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Tax Refund Buyers’ Guide: How We Would Spend Your Government-Issued 4x4 Cash

Posted in Features on January 11, 2017 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Courtesy of Manufacturers

If you’re at all like us, then you probably spend nearly every extra penny you have on 4x4s and off-road parts throughout the year. So when a big chunk of change like an inheritance from a long-lost relative comes along, of course you probably grieve at least a little, but your mind goes wild with all the modifications it will allow you to afford. That is as long as you can keep it out of the hands of a significant other, who most certainly has been eyeballing a new leather sofa, bunk beds for the kids, or a European vacation. You may not have wealthy relatives, but there is a cash resource that many of us receive every year. It’s called the Government 4x4 Buildup Assistance Program, otherwise known as your tax refund.

The average tax refund for 2015 was $3,120, and the average refund for 2016 should be similar. We’re sure that your mind is already calculating what that could mean for your 4x4. It’s important to not frivolously waste this precious resource. You need us to help guide you! So how would we spend your tax refund? Well, quite simply, we’d spend it on us! What did you think would happen if you handed us a $3,000 check? Now, if you want to know how we would spend your tax refund on you and your 4x4, read on.

Straighter Steering

Nothing is more frustrating than driving a 4x4 with an unsolvable wandering or shimmy problem. That’s where the Fox Performance Series Adjustable Through Shaft (ATS) steering stabilizer comes into play. It not only offers 24-way adjustable steering control, but it looks really freaking cool! The through-shaft design is said to cancel out unwanted steering forces in both directions, taking the place of two conventional opposing stabilizers. An integrated reservoir increases fluid capacity and improves cooling during extreme use. The Fox ATS steering stabilizer is basically the NASA Mars rover of steering dampers. It’s available for several different popular 4x4s and can be adapted to almost anything with custom brackets. Info: Fox, 619/768-1800, ridefox.com

Charging Cooktop

Given the limited storage space inside most 4x4s, we’ve become big fans of versatile compact camp gear that serves more than one purpose. That’s the main reason we like the BioLite BaseCamp cooktop. As long as you have access to sticks, branches, and other wood bits, the BaseCamp cooktop can cook your food and convert heat energy into usable electricity via a thermoelectric generator. It produces 5 watts that charges an integrated lithium-ion battery. The generated electricity also powers a fan to ensure a clean and full combustion of the fuel. Surplus electricity is sent to a USB charging port. The BaseCamp features a cook area that fits eight burgers, a USB light, a bucket carry handle, folding legs, and more. Info: BioLite, biolitestove.com

Everyman Code Reader

Diagnosing check engine light troubles can be an expensive pain in the neck. The GoTech mobile OBD-II diagnostic tool gives you the ability to find out what’s going on under the hood yourself. It’s more than just a code reader, it can interpret trouble codes, discover check engine light definitions, monitor engine performance in real time, review troubleshooting tips from ASE-certified Master Technicians, and of course, clear trouble codes, all via your Bluetooth-compatible smartphone or tablet. The GoTech is relatively inexpensive and is compact enough to fit in a glovebox or center console. Info: GoTech, 855/207-5630, gotechdiagnostics.com

Clean Up

We’ve used lots of different products to clean our greasy hands over the years. Because we don’t always have access to water, the Tub O’ Towels Heavy Duty Cleaning Wipes have become our quick go-to in the shop and out on the trail. They are basically extra-large and extra-thick industrial baby wipes with grease-cutting capability. The heavy-duty wipes come in two different containers. The compact 40-count tub is great for trail use, and the larger 90-count tub is perfect for the shop or for really dirty individuals. Info: Tub O’ Towels, tubotowels.com

Kinetic Recovery

Regular towstraps are fine for quick and simple tugs, but when you or your buddies get really stuck in mud, sand, or snow, a kinetic recovery rope like a Bubba Rope is the way to go. A Bubba Rope will stretch like a rubber band, decreasing the shock load on the recovery points during hard pulls. They are available in many different lengths and strengths all the way up to the massive Extreme Bubba, which has an impressive ultimate breaking strength of 131,500 pounds! Each Bubba Rope comes complete with a special Velcro web strap for carrying as well as a storage bag. Info: Bubba Rope, 877/499-8494, bubbarope.com

