There’s nothing quite like getting a classic truck restored and rolling down the road. They are always head turners, throwbacks to a different time. Older trucks really were “built different”.
The best upgrades to make an old truck feel new are new wheels and tires, upgraded suspension, disk brake conversion, add power steering, add an aftermarket A/C system, lighter body parts, new leather interior, upgraded audio system.
Going from an older truck to one that rolled off of the assembly line a couple of months ago is like jumping into a time machine. Older trucks like to shake and wobble, have brake systems that are a little sketchy sometimes, and might even lack “creature comforts” like power steering, modern suspension systems, and air conditioning.
Thankfully though, with today’s aftermarket options, it’s possible to upgrade old trucks with some modern advances and not have to destroy the integrity of these classics along the way.
Best Upgrades for Old Trucks
Let’s dive into some of the best upgrades to add to your old truck and bring up to date and make it comfortable with modern options, even that new truck smell.
New Tires and Wheels
One of the first upgrades you should consider for your older truck are new tires and new wheels.
Larger wheels and tires, too.
The only part of your truck that’s supposed to come into contact with the road, today’s new tires and wheels are light years beyond anything that rolled off of the assembly line 20, 30, 50, or 70+ years or more ago.
Wider tires give you better traction. Larger wheels give you the ability to stuff bigger brakes on them. You can also change the look and stance of your older truck with new wheels and tires than any other upgrade!
Upgrade Your Suspension System
If you are going to get new wheels and tires it’s not a bad idea to overhaul the suspension system they’ll be tied to, either.
With an almost unlimited amount of suspension options available finding the right one for your needs can be a trick, but this is a “must-have” upgrade. You can grab a top-of-the-line suspension system for older trucks for next to nothing (compared to other upgrades) and change instantly the way the vehicle handles and rides.
Even just getting rubber bushings replaced with polyurethane ones will improve your suspension and handling. These are a lot more durable and a lot more reliable, even if they do result in a slightly stiffer ride.
Disc Brakes are a Game Changer
Disc brakes (and brake upgrades in general) are another “must-have” if you are going to be working on a classic truck.
We’d argue that this is the first upgrade you should make, and upgrade that isn’t just going to improve the performance of your vehicle but also dramatically improves the safety of it as well.
Older drum brake systems might have been “okay” back in the day, but they are nothing like modern disc brake systems. You get better stopping power, you get better reliability, and you get a system that is relatively easy to work on with components that are inexpensive to replace.
Power Steering Will Transform the Way You Drive Your Truck
Anyone that has slid behind the wheel of a classic car or truck learns pretty quickly just how tough they are to handle without the modern miracle of power steering.
If you are tired of feeling like you’ve gone a couple of rounds with Mike Tyson just driving your classic truck around town a power steering upgrade should be in the books.
This kind of upgrade can get a little pricey. Like a couple of thousand dollars (and maybe even more). It will transform the way your vehicle handles, though – it’s like a night and day difference.
You’ll love the way your classic truck steers when you’ve done a power steering upgrade.
Modern A/C Can’t Be Beat
Another “creature comfort” modification you’ll want to think about stuffing under the hood of your classic truck is a modern aftermarket A/C system. Most newer old trucks will have A/C in it already so you can skip this one if you like.
A/C flat-out wasn’t available in many early trucks, and even a lot of the classics from the late 60s, 70s, and even early 80s for missing this incredibly important system.
Lucky for you, though, this is a relatively simple and straightforward upgrade – an upgrade that some people can even make all on their own (though venting and cutting into the dashboard is probably best left for the professionals).
Don’t forget to seal your cabin when you make this upgrade, though.
Because older trucks didn’t come with A/C they didn’t really focus on sealing cold air in and you don’t want all of that escaping.
More Power With Lighter Body Parts
This is a little bit of a controversial upgrade you can make, particularly with the folks that like to keep their classic trucks as original as humanly possible.
At the same time, though, more and more people are learning just how advantageous it is to swap out some body parts and body panels with new parts made from modern materials – losing a ton of weight (and improving fuel efficiency) along the way.
I’m not suggesting that you tear down your classic square body to the frame and then rebuild it from scratch in fiberglass or carbon fiber.
What I’m saying though is that there are probably a lot of parts on your old truck made from iron and steel that can be reliably swapped out for parts made from aluminum (or even plastics) without any negative impact on the look or performance of your truck.
Shave some weight – even just a couple of hundred pounds – and you’ll enjoy driving your truck a whole lot more (especially to the gas station).
New Car Smell With A New Leather Interior
It’s not just for when your truck has holes and rips in the seats that you should think about upgrading to a new leather interior. New upholstry for your truck will change how you feel about your truck. Riding it around will be different.
There are numerous companies out there that make kits to upgrade your truck’s interior to a new smooth feel. From the dash to the door panels, from the seats to the floor carper and the roof liner.
That smell of new leather is what we commonly associate with a new car smell and this is what you will end up with.
Tunes Sound Like At A Live Concert
That old AM/FM radio can rest in peace. Upgrade the tunes to a modern audio head unit that will not only play the radio but also have a bluetooth connection to your phone so you can play anything on it as well as have hands free phone calls.
Love the look of an old radio in your classic? No problem, they make modern units that look like and fit into the original dash to keep the look but not the sound quality.
With this of course you have to upgrade the speakers and boost the power to them with a audio amplifier to give you the sharp, deep punch sounds when that song gets to your favorite part.
Old trucks don’t have to stay that way… make yours shine and smell like a new truck. Use the available aftermarket solutions to update it and make it not just a work horse that you use to haul things but make it something you can enjoy getting in and taking a ride on a beautiful summer day.
Some of these upgrades are designed to improve the handling, safety, and performance of your vehicle. A couple of them, though, are just going to make your life a little more convenient (and a little more comfortable).
At the end of the day all of them add to the enjoyment you get out of your old truck and never subtract from it!
Valik loves tinkering in the garage and is currently restoring a 2000 GMC Sierra 1500 truck. He also writes about the progress on this blog. When not in the garage, Valik is also a web developer and a blogger. I know, strange, a hand in two completely different worlds. And that is the way he likes to keep it.