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March 2011 4Word - Editorial

4word
Phil Howell | Writer
Posted December 8, 2010

Economical Upgrades

In this issue, you'll find a feature on economical vehicle upgrades. In these trying financial times, economical upgrades can keep us four-wheeling even when our bank account isn't as healthy as it once was.

I read an online thread on JKOwners where a JK enthusiast described detuning his built Wrangler and installing 0.75-inch coil spacers and flat fenders in order to run 35-inch tires. He did this to make his Jeep more "family friendly" (his words) as the Wrangler was now their only vehicle. Evidently, when it was taller, the JK had vibration problems, because he reported in the thread that the Jeep was now vibration-free. I like his idea.

Even when simplifying and lowering a vehicle to work as a daily driver, more needs to be addressed. The 35-inch tires are obviously larger than stock and add unsprung weight. This unsprung weight can and should be controlled with a quality set of aftermarket shock absorbers. As the vehicle is still being used as a backcountry trail rig, front and rear bumpers and a winch need to be considered, as does additional armor if you plan to be near trees and rocks. In fact, armor is even more important for a mild trail rig because it's sitting nearer the hazards with less lift and smaller tires. Of course, gearing and locking differentials should be on the list. Hmmm. I've managed to unsimplify the simple 4x4.

Back to simple. It's amazing what can be done with a stock vehicle, or one that's near stock. I thought my first oversize tires, grooved farm implement tires, were giant. They were about 31 inches in diameter. For years, 10-15 and 11-15 Armstrong True Tracs were my tires of choice and they were about 31 and 32 inches in diameter, respectively. Remember when 33s were big? When I put a set of YJ flares on a CJ and trimmed the fender openings to fit 35 inch tires, many told me there was no way I could fit tires that large on a Jeep. Most of today's famous trails, excluding extreme buggy trails, were built using vehicles equipped with 27- to 35-inch tires.

Driving skill is just as important today as it was in the "good ol' days." On the trail, most people now have locking differentials and equipment light years better than earlier generations. It doesn't matter. Those with no skills still flounder around and fail to surmount obstacles while good drivers seamlessly motor over those same obstacles. Sometimes, the good drivers are driving vehicles with less equipment than the well-equipped, skill-less drivers are driving.

Simple vehicles force us to learn better backcountry driving skills. Lockers front and rear allow a point-and-shoot mentality, while open differentials require the driver to study out a successful route. Smaller tires make lesser obstacles more difficult, making intermediate trails challenging and fun. Simple vehicles can make exploring and trail-riding fun again. We'd all be amazed at how much fun.

Check out the economical upgrade section in this issue. You'll find some things to do or purchase that aren't expensive, but can make major differences to your vehicle's capability and comfort. Simple is better. Simple and cheap are better still.

I have to add that my vehicles will be equipped like the 4x4 I talked about in paragraph three, though. Unsprung weight and overall weight make a giant difference in handling and performance. Plus, I have a point-and-shoot mentality.

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