1-Ton 40s

The ’13-’15 1-ton Ram 3500 4x4 almost looks unfinished on its dinky stock tires and wheels. BDS offers an 8-inch four-link conversion lift system to help you fill the wheelwells with 40-inch tires. The kit is made with 1/4-inch fabricated four-link brackets that key into the factory radius arm pockets. The four-link design is said to improve drivability by limiting caster change to less than one degree throughout the wheel travel. Lift is provided by a pair of progressive rate ProRide coil springs, while a track bar bracket recenters the front axle. A forged drop pitman arm corrects steering angles and a high-clearance transmission crossmember is supplied along with a transfer case indexing ring. Other kit parts include extended stainless steel brake lines, bumpstops, spherical bearing sway bar extensions, triple-stage rear leaf packs, 2-inch rear blocks, and your choice of shocks at all four corners. BDS has suspension systems for many other 4x4s too. Info: BDS Suspension, 517/279-2135, bds-suspension.com

Remote Power

Maybe we’re spoiled, but we’ve really enjoyed having 120V AC power at our main camp. With AC power you can run outdoor lighting, microwaves, small heaters, and charge your battery-powered devices. The Smittybilt EPS 2600W inverter generator has a few features that make it a great camp power source. One of the coolest is the wireless remote electric start via key fob with a 40-foot range. Other features include compact size, 80-pound dry weight, low noise (56-63 dB), dual 120V AC outlets, single 12V DC outlet, a 1 1/2-gallon fuel tank, overload protection, low oil sensor, and a digital display for monitoring performance. Info: Smittybilt, 888/717-5797, smittybilt.com

Multi-Weld

If you’re searching for a multiprocess welder for your at-home shop, Miller Electric has a pretty sweet little unit in the inverter-based Multimatic 215. It’s capable of MIG, flux-core, DC TIG, and DC stick welding. It’ll throw down beads on mild steel up to 3/8-inch-thick in a single pass. It’s compact, weighs in at just 38 pounds, and features a color LCD interface that easily allows the machine to be set up for multiple materials and weld processes. The Auto-Set mode helps first-timers pick the right settings, which can be fine-tuned by more experienced welders. A Miller exclusive Multi-Voltage Plug (MVP) allows for use of a 120V or 240V power receptacle, no tools required. Info: Miller Electric Manufacturing, 920/734-9821, millerwelds.com

Tough Tape

Cheap 99-cent duct tape holds about as well as you’d expect cheap 99-cent anything to work. Gorilla Tape is like duct tape on steroids. It’s twice as thick and features two to three times the amount of rubber-based adhesive as traditional duct tapes. It sticks to smooth surfaces like metal and glass as well as rough and uneven surfaces like wood, stone, stucco, and brick. The tough reinforced backing with a tight weave contributes to the heft, but Gorilla Tape can still be ripped by hand. It has a weather-resistant shell that withstands moisture, UV rays, and temperature extremes, making it perfect for pretty much any trail fix you can imagine. We’re convinced that with enough of this stuff, you could keep a steering box on the broken frame of your 4x4. Gorilla Tape comes in white, black, silver, and camo colors. Info: Gorilla, 800/966-3458, gorillatough.com

Solid Supporter

All too often we see garage mechanics using dangerous blocks of wood or concrete cinderblocks to hold up a project. There is a much safer, yet still affordable, way to keep your 4x4 upright in the shop. Harbor Freight offers these heavy-duty 12-ton steel jackstands, which can securely support almost any vehicle. They adjust quickly from 19 1/2 inches all the way up to 30 1/8 inches, making them perfect for lifted 4x4 applications. Each 12-ton jackstand features a welded steel base and a self-locking ratchet handle. Info: Harbor Freight, 800/423-2567, harborfreight.com

On- and Off-Road GPS

Looking for the ability to find and navigate directly to and over the closest off-road spots no matter where you are? The Magellan eXplorist TRX7 GPS may be just what you need. It features mapping for more than 100,000 off-road trails and user-generated tracks. You can plan and capture your off-road activities and the TRX7 allows integration to social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram. The TRX7 features a 7-inch high-resolution touchscreen with an IP67 shock-, water-, and dust-resistant casing. It has wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity and includes a genuine RAM windshield mount. A 16gb onboard memory and a 64gb MicroSD card expansion slot gives the TRX7 the capability to accommodate new outdoor maps as they are developed. Info: Magellan, magellangps.com

