It happened many years ago. A Four Wheeler editor was toiling away in his office one summer morning when a staff photographer burst in. "Dude, I need to get some shots of a project rig, and there's no one else here to drive it for me. Come on."
The editor, dressed in a business suit, protested: "I've got lunch with a client this afternoon."
"Don't worry, bro', I only need an hour-this'll be easy."
The two hopped into the project truck and drove out of town a short distance, exiting the Interstate onto a steep road of dry dirt that snaked into the surrounding foothills. The photographer walked up the hill a ways, set up his camera and barked out instructions: "Gimme some dust!" The editor, obliging, worked the gas and brake pedals as the rear tires spun up roostertails of talc-like dust. "Dude, keep it up, just a minute more," then, "OK, blast on up-I need some action. Then we can bail."
The editor let off the brake and hit the gas-but the vehicle wouldn't budge. More throttle, more roostertails, same result. Trying to back up elicited more plumes of dirt but no movement. "Hold up!" camera dude shouted, bounding down the hill. "Get out and look." The rear tires were buried up to the axles.
"Sorry, bro', we were gonna put in the locker next week."
They were, of course, completely unprepared: No shovel, no come-along, no plywood board, not even a cellphone-just a cheap OE bottle jack that promptly broke when they tried to yank up the back end.
The editor, sweating and flustered, grumbled, "Great, now what?"
"Dude, you stuck it. They only pay me to take pictures, remember?"
And so one longsuffering editor got on his hands and knees, and sacrificing body and Brooks Brothers' finest, spent the next hour digging out from an embarrassing stuck, one dusty-dry handful of dirt at a time, under a broiling summer sun.
We've learned a few things since then-like the virtues of bringing some basic recovery gear. Or a support vehicle. Or not wearing a suit when going four-wheeling. Or firing employees who won't help you out. (OK, we made that last one up.) But bottom line, it's always good to have a Plan B in place whenever you hit the trail, no matter how meek and mild it may seem.
At least we were able to drive out-but what if you've suffered the unexpected breakdown, that moment when a driveshaft breaks loose, a U-joint shatters, or a tie-rod end busts, rendering your rig undriveable? You're miles from civilization, and lo and behold, neither you nor your buddies thought to pack along spares. The end result? Usually, an expensive tow, a long hike out, a bad night's sleep in your rig, or a combination thereof.
Naturally, it's a good idea to have plenty of spare parts aboard (Plan B again), but for those of you who like to travel light, we can offer some proven tips to make your most vulnerable driveline components stronger and more durable, to minimize the likelihood of breakage next time. Our in-house expert in vehicular carnage, Robin Stover, runs down the list of most-breakable parts, with proven methods to make 'em darn near indestructible, starting on page 70.
Of course, every 'wheeler should expect to get stuck eventually, and that's why your winch is one of your most important-and likely most used-accessories. But winches are expensive, and their internals wear out over time. For those who'd like to keep their Spool Pals in tip-top shape as long as possible, we take apart a tired Warn 8000 this month, and bring it back to life with a step-by-step repair starting on page 86. It takes a little time, but it's really pretty simple.
And to those of you who've ever gotten really, truly, hopelessly stuck, we dedicate our "Worst Stucks" section, starting on page 62. Happy reading.