After last year's Cheap Truck Challenge and all the work I had to do to get my 1975 International Harvester 150 drivable ("As We Say, Not As We Do," Jan. 2015), I swore that I would get a running and driving 4x4 for the next CTC. In case you missed it, I tried to fix the IH's engine, pulled it, reinstalled it, then pulled it again, and finally did an engine swap. That truck was a total pain. I also did some fairly major rewiring to the truck, rebuilt most of the steering system, rebuilt the front brakes, swapped in a transmission, and did more bodywork than I would have liked. I had a cool, yet still unreliable truck that, despite my time and efforts, still needed a ton of work and was beyond the normal kid's budget and know-how.
I've always liked small rigs, but the popular 4x4 micro-rigs like the flatfender Willys Jeeps and Suzuki Samurais are a bit hard to find for under $2,015 unless they need lots of work (read: are not running and driving). I kept my eyes peeled, and that's when I noticed a high-mileage (171,000) two-door 4x4 Kia Sportage for sale in my area. This Korean 4x4 has flown under the radar for years, but with a five-speed manual transmission and a 2.0L dual overhead cam engine, it was a possible CTC contender. Plus it's a tiny 4x4, making it fit my known preference.
This particular truck (if you can call it that) has a few dings and dents and the top was damaged by sun and age, but the asking price was fair (if not great) and it met my number one criterion: It already ran and drove. Stopping, however, wasn't as easy as going. There was something wrong with the brakes; they worked, but not well. And someone had removed the front seatbelts. Questionable brakes and no seatbelts. What could possibly go wrong?
The seller had spent some time and money adding new tires and a new catalytic converter. He claimed that he wanted to keep the Kia but had other projects that he would rather spend the time and money on. Sounds familiar. After a quick test drive I handed him the cash. The truck was quick and I could tell that it had a pretty low First gear for crawling. I now had a cheap side-by-side fighter for a fraction of the cost of a new or used four-seater UTV. Also, I can drive the Kia down the road or highway to my next adventure. I'll take that as a win-win. I decided to call the Kia "Kimchi" after Korean pickled cabbage. Why? Well, why not?
Diagnosing the Kia's braking issues, I started by installing a new master cylinder that came with the truck from the previous owner. When that didn't solve the issue I pulled the front brakes apart only to find that the slide pins for the brake calipers were frozen in place. The situation was so bad that I had to drill holes and pound the slide pins out of the caliper mounting brackets using a big hammer and a drift. I then added new calipers from RockAuto, spending $47.58 of my modification budget.
While brakes were apart I found that the steering tie-rod ends and front ball joints were worn past the point of safety. RockAuto had the Kia covered with right and left tie-rod assemblies, a new idler arm, a factory replacement centerlink, lower ball joints, and upper A-arms, all at affordable prices. I was now out about $273 for the steering and suspension parts. Service parts for Kias are pretty darn cheap!
Sportages use vacuum actuated front automatic locking hubs from the factory. When you shift the transfer case lever into 4-Hi or 4-Lo, a vacuum motor actuates each of the two front hubs. It's an OK design but can fail after 16 years and 170,000 miles. Warn Industries manufactures manual locking hubs for the Kia Sportage, and at $260 that's insurance I could afford. The hubs install easily without any special tools.
With the Kia safer after new steering, brakes, and a set of aftermarket front seatbelts ($150) I headed down to Daystar for a few products. After seeing my little SUV, they decided to prototype a 2-inch Comfort Ride suspension lift for 1993-2004 Kia Sportages. The kit should be available soon and cost about $199. It will come with font strut spacers, rear coil spacers, and replacement rear shocks.
We also added Daystar hood vents (intended for a Jeep Cherokee XJ; PN KJ71052BK, $129.99) to help the 2.0L four-cylinder run cooler. Also, the hood latch on the Kia did not function so we added a pair of Daystar hoodpins (PN KU71104BK, $17.97 each or $35.94 for two).
The additional tire clearance from the Daystar lift allowed bigger tires, so I called Discount Tire Direct and ordered the most inexpensive 31/10.50R15, the Nankang N889 Mudstar M/T tires ($122.97 each, $620.84 with taxes, certificates for tire repair or replacement, and four valve stems). I had the Mudstars mounted on used $140 Ford Bronco wheels with obnoxious orange paint for extra flare.
The larger tires required fender trimming from the rear of the front wheelwells. I cut off whatever seemed unnecessary and folded and hammered the pinch weld back to create a smooth surface should the tires come in contact after all. After I broke the budget just before CTC 2015 by buying a last-minute $159.99 replacement radiator, the Kia performed very well and ran cooler.
|Where the Money Went|
What Will I Do With the Kia After CTC?
Kimchi the Kia Sportage performed admirably during Cheap Truck Challenge 2015. If I had any complaints about the truck I'd say that it needs deeper low-range gearing. From the factory it has a low range of right around 2 to 1. I'm going to see if I can stack stock Kia transfer cases if I can find the parts cheap. Locking differentials or at least a spool in the rear axle would be awesome, especially in the rocks and during those entertaining dirt road rally sessions. The rockers and doors after CTC can attest to the fact that some rocker guards would be a good investment for any other Kia owners. I may cut out the damaged rockers and replace them with some rectangular tube that ties to the frame. We will have to see what the future holds for the green Kia, but it was so cheap and fun it probably won't need to find a new owner any time soon.