how much you’re willing to spend.

Ford F-150 Raptor prerunner build - @tavo_TT21 on Twitter
Ford F-150 Raptor prerunner build - @tavo_TT21 on Twitter

Some are willing to stop at a couple thousand and a lifted truck. Others go into the hundreds of thousands and make something truly classified as a prerunner, preforming reconnaissance on the trails of Baja in anticipation of the next race. How far you’re willing to take your prerunner build is up to you. Whether you bought a brand-new prerunner off the lot or you’ve built your decked out prerunner yourself, be sure to share some images of it with us. We’d love to see what builds you’re hitting the dirt with.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2020 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Jesse McGraw

Jesse McGraw brings his life-long car obsession into his writing. A fun childhood that involved growing up around race tracks, working on a rusty ‘99 Dodge Dakota held together by zip ties, and collecting Hot Wheels developed into a strong appreciation for automotive history. If there is an old, obscure, or rare car, he wants to know about it. With a bachelor's degree in Web Development & Design from Dakota State University, Jesse can talk shop about car or computer specs, focusing on classic cars, imports, and car culture.

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