Big Pig Puller

Regardless of if you are always the guy getting hopelessly stuck or the guy everyone calls when they are hopelessly stuck, you need a stout reliable winch to handle regular recovery duties. That’s where the massive Warn 16.5ti-S comes in. The 16.5ti-S features 80 feet of 3/8-inch Spydura Pro synthetic rope, a Warn Epic Hook, and a hawse fairlead. A thermometric indicator LED on the winch remote lets you know when the winch’s motor is getting hot during the longest, hardest pulls. The 16.5ti-S also has a waterproof contactor, durable metal control box, and improved sealing to keep the elements out. With a 16,500-pound capacity, the 16.5ti-S winch is the biggest and baddest truck winch Warn offers, making it ideal for the big pigs that wallow in the mud and other terrain. Info: Warn, 800/543-9276, warn.com

Short Stop

One of the easiest and least expensive, yet most noticeable, bolt-on brake improvements you can make to your 4x4 is with the installation of an EBC Brakes S7 kit. These kits include EBC BSD V-slotted rotors and Extra Duty Light Truck, Jeep, and SUV brake pads. The machined slots in the BSD rotor braking surfaces help remove hot gases and dust during hard braking, which ultimately keeps the pads running flatter and the brakes cooler. The EBC Extra Duty Light Truck, Jeep, and SUV brake pads are made from a race pedigree material, which is said to improve effective stopping up to and beyond the maximum temperatures experienced in heavy braking, towing, or downhill descents. Info: EBC Brakes, 702/826-2400, ebcbrakes.com

Foot Tray

Nobody likes dirty, wet, and stinky mildewed carpet, and nowhere is it more prevalent than in a 4x4 that’s used off-road regularly. WeatherTech FloorLiners are the equivalent of a fast-food serving tray for your truck or SUV floors. Just like the food tray keeps a messy eater from polluting the table, FloorLiners keep your wet and muddy feet from contaminating your carpet. FloorLiners are available for most popular 4x4 applications and each is laser measured and manufactured for a proper fit. Info: WeatherTech, 800/441-6287, weathertech.com

Universal LED

The universal KC HiLites Cyclone LED lights can be incredibly useful and are easy to mount almost anywhere. You could use them as underhood lights, interior lights, bed lights, rock lights, toolbox lights, and more. The Cyclone LEDs are available in single, two, or four light packages complete with a wiring harness and a weatherproof switch. They come in many different colors including clear, amber, red, blue, and green. Each 5-watt Cyclone LED is IP68 rated for water and dust resistance. They are 2.20 inches in diameter, function on 6-16 volts, and emit 516 raw lumens of light each. Info: KC HiLites, 888/689-5955, kchilites.com

Follow Your 4x4

A vehicle is stolen every 26 seconds in the US. We kind of like the idea of knowing exactly where our 4x4 is at all times. The SPOT Trace uses a satellite GPS signal to track almost anything in near real-time using Google Maps on your computer or mobile device. You can even set up the Spot Trace to send you theft-alert texts or emails when movement is detected. Customized tracking intervals and notification features, such as power off and daily status messages are included with basic service. SPOT Trace’s battery lasts up to 18 months, and there is an available hardwire power option. Info: SPOT, 866/651-7768, findmespot.com

Safe Recovery

The FlatLink Expert replaces the potentially unsafe hook on the end of your winch line with a closed system shackle mount. The odd-looking oval shape allows it to easily interface to either end of a shackle/D-ring. It features built-in EPDM rubber pads to cushion and protect your fairlead. The FlatLink Expert fits both wire cables and winch ropes. The original cable or rope eye is retained in the FlatLink Expert by a 5/8-inch-diameter 6Al4V Titanium double-shear pin and internal snap ring. The FlatLink Expert is rated to 16,000 pounds, available in gray anodized or yellow powdercoat finish, and made in the USA. Info: Factor 55, 208/639-1674, factor55.com

Off-Road Sound

No matter what stereo head unit you go with, it seems that none of them can survive in an open-top 4x4 or even one that regularly hits the dirt with the windows open. The first thing to die is usually the CD player, so why bother? Store your music on your phone and step into a compact water-resistant Dual MGH30BT Marine digital media receiver with built-in Bluetooth capability. It has an IPX6 waterproof rating to withstand heavy splashing and rain. Direct control for iPod and iPhone devices is available via the rear USB input. Media playback from select Android devices is also available via USB. It features one pair of RCA inputs and preamp outputs on the back. Info: Dual, 866/382-5476, dualav.com

