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Off-Road Mail - Letters To The Editor - February 2006

Posted in Features on February 1, 2006
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Transfer Case?
We Don't Need No Stinkin' Transfer Case!

I am a gas station attendant in training for law enforcement. I just bought a '97 Ford Ranger 2WD. I plan on taking it off-roading. I was looking at a 3-inch body lift, a 1.5-inch suspension lift, and 31s for it. But it's only got the 2.3-liter four-cylinder, and I don't know if the engine could pull it down the road, let alone off-road. What is the best setup I could put on the truck for my area? Are there any engine mods I should install to help? I would love to go out west to the sand dunes. I don't get respect here in West Virginia because my truck is two-wheel drive. I want to make a stand and show them differently.
Jeremy McAdams
Wellsburg, West Virginia

You're in luck, because we do have some recommendations, and none of them have to do with selling your truck and buying a 4x4. You shouldn't need any more than a 3-inch lift to clear 31-inch tires, so we'd recommend a 3-inch suspension lift instead of a body lift. If your chosen tires rub with a 3-inch suspension lift, consider limiting your bump travel with a set of bumpstops, or make more room for the tires by performing a bit of fender trimming. To get the most from your suspension, check out the prerunner/desert-style suspension kits for your truck. Ford's I-beam suspension is one of the best when it comes to durability, cost, and sheer suspension-travel numbers. Flatly stated, you can get more travel for less money than with any other independent front suspension design. Understand that the goal of a prerunner suspension is inches of wheel travel instead of inches of lift, although most prerunner suspension kits will give you some lift.

While there are engine mods that will help your 2.3 to make a few more ponies, we think the biggest gain you'll notice can be had by installing a lower-ratio ring-and-pinion set to compensate for the bigger tires. With 31s and a four-cylinder, we think you'd be happy with a set of 4.56 gears. We also think you should get a traction-aiding differential to go along with the lower ring-and-pinion. Your Ranger most likely has a Ford 7.5-inch rearend, and traction-device selection is somewhat limited for that application. You can, however, get a Powertrax Lock Right or a Ford Traction Lock for the Ford 7.5.

Before you spend any money on the 7.5-inch rearend, consider finding a Ford 8.8-inch rearend from a Ranger that has the 4.0 V-6. It should be a straightforward swap; the leaf-spring perches will line up, the width will be correct, and the wheel-bolt pattern will match. If you get a Ford 8.8, it will be much stronger than the Ford 7.5, and you'll have more choices for gears and traction devices.

With the 7.5 or the 8.8, you'll be surprised at the off-road difference that a locker or limited slip can make. We drive our '01 Sport Trac with a Detroit Locker on the street all the time and love it, although the locker is harsher on the street than a limited slip. The trade-off is better off-road traction with a locker.

It can't be purchased from a catalog, but driving technique has a lot to do with the off-road ability of a truck. With a two-wheel drive, you'll need to conquer obstacles using more momentum than you'd need with a four-by.

A Bargain at Half the Price
I'm looking for a good solid truck that is old but reliable. I had a '97 F-150 XLT with the off-road package. It was a good truck, but everything on it was electronic. I guess since I'm 19 years old I should be into electronics, but I need an everyday truck that I am able to work on myself. I just need some help in deciding what I should look for in a strong old truck.

There is a '77 Chevy Suburban that I am looking at buying. I just don't want to pay the $6,000 and find out I got ripped off. I have included a list of things that the owner has done to the Sub. What do you think?

* '97 Chevy Suburban 1/2-ton 4x4
* new two-tone paint
* all rusted panels replaced
* rebuilt 400 small-block
* new carb
* all-new brake system
* high-performance U-joints and driveshaft
* new rims and tires (31s on 16-inch rims)
* 80,000 original miles
* rebuilt transmission
* rebuilt transfer case

The outside looks good, but the inside is a little rough. It runs strong.
William N. Nosay Jr.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Hey William,
Electronics are great until they get wet or shorted-out or otherwise fried, so we understand where you're coming from.

In your letter, you wrote that the Sub was a '77, but your list above says '97. Based on the truck specs, it sounds as if it really is the '77. Flatly stated, that's a lot of cash for a truck that's nearly 30 years old. Does the current owner have all the receipts to prove that all the claimed work was actually performed? How long has he/she owned the Sub? Why is the truck for sale?

Since the odometer only has five slots (excluding the 1/10-mile counter), there's no way to verify the claim of 80,000 original miles. It sounds as if the current owner has sunk a lot of cash into this truck and has set the asking price by what the total investment has been. Since we can't see the truck, we have no way to really make a judgment call on this one, but we'd do some more comparison shopping if we were you.

Letter Of The Month
Rollbar: What's in a Name?

I'm looking to build myself another monster truck similar to the one I had when I was younger. I've found almost everything I need, but I'm missing one thing: rollbars. I receive many automotive catalogs, and they seem to have everything but rollbars. Do you know of any place or company I can get in touch with to find the rollbars I'm looking for? I get your magazine and a few others. I've learned a lot about how to build this new truck better than the first one I had. Thanks for all the useful information, and keep up the good work.
Trent Wright "Plato Puddle Jumper"
Oakdale, Iowa

Hey Trent,You've got us at a disadvantage because you didn't mention the make, model, or year of your new truck. As for "monster truck," we're going to venture a guess that you're talking about a lifted truck with oversized tires, instead of a tube-chassis, alcohol-fueled, ZF-axled creation used in a stadium. Many companies that produced products called "rollbars" have actually stopped calling them by that term because the products are not designed for and do not carry a guarantee of any degree of rollover protection. If you search for a "sport bar" or a "light bar," we're betting you'll find what you're looking for. Several of our advertisers offer sport bars or light bars that are vehicle-specific.

If we've guessed incorrectly, and you really do want a tubular structure added to your truck that ties into the frame and adds structural strength to your truck, then you'll need to contact a fabrication shop (or maybe several) to find out what they would charge for a custom-fabbed rollcage. Besides getting a price quote, take a look around at the shop and make sure that the quality of the shop's work is up to par before you trust them with your cash or with your safety.

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