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Off-Road Rant - Editorial - July 2010

Posted in Features on July 1, 2010
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I should have known it was going to be one of those months when the reverse gear went out in Matilda, our fullsize Cherokee project. It took us all of about 20 minutes (we were already down to 2WD, by the way) to get Matilda much deeper into a very windy, narrow, and steep-walled canyon before the rear blocks actually shattered and let the axle turn up, destroying the rear driveshaft and leaving us with no-wheel drive. It took three winches and a fair amount of digging to get it out of the canyon and at that point I probably should have just driven home, locked myself inside my office for a while, and stayed out of the dirt for a few weeks.

But of course, I couldn't, and the very next weekend I was out in my red Dodge and managed to get a unit bearing to fail and a rear 1350 pinion yoke to explode. No biggie-I try and not use the red Dodge as a daily driver very often anyways, so I had some time to fix it. All in a day's work, right?

Within a few days of that incident, I got a call that the NP231 transfer case we just built in May's issue had failed, sidelining our project XJ. And that same week both heads blew on my daily-driven Durango's engine, temporarily putting that vehicle out to pasture as well. That was okay because I'm used to this type of thing by now and I have the company Super Duty for everyday driving if necessary. But I had to stop and think for a second if I had some bad Karma coming my way.

Though I couldn't figure out any reason why Karma would want to kick my ass, I was about to be deprived of my last daily driver at the annual Tierra del Sol club event in Ocotillo Wells. Knowing that I was literally down to the last running truck, I took it very easy heading out to the event and refused any off-roading adventures for most of the weekend. But then everyone wanted to pack into a few trucks for a leisurely cruise. Of course I was driving the crew cab, and it just happened we got into another windy canyon (funny how my month started and ended in a windy canyon) that was not exactly crew cab friendly.

As we neared the end and it was time to use 4WD and go up the mildly-inclined road to the top of the ridge. I shifted the truck into four-wheel drive and turned the steering wheel. There was a giant clunk, the truck's tires turned sideways (Funny, I don't remember turning the wheel, I thought), and we were lucky that it didn't roll over as it slid laterally off the road.

JP Magazine Tech Editor Christian Hazel ran to the front of the truck and yelled back, "Oh, dude. What's the worst possible thing you could break in your steering?"

Oh! Oh! I know! "A knuckle?" I called out excitedly. But a knuckle would have been nice, easy fix since we knew where to get one quickly. Instead, the truck's draglink and pitman arm were laying on the ground as a half-broken sector shaft on the steering box had decided to let go.

As screwed as I was, I honestly couldn't feel anything but relief that it happened where it did. Yeah, it was lame to be stuck in a windy canyon, but we found rust halfway through the sector shaft meaning it had been broken for a while. I am just so thankful that it didn't let go on the highway. We are subsequently meticulously checking out every one of our vehicles, looking at this incident as an excellent reminder of why every vehicle on the road should be constantly inspected.

Thanks to the efforts of some good friends from JP and Diesel Power magazines, we finally got the truck out by yanking it backwards the entire way while doing brakestands in 2WD so the front tires would drag and the rear tires would spin (and subsequently slide side to side more easily while being dragged).

Every bit of breakage I dealt with over the last month proved to me that friends really are the absolute best tool you can have when you're in a jam.

This month:
We wanted to show you some good breakage that we've experienced and witnessed while on the job. We're just thankful we had a camera there for every one of those incidents! And we have put together a Toyota-dedicated section in honor of a brand that could use a little positive coverage on their finer points.

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