Tire and Time Saver

We can’t even count how many times a Safety Seal tire plug kit has gotten us off the trail, without having to attempt to raise the vehicle and change out a tire in a precarious off-road environment. There are several different kits available. The Auto Light Truck Deluxe Tire Repair Kit is compact and includes 30 repairs packaged in a water-resistant storable bag. The small pouch can store easily under a seat, in your tool box, or in a storage compartment. Each kit includes a metal T-handle spiral probe, metal T-handle insertion tool, 30 4-inch tire plugs, special tire lubricant, extra insertion needle, instructions, and the storable bag. Info: Safety Seal, 800/888-9021, safetyseal.com

Battery Better

Storing a 4x4 for a long period of time, like over winter, can absolutely kill a battery. It’s a good idea to keep it fresh and maintained. The Auto Meter BEX Series Battery Extenders can help you with that. The BEX-1500 and BEX-3000 are fully automated smart chargers, which are able to keep your electrical system in peak condition. What’s especially important is that they are compatible with nearly all battery types, including AGM batteries. The BEX-1500 produces 1 1/2 amps, and the BEX-3000 produces 3 amps. Both chargers feature a ruggedized water-resistant shell to make them more durable and impervious to the elements. Info: Auto Meter, 866/248-6356, autometer.com

No-Spill Oil Change

You’d think that some OE manufactures never even thought about changing the engine oil when designing a vehicle. Quite often, oil spills all over the steering and front axle assembly after you pull the engine oil drain bolt. To combat this, the EZ Oil Drain Valve is available with optional hose connectors to help direct the oil slick away from the vehicle. The valve replaces your existing oil drain plug. With the valve in place, you simply turn the lever of the nickel-plated brass ball valve and drain the engine oil. The EZ Oil Drain Valve is available in 26 different sizes to fit nearly all engines. Info: EZ Oil Drain Valve, 425/270-3466, oildrain-valve.net

Strap On

We regularly see loose, flapping, and poorly attached vehicle tie-down straps on trailered 4x4s. It could easily result in a pretty big mess if something were to go wrong. Mac's Custom Tie-Downs offers some of the best vehicle tie-downs we’ve seen, and they are even available in convenient kits. The Mac’s Ultra Pack Tie Down Strap Kit with Detachable Axle Straps is one of our favorites because the axle straps can be easily replaced if they wear out before the ratchet tie downs. Each kit includes four 10,000-pound 2-inch-wide ratchet straps, four 10,000-pound axle straps, four Strap Wrap storage straps, and a heavy-duty padded storage bag. The straps are available in six colors in multiple lengths with several different optional ends. Info: Mac's Custom Tie-Downs, 800/666-1586, macscustomtiedowns.com

Anti-Vaporlock

Every once in a while you bump into an aftermarket part that solves a nagging problem. Vaporlock and melted wiring is most definitely a nagging problem that can be difficult to diagnose and cure. That’s where the Heatshield Products Thermaflect Sleeve comes into play. It can help prevent fuel vaporlock issues and protect wiring and fluid lines from heat. The Thermaflect Sleeve is available as a fully sewn sleeve or with a hook-and-loop seam, allowing it to be put over lines and wires that are already installed in a vehicle. It’s capable of reflecting up to 90 percent of radiant heat, withstands 1,100 degrees continuous radiant heat, and 500 degrees direct heat. It’s made in the USA and available in diameters ranging from 1/2-inch up to 5 inches. Info: Heatshield Products, 844/723-2665, heatshieldproducts.com

Level Hauler

Hauling a heavy load, pulling a weighty trailer, or adding a slide-in camper to your 4x4 can cause the rear suspension to sag and make your vehicle feel unstable. The Firestone Ride Rite air spring kits offer up to a 5,000-pound load support capacity, keep the suspension from sagging, and increase vehicle stability. All Ride Rite kits come with Firestone's popular double-convoluted air springs, are completely bolt-on, and most kits do not require drilling for installation between your 4x4’s frame and rear axle. Application-specific kits are available for most popular 4x4s, and they provide variable load support through adjusting the air pressure. Info: Firestone, 800/888-0650, riderite.com

Simple Speedo Calibration

It’s extremely important to compensate for tire size and axle gear changes to not only correct the speedometer, but to correct the transmission shift points and engine management. The AEV ProCal Module can do all of this and more. The unit is available for the ’07-’17 Jeep Wrangler JK as well as Ram heavy-duty trucks. You simply pair the AEV ProCal Module to the vehicle via the OBD II port, set the DIP switches as needed for axle gear ratio and tire diameter, and your 4x4 is reprogrammed to drive properly and more efficiently. Info: AEV Conversions, 248/926-0256, aev-conversions.com

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